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Page to Screen: The Mist

Updated on October 27, 2015
Movie poster for the film
Movie poster for the film | Source

The Film

Released in 2007, this adaptation is considered science fiction horror. The screenwriter and director of Stephen King's The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darrabont, also did both roles for this film as well. This adaptation is very true to the original work aside from a shift in antagonist (from monsters to those inside the supermarket) and a highly controversial ending. There are a couple of other small things that are changed as well, which I'll cover here shortly.

The Novella

Written by Stephen King, this story was originally published and included in 1980's Dark Forces. Since then, it was slightly edited and included in 1985's Skeleton Crew before being published as a standalone work in 2007 to match up with this adaptation. The story follows a man and his son as they are caught in a grocery store when a mysterious fog rolls in, swarming with alien-like monsters. The plot follows the survivors as the situation comes to a head.

The book cover for the novella
The book cover for the novella | Source

The Adaptation

The Perspective
This might not seem like a big deal but bare with me. In the novella, the reader is stuck in Drayton's head, the protagonist. We deal with his limited sight, his experiences, and his fear and growing paranoia. When you compare this with the film that uses a limited third person perspective, you can see things more plainly and less influenced by Drayton's views.

Mrs. Carmody
The monsters in the film are frightening and unnerving to be sure, but no monster is more terrifying than Mrs. Carmody. Her adaptation of her original character (more viewed as an off-her-rocker witchy-woman who dabbles in irregular treatments to things like warts, erectile dysfunction, and so forth) becomes so ridiculously polarized into a fire-and brimstone, hate-filled Christian woman (although she says she subscribed into the Old Testament with a God of Judgment).

The film puts a lot more emphasis on her as well. Where the novella uses the monsters and mystery around them as the main focus, the film utilizes the monsters as necessary plot checkpoints, all the time building up the threat of Mrs. Carmody and her cult.

The Spiders
Oh, dear goodness. What kind of twisted mind came up with these? Spiders the size of dogs are terrifying, then you add in that they have acidic webbing they can use as a projectile (which somehow also works as a solid structure material?) and lays their eggs inside still living hosts? Count me out.

During the pharmacy trip, no one explodes with spider babies by the way, at least not in the book.

The survivors witnessing horrors outside of the grocery market.
The survivors witnessing horrors outside of the grocery market. | Source

The Ending
Easily the most recognizable moment in this film (although the film itself is a string of hard hitting moments once they open that garage and that tentacle emerges), it doesn't happen in the original story. In the novella, there's no really a resolution. The surviving group takes a vehicle and listens to the radio, hoping that he heard a word. He thinks he heard either 'Hartford' or 'hope,' but regardless Drayton remains optimistic. He doesn't see his dead wife's corpse, and there's no ending. The group is literally traveling, hoping for an escape from the mist.

If you've seen the film, you definitely know this is not at all what happens. There is no word on the radio. Checking on Drayton's wife, they find her webbed up and spider-fied on the side of the house. Still driving to find a way out of the mist, their vehicle runs out gas. Nodding understanding to everyone in the car (aside from his waking son), Drayton shoots them all as a mercy killing to save them from the monsters outside. Broken by the forced tragedy, Drayton throws himself outside to die only to be 'rescued' by a military forced, breaking Drayton even worse.

Stephen King has highly praised this 'twist.' It's also interesting that this isn't exactly straying from the novella. In the short story, Drayton's handgun has enough bullets for each of the survivors save one. Since the novella's ending is ambiguous, it's very possible that the story would end up mirroring that of the film if given time.

Comparing the endings is interesting thematically. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of Stephen King stories since he's a free writer (I get the impression that he largely starts with a concept, some characters, and the beginning of a plot and writes until the story resolves itself). The tale that King tells is dark and things get worse and worse. Getting into a car with just a small whisper of potential hope is meant to give that literal hope to the reader that there is a happy ending. In truth, the mist's ambiguity matches well with the the ambiguity of the ending but after reading I didn't feel that there should have been hope.

Going back to the film, the story constantly gets worse as Carmody's cult grows. Since it was a crazy last ditch effort to drive into the mist, it seemed only natural for hope to expire. Many films, even horror films, will provide an escape from the depression but The Mist does something else that excels because of savage twist.

True, the ending is polarizing due to Thomas Jane's performance (whether his wailing or choice of music spoiled the moment) but others, including myself, are hit by just powerful this scene and ending is.

Closing Thoughts

To be fair, I saw the film first. Similarly to my resolution-less ending to the novel Stardust as compared to its adaptation, it's incredibly difficult to appreciate the source material when there is no definitive ending. I'm find with ambiguous ends to stories, but to be given a marked ending and then having it taken away is a bit torturous.

Otherwise, I appreciated Carmody's adaptation better than its source material. In either case, she is clearly unwell in her way of thinking. As a Christian however, seeing her use religious texts from the Bible in her own way to suit her worldview makes her far more terrifying. The buildup of her forces in the film is frightening as well when you first see two people agree with her, then a few more, then a named character or two, then the butcher of another character before nearly everyone is in her thrall. Nothing is more terrifying than having one individual convince everyone else to drink her crazy Kool-Aid, leaving you more and more alone as everyone opposes you.

Otherwise, it's impossible for me to compare the monsters as I already had a hard image for them in mind by the time I read the novella. The film boasts an incredibly cast that brings their emotions to the forefront, creating an atmosphere that is thick and at times oppressive with how hopeless and dark the film is. Maybe it's because the order I experienced them in, but I would encourage more people to watch the film before telling them to sit through a reading of the novella.

Oh, and fun fact, there's at least three different characters from the Walking Dead on here. I've only watched two seasons, but I recognized Angela, Dale, and Carol. From one apocalypse to another, right?

Book vs. Film

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

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Further Reading

You can read more varied Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.

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