The Fog Review
When Tim Robbins' character, Norville Barnes, hits his fallow period in The Hudsucker Proxy after coming up with hula hoop, all he can invent is variations on the same theme. Hula hoops with sand in for the blind, battery powered hula hoops for the lazy, extra large hula hoops for the obese, and so on, the sheer enormity of his first hit overwhelmed his efforts to follow it up. I like to think that The Fog is John Carpenter succumbing to a similar weighty burden of expectation. Halloween had been so successful, that any feature length follow up would have to be a horror film, but a bit different and at the same time, the same.
There are some lofty ambitions behind The Fog with the film using as its key tool, oral histories and myths. It begins with the wonderfully foreboding John Houseman scaring the children of San Antonio Bay with a fireside tale of horror, moves on to Tom Atkins telling a creepy seafaring tale to a very pert looking Jamie Lee Curtis, and completes itself with Hal Holbrook's drunken priest reading from his ancestor's diary to relate the evil events that the town was born from. Add to this, a screenplay which uses the ultimate oral medium, radio, as its central narrative drive, and you have a very literate sounding horror movie.
Or you would have, if all the parts of the film ever came together properly as a single movie. There is a little bit of spooking, a little bit of zombies, some lepers, some women in peril, and a bit of a haunting. Throw in some convenient but wholly unbelievable romance and some pointless scares such as the priest leaping out of the shadows at the Mayor, and you get a very dense but ultimately second rate film. When it was first released it was re-cut with a bit more gore and violence because it seemed too timid and lacking in shock value, but all the re-cutting in the world can't save a poor central idea stretched too far.
When I say central idea, I mean monsters. Halloween had the bogeyman, and The Fog has some leperous pirates who may want revenge, or not, and have a very fuzzy motivation towards their victims. The killer mist of the title seems less of a challenge to defeat when you can just drive away from it or leave your front door closed, than an unstoppable homicidal maniac wearing William Shatner's face. Additionally, some of the scares are rather shoddy - the corpse in the hospital left with Jamie Lee whilst the men talk in the corridor, the driftwood that ruins the cassette machine, and the scary shopping isle at the 7-11 (quick children, the appletise is shaking, it must be leperous zombie pirates).
But despite this, it is a John Carpenter movie and his abilities show themselves through some excellent casting, the score, and a couple of well done scenes. Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau are in roles that fit them like a glove, both strong and interesting characters and their performances overcome bad dialogue to drive the ropey narrative forward. The film's score builds and builds with a perfect ethereal quality, and the pirates' introduction is a reminder of what could have been made if the story kept itself to their gory misdoings.
I do love Carpenter's work, but The Fog is the least impressive of his early films. It does get tense, and everyone is trying hard to deliver a literate tale of the past finding the present out, but in the end, it tries too hard to top Halloween. The Fog attempts to move away from slasher territory to be different and to be scary, but, ironically, the film is best when it sneaks back into this kind of horror with the pirates ripping and slitting their victims. So this movie is definitely a different film to his breakthrough hit, but Carpenter's work on it is best when the nature of the suspense and the threat is the same. In this respect, and returning to Norville Barnes, The Fog is like a battery powered hula hoop, ostensibly newer, more expensive, but not better than what came before.
Well, I am pretty sure that this uses the same transfer as the UK HD-DVD release. That is pretty bad news, and if, like me, you took one look at that release when compared with the standard def DVD and decided that an upgrade was pointless, I am sorry to say that I think you will say the same here.
Some of the previous standard def versions of this film have had pretty serious levels of grain present and I wondered whilst watching this release whether the materials used had been similar but DNR'd to improve the look. The image at the centre of the frame is sharp, but there are lots of issues elsewhere with this transfer. The periphery of the frame is very, very lacking in detail, contrast doesn't give enough range in black levels, and there are moments of aliasing and shimmering. At some points, the image bleeds into parts of the frame that it shouldn't and the edge enhancement does halo characters. Skin-tones seem rather too uniform and flesh sometimes becomes reflective, such as in the scenes in the lighthouse and the opening. Watching on a large screen, I was very disappointed with the handling of the image and sometimes the background of shots looks like a dark undefined mess. This is the most disappointing hi-def transfer I have seen.
More positively, the disc does come with a DTS Master Audio track despite the menu only referring to 5.1, the menu itself seems to be the same as the previous Momentum HD-DVD. The track down-mixed to stereo on my A/V receiver so I am unable to comment on its surround capabilities, but it seems to be a strong track with adequate separation of voices and effects, and clarity in its reproduction of all elements of the soundtrack. I did not notice a great deal of use of the LFE track, and the bit-rate throughout is constantly high at 1500kps and above.
The only extras on this Region AB coded disc, of which is 16.5gb is used, are audio and video configuration wizards. This disc does not carry the commentary from the director that you will find on the standard def version.
An underwhelming port of the video from the existing HD-DVD release suggests that future Blu-ray releases of this disc will surpass this one. Extras are much poorer than the standard def release and owners of that disc may not want to upgrade.