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The Mist Gets Lost in a Baffling Cloud

Confused adaptation of Stephen King’s novella dissipates the tension.

'The Mist''The Mist,' SpikeThe Mist. Spike. Thursday, June 22, 10 p.m.

Stephen King's novella The Mist, published back in 1980 before he was too important to suffer editors, was a marvel of taut, muscular prose. A bunch of shoppers are marooned inside a grocery store when a heavy mist suddenly rolls across their small town. Inside it are a pack of fantastic creatures: Pterodactyls. Giant bugs. Other huge things, indiscernible through the fog except for their enormous, questing tentacles. They are hungry. They eat. A handful of people escape the grocery store and drive as fast and as far as they can in hopes of escape, but as the story ends, there's no real sign that they've succeeded.

The whole thing was sort of like walking outside and discovering you had stumbled into a better-dubbed and shockingly realistic Japanese monster movie. There was a single subplot that extended directly from the action: the devolution of many of the people inside the store into superstitious religious mania. No soap-opera detritus, no Sophie's-choice moments about saving kids or mistresses over wives, no Freudian agonistes, not even all that much time pondering the cause of the events. The Mist landed like a brutally hard punch. Frank Darabont's 2007 film adaptation took almost exactly the same approach to great effect (though he did add a Hitchcockian surprise ending that, purposefully or not, seriously subverted King's contemptuous treatment of religion).

If it doesn't seem to you that The Mist sounds like a good fit for a television series, then I've got bad news and worse news. The bad news is that you'll never be a production executive at Spike, Viacom's manly-men cable channel, which thought a TV version of The Mist sounded like a capital idea. The worse news is that a legion of demons did not burst from the ninth circle of Hell during production, set upon the cast and crew with fangs and claws, and leave them dangling from the sound-stage lighting towers by their own shredded intestines.

Okay, it's possible I'm overreacting here just a smidge. But Spike's version of The Mist is one dumb piece of work. It's a "reimagination" (Spike, mindful of the scant resemblance of its show to King's novella or Darabont's film, has been careful to avoid the word "remake") by Danish TV producer Christian Torpe, whose shows are much beloved there.

But his notion of U.S. politics and culture seems to be drawn in equal parts from a video archive divided between smarmy liberal-moralist soap operas like Peyton Place and redneck drive-in paranoia like Jackson County Jail.

Cops beat the bejeezus out of practically anybody they encounter, just on general principle. A teenage girl who reports she was roofied and raped at a party is immediately branded a lying slut by the whole town. A popular teacher is fired for explaining to her high school class where babies come from. (And it's not from giant prehistoric eggs coaxed into hatching by tiny Japanese fertility goddesses.) That's just in the first episode. By week two, I'm sure we'll have worked our way to the Scopes Trial, Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy, and a mayor who takes a sledge hammer to Elvis Presley on the steps of city hall.

Even if Torpe's characters hijacked a time machine to escape 1955 America, though, his conception of The Mist is dreadfully wrongheaded. Virtually every one of his changes conspires to rob the work of its gut-punch power.

Stretching out the show's timeline and giving its characters extensive back stories (even if they were less silly ones than these) distracts from the story's sheer horror. Trapping the survivors in a shopping mall instead of a grocery store dissipates its air of claustrophobia. What you're left with is a version of As the World Turns in which booty calls have been exchanged for body counts.

And though I'm not certain, it may be that Torpe (perhaps in deference to network bean-counters) has even eliminated The Mist's monsters. In the pilot episode, at least, none were visible; instead, any human who spent much time inside the fog turned homicidal and zombie-ish, a much cheaper visual effect that requires only makeup and no expensive computer work.

If The Mist rolls up decent Nielsen numbers, we can look no doubt look forward to further adaptations of King novels, including a Salem's Lot with mosquitoes instead of vampires, a Shining in which a family has to ride out a fierce blizzard with a broken cable-TV box, and a Cujo in which a boy and his mom are besieged by an incontinent chihuahua. Maybe we can even expand to the works of Shirley Jackson and her famously haunted Hill House: "Whatever walked there, walked alone...except for a fluffy kitten."

Photo Credit: 'The Mist,' Spike

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

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  • Hugh Akston||

    Just for the record, that image is from the 2007 feature film adaptation of the Mist, which was actually pretty good all things considered. It changed the ending, but it was arguably the more effective choice for a movie than the way the novella ended.

