Off the Page – The Shining

shining finale

You’ve heard the old adage about movies adapted from other material; that the book was better.  In many case that is almost certainly true.  Books and movies live by different rules, and when the story itself is highly complex, it’s more than likely that a book will more satisfactorily accomplish what the story needs to do.  With books, the reader return to a story through multiple sittings, and absorb all of the material at their own leisure.  Movies on the other hand have to accomplish the same feat, but within an unyielding two hour time frame; three hours if they’re lucky.  To make this happen, the filmmaker has to do the drastic move of cutting or just outright changing whole pieces of the story in order to make it fit within the confines of it’s run-time.  Some things are easy to get rid of, like a character’s inner monologue, but then again, a filmmaker also runs the risk of changing the wrong things, and completely changing the intent of the story overall.  It’s a tricky tightrope for filmmakers to accomplish, and yet adaptations have dominated the Hollywood landscape since the very beginning.  Indeed, it seems like today that Hollywood is more likely to adapt an already proven bestselling title rather than come up with something completely original.  But, on the other hand, there are novels that lend themselves perfectly over to film and one hopes that it falls into the hands of the right filmmaker.

Given all this, I have decided to begin a new series of articles where I look at some of the more famous translations between the written word and the big screen.  With these articles I hope to showcase the many interesting ways that stories evolve between the two mediums.  Also, to make this series a little more interesting, I will also be reading the source novels beforehand as well as watching, or re-watching the movies.  Primarily, I want to read books that I haven’t read before and see how much it and the movie line up together.  More than likely the books I read will be from movies that I have already seen, but there might be cases in future articles where I will be going into both cold, which might give me a very different reaction to both altogether.  For the most part, I just want to use this as an incentive to get me reading more books and allow me to share my thoughts on both with you the reader, in the hopes that it will help you see the value in each, and how the process of adaptation works.   For this inaugural article, I took it upon myself to look at an appropriately dark and Gothic story that fits very well the mood of this Halloween season.  It’s Stephen King’s 1978 classic, The Shining, which of course was turned into an equally renowned 1980 film adaptation of the same name directed by Stanley Kubrick.  The reason why I chose to look at these two is because of the differences between the two; differences of which created a rift between the filmmaker and the author.  Did Kubrick change too much of King’s novel?  Did he change enough to make the film better or less than the novel?  Is the book indeed better than the movie?  After reading both the novel and re-watching the movie, the results surprisingly are more complicated than you’d expect.

shining overlook

“Some places are like people; some shine and some don’t.”

The truth is that both are brilliant pieces of work in their own right, though neither will give you the entirely same experience of the other.  They are like two different views of the same events, told in their own author’s particular style.  Kubrick removes some of King’s more famous supernatural elements, while at the same time adding some of his own.  And while that may tick off some King purists, many people have actually seen Kubrick’s additions as improvements.  I won’t lie and say that during my read of the novel, I was actually looking for those famous moments from the movie, and was just a bit let down when they didn’t appear.  But, that’s not to say that the book itself let me down.  There was a lot of things that the novel itself had that made me wish they were in the movie.  In particular, Stephen King conveys a lot more of the evil presence of the Overlook Hotel in his novel, with vivid descriptions of all the noises and disembodied voices that haunt the main characters throughout the story.  It’s unfortunate that stuff like that gets lost in translation, but at the same time, you can easily see why Kubrick made the changes he did.  Kubrick himself was very selective with his choices of projects, and usually he was more inclined to work outside the Hollywood system and make movies with risque themes and content.  But, with King’s novel, this became a rare case where Kubrick could take on a commercially proven property and still satisfy his artistic tastes.  And indeed, Kubrick’s mark is all over the finished film, creating a truly memorable and chilling adaptation of the novel.

Unfortunately, one of the film’s biggest detractors was Stephen King himself.  He didn’t like Kubrick’s version of his story at all and for many years he dismissed the project as a perversion of his novel.  Years later, King would himself undertake an adaptation in a three part miniseries made for TV.  The 1997 miniseries starred Steven Weber of Wings fame and it stuck much closer to King’s original vision.  Though King himself was satisfied, audiences were not, and the miniseries was critically panned.  The unfortunate thing for Stephen King was the fact that Kubrick’s movie had become such a beloved classic overtime, with many of the most memorable moments becoming ingrained in our pop culture.  Stephen King may have satisfied his own artistic intent, but he failed to recognize the artistry that Kubrick had put into his adaptation, and King’s more standard looking miniseries failed to resonate with it’s visuals.  But that’s not to say that Stephen King can’t tell the story better than Kubrick.  Kubrick is a visual artist, and can create images through the lens of a camera that will stick with you forever.  But Kubrick is only building upon the foundation that King had laid out for him.  What King is brilliant at is painting an image in the mind’s eye, and indeed, much of the strength of the novel is the remarkably vivid atmosphere.  King also lays out the internal struggles within the characters, giving the reader a deeper understanding of the character’s motivations.  Kubrick in turn has to work through shortcuts and reliance on his actors to achieve the same, which does work remarkably well.  In time, King began to understand Kubrick’s impact, and though he still retains reservations about it, he nevertheless now respects Kubrick’s work.

