Featurette - Visual Effect; Stephen king Interview
Roadshow Entertainment/Roadshow Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 128 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
This film is about the ‘Shit Weasel’. The Shit Weasel is a nasty piece of work which gestates in your upper torso for a brief period of time, and then when it’s cooked it bursts from your body.
“HEY! WHAT A RIPOFF! That’s the chest-burster from Aliens!” you say.
That’s correct, it is the chest-burster - but with one very important difference. A difference which is interesting. A difference which is unique. A difference, most importantly, which saves King from getting sued by H. R. Giger.
The difference is... are you ready for this?... hope you’re not eating anything... or reading this review on a toilet... the difference is IT’S AN ARSE-BURSTER instead!
If you ever see this much blood inthe toilet, cut down on the fibre, okay?
Nasty, eh? Yep, instead of having the common decency of ripping its way through your chest cavity when it’s ready to meet the world and kill anything that moves, the beautifully named Shit Weasel chews it’s way out of your body via your poop-chute, leaving a bloody, pulpy, messy, big hole, where originally there was just a nice small (hopefully) clean one.
The mind boggles, the minds spans, the mind screams “HOLY CRAP!” It is, one could say, a rather undignified way to die. Picture Elvis dead on the toilet, then add to that picture a snake coming out of his arse, and you have a fairly good idea of what it’s all about.
Morgan Freeman was really embarrassed by his dandruff problem.
In a movie full of ideas, the Shit Weasel, unfortunately, is probably the only interesting one. That’s not to say that there aren’t other good ideas in here, it’s just that most of them are really strikingly original, engaging or well done. What do we have? Let’s see: We have four childhood friends, adults now, who share some telepathic powers. We have a mentally retarded childhood friend who gave them these powers. We have a yearly trip to the woods for beers and cheers. We have an alien presence in the woods trying to make its way out to poison the world. We have a psychotic Colonel in charge of a special army group charged with finding the alien menace, killing it and anyone infected by it. We have a climactic showdown to save the world.
Now, here’s the good news: If you haven’t read the original book by Stephen King, you might enjoy it. Might. If you have read the book, like I have, you’ll probably sit there thinking “Eh? What the Hell have they done here? Boy did they f*ck up.”
Lots of the book material is there, some in a page to screen direct rip, which unfortunately feels clunky and not very effective. For the script it’s pretty obvious they went through the novel and simply underlined key dialogue, and slapped it together without much thought of how the dialogue in the book referred back to the characters’ development as a unit in their early years. Some character traits have been so diluted down that, when you hear them say a line out of the book in their adult years, it’s incredibly out of place, has little relevance and is poorly delivered.
Stephen King after he saw what they did to his novel
Speaking of which, special mention must go to the acting. Quite simply, with some minor exceptions, it has to be some of the worst delivery of lines I’ve seen in a film for some time. Most of the child cast is to blame here, but the adults don’t escape unscathed. You can just see director Lawrence Kasdan scream at the kids on set “Will you just read you f*cking lines! Don’t act!”. That’s precisely how it comes across, as kids reading their lines from cards off-camera. Thomas Jane in particular sounds forced and uncomfortable with his lines, and this went some way to ruining the illusion for me.
But, the single biggest “What the...?” has to go to the method they’ve found in cleaning up the ending of the book to one that might be comprehensible on film. Book-wise, it’s clear that it would be impossible to translate into a coherent ending that would neatly wrap up in five minutes. So, they’ve gone back through the story and added this really lazy explanation for the existence of Duddits, the retarded boy, and the role he plays in the whole story. Frankly, it should have been a warning sign in the script that the film wouldn’t work. William Goldman should have known better, but I’m sure he had bills to pay. Lawrence Kasdan should have known better, but I’m sure he had bills to pay as well.
Stephen King, well, I’m sure he has bills to pay as well, but he also got hit by a car and probably wasn’t thinking straight when he wrote the book in the first place.
I’ll make no such complaints for the way the print has been shoved onto DVD. What a beauty this is. The widescreen frame (2.40:1, 16:9 enhanced) is used to the very outer boundaries with many shots composed to simply fill the screen to the best effect like a still image piece of art. For the majority of the film the picture is stunningly clear and defined, the scenes of snow drifting down in front of the characters superb and adding a real sense of depth to the frame, with just one real standout section involving a helicopter attack which is deliberately shot to mimic the Saving Private Ryan realism effect, with a much grainier picture and the shakes. It’s basically flawless, soak it up.
Eerie and effective, sharp, clear and aggressive, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is all that and serves the action, dialogue and suspense perfectly with room filling ambience and dynamic effects. I couldn’t imagine a DTS track would do anything better than what we have here, so its absence isn’t an issue. The balance is also spot on, with the few shock moments jumping perfectly from a clear quiet suspense to sudden ‘shit my pantsness’. The LFE rumbles to life effectively as well, giving good moral support when a little aggression is needed to make you wake up. This is a soundtrack that is so much better than the film.
Dream Writer – An Interview with Stephen King, he discusses how his accident influenced this story, from the way it was written in longhand using a pencil, and the injuries suffered by a character. He also talks about the creation of Shit Weasel and how he considered it crossing the last taboo of drama that occurs in a toilet and several other concepts in the film. The only problem is this runs far too briefly, and from his comments in The Shining commentary, he could have spoken for an hour if they’d given him the space and time.
A similarly brief amount of time is given to Dream Weavers – The Visual Effects of Dreamcatcher, but in this case it’s not so bad. The key effects scenes are covered, the technical yaya given the once over regarding the Shit Weasel and a few other elements that obviously needed to be created in the digital domain. Where would we be without computers, eh? Seems like you can’t make a movie without them these days.
In Lifted Scenes and Original Ending you can see more evidence of the clunky writing. Just witness the extended exchange between Thomas Jane and Donnie Wahlberg in the ‘One Worm’ scene. I first thought that it was just Jane fooling around, but it turns out it was serious. The original ending is similarly lame, but not as lame as the ending in the film. Jesus, what the heck went wrong with this film?
Read the book and you’ll quickly discover it’s a hard one to make a faithful translation to film without seriously compromising its integrity. The film certainly bears this out. The same argument could be said for most books, but the underlying idea in Dreamcatcher is so simple that it would have been better served by just writing a brand new script rather than adapting King’s work.
The DVD, on the other hand, is an excellent example of how to get the sound and picture qualities just right, which goes some way to masking the film’s several deficiencies.