J.C. and the Second Coming of "The Fog", Pt. 2

I don't really have much in the way of rules regarding remakes. Some people despise them outright; some people are ambivalent when confronted with them; some people love them. It is my belief that most people have no idea whether or not the rehashed warmed-over film that they are watching was ever another movie in the first place. (I also believe, and I have seen a goodly amount of evidence to support this, that a large segment of the moviegoers in any theatre have no concept at all of what movie they are even going to see, even up to mere minutes before their ticket is bought. Why would they know whether or not a movie was a remake?)

I have a proposal about remakes that I wish were a rule, or at the very least something that would be tried more often since The Powers That Be insist on churning them out of the Drawing-A-Blank Factory: remaking not film classics or those of the established filmic canon (Psycho), nor beloved (or feared) cult classics (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), nor remaking classic stories over again every generation (The Three Musketeers), but remaking instead films of unfulfilled potential or sub-standard quality. Instead of trying to reconfigure The Red Shoes from the ballet stage into the modern dance/pop world and plugging a Britney or Kelly-type into it, remake instead a film which never quite reached its potential. Remake instead a film which might have been a terrific movie if only it had one or two more elements to put it over the top. Perhaps the film had a swell script but the wrong actors; maybe it had the right actors but a script that wasn't zingy enough to sell it to the audience; perhaps the budget was too small or the director too narrow-sighted to bring the vision in the script to life; or perhaps the script would have worked better in this location instead of that one or in a different time period.

Of course, no one wants to take a huge bomb and take the chance of recreating the fizzle. But there are plenty of films of middling nature that did relatively well at the box office for one reason or another that I would sooner have Hollywood take another crack at than ruin the memory of a great and established classic. Maybe, just maybe, there is a near-gem of a film sitting in Hollywood's past that with a little bit of elbow grease and slight revision can make it in today's market. Call it the Take 2 Scenario.

A perfect example for this experiment would have been The Fog.

As I related in Part 1, John Carpenter's The Fog (1980) is one of those near-miss films. I alternately like and am disappointed by it. It comes on like thunder but then the lightning never hits you, and you finish the film wondering about the rainstorm that just missed your drought-ravaged field. I want to love this movie like I love Carpenter's Halloween or The Thing or Big Trouble in Little China, but it is just missing that certain something. Certainly this movie could live anew were it to be remade with a slightly larger budget and a minorly appended script that made use of the extra breathing room and allowed the movie to flesh out just enough to make the film a great ghost movie?

Well... they remade it...and I wish that I could tell you the experiment was a success and that the Monster is Alive! It's Alive!

But I can't...

It's not just that the film is bad per se: there are already a dozen horror films released to theatres this year that are of equal or lesser value. The Fog has the usual decent-to-great production values with which most of the crop of generic PG-13 teen-wrangling "scary movies" seem to be studio-blessed these days. So, it looks good. This version might have that tad of an extra budget that Carpenter needed to get the little engine over the "classic" hill: while the original cost around $1 million, this new one ran up the also rather generic cost these days of $18 million. How that translates with 25 years of inflation I'm not sure, but it still should come out with the new Fog quite ahead in terms of budget.

No, the main problem is that they took an initially underwhelming and disappointing story and then it just got even more underwhelming, though not necessarily more disappointing since one could not go into this venture expecting that much. Part of this could be due to the competent but bland touch of director Rupert Wainwright, who, despite having previous horror film experience on his resume (Stigmata), has yet to make one that is either good or that doesn't reek of his MTV past. (The man directed the M.C. Hammer movie, which may prove to be his closest venture towards creating a horror classic.) Just because you have been given the opportunity to direct multiple horror pictures doesn't mean that you are good at it. Most likely, it means that you are a studio drone who is just barely adequate enough at your job that a studio will throw you another picture every year or so. Much of the blame could be placed on Carpenter and Debra Hill's original evocative but thin story. I personally think it's a terrific set-up for a horror picture, but the script was lacking a final punch the first time they aired it out and that it needed just the smallest revisions in plot to blow it out. And the finale in this version doesn't really work, and while there are revisions to the plot, they seem to have built up the Tom Welling and Maggie Grace characters, simultaneously taking away from the DJ character played by Selma Blair. This, of course, means that the blah actors take center stage while the fun one is stuck in quicksand.

Outside of Blair, who always brings something fresh and gonzo to even the smallest of roles (and that pretty much describes the bulk of the roles in which she gets stuck), there is not much to recommend in the acting department. Tom Welling is no Superman on the big screen, so perhaps there was some wisdom in the decision to go with another actor in that upcoming project (though the jury will be out on that decision until next year). Maggie Grace goes from her ensemble comfort on "Lost, where she rarely has to break out of her pretty little pout, to the lead role here of Elizabeth (previously portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis) and to say that she stretches in the role would impart the mistaken image of her actually being Mr. Fantastic, because I believe that is the only way that she could ever stretch in any role. There is a blankness to her mall-rat features that is both infuriating and strangely compelling, but only in ways that take you out of thinking about the movie in which you are seeing her "act." There is a small amount more to this character than mere ingenue, and she blows it.

My main problem with the film is the character of the fog itself (and it is a character). I'm fairly certain that Carpenter created most of his fog onset (along with resorting to aerial photography and presumably, stock footage), not overwhelmingly relying on the rather simplistic approach (at least, nowadays) of creating it with computers. Perhaps they thought this would help The Fog come more alive, like the haunted entity that it is meant to represent, but like the majority of computer-generated characters, while there are some nice moments, the overall effect is one of cheesiness. Though not half as cheesy as, say, the Living Flood in The Mummy Returns, or any effect in any Stephen Sommers film for that matter. (It is sad to say that his most believable creations were in Deep Rising.)

John Carpenter, who holds a producer's credit (along with a shared one with the late Ms. Hill for the story) should have directed this movie in its second incarnation. Instead of resting on his laurels as a Master of Horror (and there are people out there who regard the initial version of The Fog a masterpiece, but then again, I know someone who loves Can't Stop the Music, and in a completely unironic fashion to boot. So there's no accounting for taste or wisdom), it would have been nice to see him take another crack at his script with the added budget and more advanced effects, sort of like Hitchcock when he took another crack at his own The Man Who Knew Too Much. Whether it is an artistic up-or-downturn is not the point. It just would have been a more interesting thing to view than this: just another middling "horror" effort to add to the pile of recently failed theatrical flotsam.

Stay out of The Fog...


EggOfTheDead said…
Deep Rising was one of the seven films which appeared in both Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Films You've Never Seen AND Roger Ebert's I Hated Hated Hated This Movie.

While I wouldn't call it one of the best, I'm still gonna lean with Fangoria on that one.

Haven't seen The Fog remake - mainly because the stars seemed bland even in the trailers, so if those were the bits the studio selected to sell me on the movie, I could only imagine how horrible the full ride was. I do enjoy Welling's character in Smallville, but, ummm, not for his acting ability.

John Carpenter was a regular at the Crown Books store I clerked for in the late '80s. He always bought "hard" books, like James Gleick's Chaos, and he wore sandals & facial hair when they definitely were not cool. *heart*.

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