shining twins

“Come play with us Danny.”

In the end, you can watch one and read the other, and still get a satisfying experience.  Both give their audience a wonderfully disturbing descent into darkness, and both accomplish the feat of just being the most epic of ghost stories.  Essentially, all of the elements that matter are present in both.  You’ve got the Torrence family snowbound in the ominous Overlook Hotel during the winter, as they all try to keep themselves from going insane due to the isolation and the fact that the Hotel is also haunted.  The ghosts are mostly the same, though there are exclusions and inclusions of note, and the descent into madness by Jack Torrence (a memorable performance by Jack Nicholson) is roughly about the same.  Where the two depart the most is in how much of an influence the Hotel is having on it’s characters.  In the novel, the Overlook Hotel itself is a sentient entity, infecting the minds of it’s inhabitants, and leading them towards committing heinous acts, thereby collecting more souls into it’s collective body.  Though King never explains how the Hotel came to have a mind of it’s own, it nevertheless comes across in a very vivid way, especially when it takes control of Jack’s mind and leads him towards murdering his family.  We can see that same influence also take hold of Jack’s wife Wendy and his son Danny, as they are tested by the Hotel’s illusions as well.  Kubrick’s movie hints at this, but never overtly states that it’s the Hotel itself that is making Jack turn murderous.  Instead, Kubrick makes Jack much more responsible for his own murderous intent, which diminishes the impact of the evil presence of the hotel, but makes Jack a more frightening character as a result.  It’s one of the many cases where something that’s lost at one point in the story is gained somewhere else.

For the most part, Kubrick makes the Overlook Hotel more of a standard haunted house rather than a collective body of evil power working it’s magic on others.  In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this could be a move that can otherwise miss the mark of the original story entirely.  Thankfully, whenever Kubrick made a change in the story, it was for all the right reasons.  Notably, he removes some of King’s sillier attempts at scares, like party favors and balloons appearing in the elevator and a fire hose turning into a snake, and replaces them with some truly horrific images, like the elevator full of blood.  He also gives the different ghost of the Hotel much more defined personalities, thanks to some very chilling performances.  British actor Phillip Stone in particular is a standout as the deeply sinister Delbert Grady in what is probably the movie’s most chilling scene. Kubrick also added the presence of Grady’s murdered daughters, standing creepily at the end of a long hall in what has since become one of the most iconic images in movie history.  The “All work and no play” scene was also an addition, and it represents probably Kubrick’s biggest departure from the book, as it makes Jack more self aware of his own murderous intent.  By doing this, Kubrick makes Jack a much more frightening villain; something that Jack Nicholson plays up with amazing gusto in his performance.  When the results work this well, it’s easy to see why many people look to the film as their favorite version of the story.

shining jack

“Here’s Johnny!!”

But if there is something missing in Kubrick’s film, it’s the slow burn to that moment of psychological breakdown.  The movie is limited by it’s runtime, and even at nearly 2 and 1/2 hours long, it still has to cram in a lot.  King’s novel is allowed more time to establish the history of the Torrence family and show how things have gotten to the state that it’s at.  By showing all this, he makes Jack’s descent feel more natural, and helps the reader get a better sense of how easily he’s taken in by the hotel.  Danny Torrence is also better defined in the novel, as the book also works as a coming of age tale for the gifted boy.  In the movie, the character of Danny is limited by how well he is played by the actor, and though young Danny Lloyd does a fine job with the role, he’s still is limited to the common inexperience that you see in most child actors; mainly reacting instead of actually acting.   The relationships between father, son and mother make up the bulk of the novel and King makes it clear how the bonds of family is the primary theme of his novel.  Kubrick’s movie removes much of the slow build-up and instead pushes us into the darkness much quicker, which is exactly what helps to keep the pacing more taught on the big screen.  It’s not until the last half that the book and the movie flow along a more parallel path, and at this point it’s clear why both versions took the needed routes that they did.  Movies need to be more visceral and to the point, while novels can round out the details, and both versions of The Shining illustrate this difference very clearly.

