John Carpenter's 1980 coastal-ghostal revenge movie, The Fog, was a flop when it first came out. But over the years, it's achieved semi-classic status. The 2005 remake of The Fog, directed by Rupert Wainwright, was also a box office bomb… and I don't think the ensuing years will treat it as kindly.
The Fog remake is one of the few movies that, while on the set as a reporter, it was easy to see the writing on the wall. The one scene I saw being shot was abysmal (I thought it would be cut out, but it wasn't); in interviews, the director had obvious contempt for the source material; the TV-star actors didn't seem to have a clear vision of the movie (insert your own "Lost" joke here); and the producer, John Carpenter, unabashedly stated that he was in it strictly for the cash.
The revisiting of The Fog didn't have to be bad. The idea is good (and screenwriter Cooper Layne added a lot of meaty back-story), the actors are all competent, and the setting is quite creepy. Unfortunately, the story is eked out in such a routine and often puzzling manner, that there is absolutely no suspense or tension. The actors, in other roles, are usually good but no one gets off the hook in this one. Some appalling dialogue is to blame, but in other scenes it seems as though they're reading teleprompters while on Quaaludes. The setting is great, but without any sense of building anxiety it's nothing more than a picture postcard seaside town, flat and without dimension.
The characters are updated from the first version of The Fog. Instead of Nick (Tom Welling) and Elizabeth (Maggie Grace) just shacking up for one night, they have a history. Stevie (Selma Blair) still has a young son (Cole Heppell) and a job as a DJ, but she takes a more proactive role this time around. Father Malone (Adrian Hough) is still a bumbling, bitter alcoholic, but now he's younger and has more to say.
What the new characters lack is what you might call "MOVIE Q". The usually delightful Blair not only doesn't have the physique of Adrienne Barbeau, but her voice simply isn't disc jockey silky smooth. Hal Holbrook was admittedly abominable in the first Fog as the histrionic priest, but at least he was entertaining — Hough just makes you wonder how he got the role.
The story is basically the same as the original: A long, long time ago the seafaring founders of the community (then a lowly leper colony) were screwed over and murdered by bad guys who claimed Antonio Island for their own, built it up and made a boatload of dough. Now it's hell to pay for their ancestors (none of which, ironically, are named Antonio). The catalyst seems to be the return of the prodigal daughter Elizabeth who's been away for six months, coupled with the accidental dredging up of several artifacts from a 100+ year old shipwreck.
There are several guffaw-inducing incidents, most of which involve a perfectly-preserved diary (helpfully marked "The Journal Of…") from one of the wronged souls who was killed near the island in the 1800s. The book is found hidden underwater and behind several rocks, but of course it's completely legible. And of course, no one bothers to read the whole thing until it's too late. There are also plenty of fruitless "boo!" scares, and gratuitous near-nude (PG-13 alert!) scenes. Oh, and Grace and Welling take a steamy shower, too (insert your own "Smallville" joke here).
The best thing I can say about The Fog is that the cinematography is superlative. Lenser Nathan Hope does a phenomenal job from start to finish (augmented with equally excellent underwater shots by Ian Seabrook), making everything crisp, clear, and gorgeously lush without getting overly arty. The composition and lighting are also beyond reproach.
The Fog looks damn good. In addition to the cinematography, the set design, locations, costumes and non-horror makeup is flawless. As for the horror makeups, they are uneven — some are appropriately creepy, while others are over the top. Another uneven aspect of the visuals is the use of CGI — I liked much of the fog, but some of the death scenes and gruesome burns were patently fake.
I did not see The Fog on its theatrical release (it was not screened for critics), but I do remember a lot of hubbub about the "silly" ending. I won't reveal what the ending actually is, I will say that it worked for me. I see no more satisfying way the conflict between the living and the dead could possibly have been resolved.
The DVD has some good additional release material. Much of it is standard EPK (electronic press kit) fare, but it's very nicely presented and gives a lot of details about the production, a little background on the original, and the inside scoop on "how they did that". There's also a director's commentary, and several deleted and extended scenes.
The deleted scenes are mostly superfluous as these things usually are, but two of them really stood out and should have, in my opinion, made their way into the final cut. The first one involves the fiery death of some poor schmo whose ancestors had nothing to do with the original fracas. The deleted scene has some cool pre-death taunting by the ghosts, as they animate his lantern and spin it around him before setting him ablaze.
The other deleted scene is an excellent segue from the present day into the past, showing the four fiends morphing from their statue-selves in front of the Town Hall, into their flesh-and-blood counterparts on a boat headed for danger in 1871. The entire extended scene is also a lot better than the hurried one that wound up in the film.
Overall, I thought The Fog was worth a look — if nothing else, to see what all the fuss was about and perhaps why Grace's character was killed off of America's #1 TV drama shortly after the film was released.
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Review by Staci Layne Wilson