Monday, February 13, 2006

Foggy evenings

Howard Hawks, who has as much right to say as anyone, once said the formula for making a great movie was four great scenes, no bad ones.

I am indeed a fan of John Carpenter's The Fog. It's a smart, economical ghost story with a nice creepy mood, a genuine feel of a real community and a strikingly honest performance by Adrienne Barbeau.

That said, when I heard they were remaking it, I thought it was a fine choice. There are enough good things to make it worth re-doing, but enough little flaws and shortcoming that could be fixed with a smart script and well-used modern technology.

To say that The Fog by Rupert Wainwright doesn't live up to that potential would be an understatement of great magnitude. It almost perfectly reverses the Hawks formula.

Most of the movie is nothing one would describe as bad exactly, only about four scenes. They're merely competent. Nothing shows the difference between the two films better than the casting of local radio station owner/disk jockey Stevie Wayne. Adrienne Barbeau gave what may have been the performance of her career. Selma Blair is fine, but lacks the gravitas Barbeau brought to the role.

There's simply not one shot, not one line of dialogue, not a single edit, no plot device that suggests anyone involved even reaching for something above competence.

Mind you, I'm all in favor of movies that work quietly without obvious writers or directors showing off their abilities. Sam Raimi, well known for his outlandish stylish excesses, made A Simple Plan with a quiet, "directorless" style to excellent effect.

However, this is a ghost story. It cries out for something interesting, bold or askew to create a mood. It has none of these.

Add to that, sloppy touches like a shower love scene that very blatantly shoots Tom Welling's body from inside the shower door and Maggie Grace through the door. Then they wake up very obviously with what I call the "Burt Reynolds sheet" and what Roger Ebert's movie glossary describes as the Sex-Specific Sticky Sheet Technique. This isn't my complaint at not seeing Ms. Grace's breasts per se, just a complaint that this is terrible filmmaking. You can show a man's chest in scene that you don't show a woman's chest in a scene and still play it so it feels natural, decent movies do it all the time.

There's another bad element that would require a major spoiler to explain, but suffice it to say, it's the big twist and final scene.

And that's just it, four bad scenes, a whole lot of things that just aren't as good as the original and nothing at all that ever quite reaches the level of good.

That sounds like a mediocre movie review, but I seriously can't remember the last time I couldn't think of the last movie I saw that didn't have anything I'd describe as good, nor the last movie I couldn't see a single element that seemed attempting to be more than that. The Hawks formula reverses nearly perfectly. With absolutely nothing at all to recommend, even a single interesting frame of film, this is the worst movie I've seen in years.

NOTE: The Internet seems to disagree how many great scenes Hawks required for greatness, three, four or six, but four is my recollection and the one that feels right to me.

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