Probably the thing that separates the two artists the most is their outlook on the stories and characters, especially with regards to where they leave off.  Stephen King puts his characters through a lot of darkness, but ultimately they make it out triumphant, having overcome evil.  This is true in The Shining as Danny and his mother escape the Hotel as it explodes due to an explosion from it’s basement boiler, taking the possessed Jack and all the evil spirits down with it.  The heroes live; the villains die.  Kubrick on the other hand doesn’t let things end on such a positive note.  Danny and Wendy still escape, but not without sacrifice.  Dick Hallorran, the Overlook’s cook, arrives to save the family thanks to a telepathic connection between him and Danny, and he escapes with the two, helping them down the mountain.  Played by Scatman Crothers in the movie, the same character does not make it out alive, instead falling victim to an ax in the stomach from Jack, who was hiding in the shadows.  Still his sacrifice gives Wendy and Danny a way out, but it also gives the movie a surprising twist that I don’t think any reader or viewer saw coming.  Also, instead of the movie ending with the Hotel destroyed, Kubrick instead takes the conclusion outside into the icy bleakness of a frozen garden.  There Danny eludes Jack, leaving the maniacal father to freeze to death.  The movie ends with Jack dead, but the Hotel still intact, leaving on a final image of a vintage photo of the Overlook Hotel.  The only difference is that Jack Torrence is now shown in the same photograph, having now joined all the other souls that have come before him.  It’s one of the only indicators of King’s idea of the evil presence of the Hotel, and Kubrick leaves his audience with the chilling conclusion that states that the Overlook has added to it’s collection and is lying in wait for the next one to come.  Where King sees a light at the end of the tunnel, Kubrick only sees more tunnel.

shining danny


So, having looked at both, it’s clear that both stand on their own merits.  It’s hard to tell if one has more worth than the other.  Since I was already very familiar with the film by Kubrick, my reaction to the novel may have been a little muted.  I did find the slow deterioration of Jack Torrence’s psyche fascinating to read, especially when you learn read the story through the character’s own perspective.  But at the same time, I already knew where the story was going, even though the road to the end deviated somewhat from what I was expecting.  Overall, if some of you are approaching the story of The Shining entirely cold, than I can tell you that either format will still give you a satisfactory experience.  Fundamentally, The Shining is just a solid story from beginning to end, and though Stephen King may have found the changes troublesome, he should still see it as a true honor that an artist like Stanley Kubrick managed to bring the story to the big screen in such a grand and visceral way.  Let’s face it, there are some things that translate well into celluloid, and other things that should just remain on the page (living hedge animals, for example).  Kubrick’s changes were risky, but they still retain the atmosphere of King’s novel and fit well within the story.  Some of them may even be seen as improvements, like the vivid portrayals of the ghosts and the spookier imagery.  But, overall, comparing the two only makes you appreciate both in the end.  It’s one of the rare examples of both pieces being brilliant works of art, while still remaining markedly different.  In future installments of this series, the same may not be true as either the book will clearly be better or the movie may be the greater of the two.  In this case, you won’t find a better spooky tale to entertain you this Halloween season than The Shining.

Top Ten Scary Moments in Family Movies

evil queen disney

Off all the emotions that we love to feel at the movies, the one that seems to be the most popular is fear.  That’s probably why Horror movies are always great communal experiences.  There’s nothing better than watching an audience react all at once to some unexpected jump scare, even when it comes in movies that aren’t meant to be scary.  It’s manipulative, yes, but when done right and put into the right moment, it can actually help to enrich the movie as a whole.  But this is also tricky as well, because as audience members grow up, they become harder to scare, especially when they’ve become so used to it.  While Horror attempts to scare us with the grotesque and the shocking, our reactions as an audience usually differs based on the tolerance level that we have towards such images.  What is particularly interesting about this is that depending on experiences in childhood, we react to horrifying images in movies differently.  This is usually because some of the things that were passed off to us a kid-friendly entertainment sometimes features some truly terrifying moments themselves.  It is surprising how many movies from our childhood have featured some dark and scary moments, whether it was in animation or in colorful live action fantasies.  Family entertainment has become more sanitized over the years, but in years past, filmmakers were not afraid to test their younger viewers with moments of terror.  One wishes that more filmmakers would take that kind of risk today, because it does show a degree of respect to young audiences that I think they would appreciate in the end.