  • Aloysious||

    +1

  • Rhywun||

    that image is from the 2007 feature film adaptation

    Yeah, I thought so.

    And like so many of his movies I had no idea what to expect going in but this time I was pleasantly surprised. Enough to forget how the novella ended. Plus... Dead Can Dance!

  • Griffin3||

    The movie ending gave me the willies for about 6 months afterwards. Maybe longer.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    The 2007 movie Mist has the greatest ending in the history of movies.

  • Satyrical||

    Absolutely! And without a doubt the ballsiest. Ive never seen anyone pull of an ending that stark and consequential before. No punches pulled whatsoever. Darabont is a genius, and The Walking Dead took a serious nosedive the second he was fired from the show.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It would be nice if they could figure a way to contain The Mist - oh, I don't know - Under the Dome maybe.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    That's not a still from the movie?

  • Rhywun||

    We're going to look awfully silly when the author retcons in a different image.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    I was going to post here - before Hugh! - that someone messed up and posted the wrong image. Then I thought, maybe the show just hired actors who look like Tom Jane and Laurie Holden? So I BACKED THE FUCK OFF

  • chemjeff||

    "a Cujo in which a boy and his mom are besieged by an incontinent chihuahua."

    "Incontinent Chihuahua" was Crusty's AOL password.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    ...which he came up with after spotting the phrase in his medical file.

  • MarkLastname||

    Some then that proctologist refuses to see him.

  • Dillinger||

    If they're going to be bastardized, King's books should be 8-hour movies, like tv-Fargo or Legion...

  • Hugh Akston||

    Yeah, they really should be redoing the Stand as a series, while acknowledging that the 90s one was pretty decent.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Gary Sinise really carried that thing.

  • Dillinger||

    I *still* get sucked into that every time it's on sci-fi...lifelong crush on Laura San Giacomo doesn't help matters

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Is The Mist better or worse than Storm of the Century?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Different. I liked both well enough. Sore, of the Century had the advantage that it was originally written for TV.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    Frank Darabont's 2007 film adaptation took almost exactly the same approach to great effect (though he did add a Hitchcockian surprise ending that, purposefully or not, seriously subverted King's contemptuous treatment of religion).

    That seems a bit of a stretch. Seems to me that the religion King's being contemptuous of is the superstitious, appeasement-driven sort that offers authoritarian refuge from fear of the unknown. If Garvin's implication is that the movie punishes its characters for lacking faith, the "faith", it's espousing is of a pretty secular sort. It's not so much "God will look after his servants," but simply "It ain't over 'til it's over" -- which is arguably the attitude driving anyone, religious or atheist, who endures any hardship.

  • ||

    If The Mist rolls up decent Nielsen numbers, we can look no doubt look forward to further adaptations of King novels, including a Salem's Lot with mosquitoes instead of vampires, a Shining in which a family has to ride out a fierce blizzard with a broken cable-TV box, and a Cujo in which a boy and his mom are besieged by an incontinent chihuahua.

    Or Cell with Sam Jackson and John Cusack.

    IMO, King's work generally isn't suited to the Screen. Most of it really requires phenomenal actors giving the performance of a lifetime to make it memorable (or proportionally very good actors to make the story good). It's not like there isn't plenty of film footage either of King or rather single-handedly created by King to demonstrate that while the guy can write books and little else. I'd love to say that lots of it is psychological or cerebral and not captured well on film, but there's also the confounding factor of ho-hum works by King that people try to convert to blockbusters.

  • Scott S.||

    Oh. Hilariously, I selected that image for Glenn's review after seeing it posted as a publicity still on several other entertainment sites about the show. Which means that several outlets are doing the same thing and confusing the movie with the television show.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I... i don't know if i can believe anything anymore.

  • Scott S.||

    I've changed the photos and will now happily pretend there was never anything amiss.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Sooo....all the sequences with the monsters are fake? Because there are a hell of a lot of them from the new show. And the people I know who sculpted some of them for that show will be pretty surprised...............

  • JWatts||

    This is disappointing. I was looking forward to watching the show, though I was surprised it was a series. I had hoped that the first few episodes would recount the short story. Then the series would continue forward from the end of the story. Perhaps in the vein of the 2010 film Monsters.

    Also adding in some of the backstory at the military base that triggered the interdimensional rift would add context.

    Instead, from the review, this sounds awful.

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