For this article, I am choosing to highlight some of the most noteworthy examples of movies intended for young children that were not afraid to drift briefly into darkness.  In particular, I’ll be highlighting the moments that stood out in those movies and rank them based on their effectiveness and their noteriety.  Some of these moments are pretty legendary, and have been scaring young children for generations now, but others are some brief WTF moments of terror that stand out in otherwise cheerful movies.  Most importantly, what makes these scenes noteworthy is how they contrast against the brightness of the scenes around them.  What you won’t find on this list are family movies that already had a scary tone to them in the first place; so sorry, no Secret of NIMH (1982) or The Neverending Story (1987) on this list.  For these moments to stand out, they have to really come out of nowhere.  It’s moments like these that made us close our eyes in fright as kids, and at the same time, they also helped to enrich our experience and ingrain that love of being scared that we now carry over into our adulthood.  So, with that, here is my pick for the top scariest moments in family movies.



This character makes it onto the list mostly because of the creep factor.  A secondary villain in this light-hearted musical, the Child Catcher is a surprisingly terrifying presence in an otherwise harmless movie.  The character is hired by the film’s main villain to kidnap the children of the fictional land of Vulgaria after their presence there has been made illegal.  While this is a dastardly deed to begin with, the creepiness comes more from how the Child Catcher seduces the children into his clutches; with candy and clownish dancing.  But, it’s clear to anyone of all ages that this is a dangerous character under the cheerful facade.  There’s something about the way he says “Come and get your lollipops” that just sends a shiver down your spine in the wrong way.  Pretty much, this is a prime cinematic example of the “stranger danger” scenario played out, and while the film never goes into that direction entirely, you can imagine a character like him being a possible representation of a pedophile or child killer in a more horrific story-line.  Indeed, there are other cinematic examples of characters like the Child Catcher in films like in Fritz Lang’s M (1931), but the fact that a character like this exists in a movie as sweet as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang just makes the idea of what he does all the more terrifying.  Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame) wrote the original book, but the creation of the Child Catcher actually goes to screenwriter Roald Dahl, who himself was known for creating stories for children with dark undertones.  Not surprisingly, the Child Catcher feels like a very natural creation from this notably dark  author.



No other filmmaker left his mark of family entertainment more than Walt Disney, and for the most part, many of his movies are easy-going fare for all audiences.  That being said, even he wasn’t afraid to take his film’s into dark places once in a while, which was especially true for some of his earlier work.  What is amazing about the darkest moments in Disney movies is just how vivid they are.  Walt Disney was not one to miss an opportunity, and when a story-line called for a terrifying or dark moment, he did what was best for the story.  This is something you see in many early Mickey Mouse shorts like The Haunted House (1931) or The Mad Doctor (1933), which featured some really macabre visuals that could chill audience members of all ages.  But, when his films became more sophisticated and complex, especially when his studio began working on features, Walt Disney still was not afraid to push a few buttons.  That’s clearly evident in his first feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.  The movie is a light-hearted musical romp, but what people remember most vividly is the terrifying, villainous Queen at it’s center.  Her character is chilling enough through most of the film, but it is this scene where she transforms herself into a crone that people remember as being truly terrifying, especially when they were kids.  Probably the most legendary scary moment in any family film, though not the most particularly frightening,  this vivid portrayal of dark villainy would go on to inspire many more moments like it, like with the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz or countless other Disney villains since like Maleficent or Ursula.



In a time when it’s become increasingly difficult to make children’s entertainment chilling and dark, the Laika studios have helped lead the way, creating refreshing new scares for younger audiences to enjoy.  They pulled that off particularly well with their first feature film Coraline.  The movie is more grim in tone than the average modern animated movie, but it’s darkest moments don’t come until the final stretch.  Before then, the movie is charmingly surreal and delightfully comic, albeit with a tinge of the macabre always present.  However, what makes this movie most notable is the primary antagonist that goes by the name “Other Mother.”  Other Mother creates a fantasy world for the main hero, Coraline, that is the embodiment of all her dreams.  But over time, Coraline learns the dark side of this dream and soon realizes that Other Mother is actually a child-eating monster named the Beldam.  Created by author Neil Gaiman, and directed by Henry Selick, Coraline is a superbly dark fairy tale that’s not afraid to be terrifying, but is also smart enough to know when to bring on the scares.  It’s not exploitative, and in fact it uses it’s scares sparingly, helping to make their impact all the more effective.  The final confrontation in the Beldam’s den is particularly chilling and makes perfect use of it’s atmosphere.  I particularly love the spider-like motif of the character, and her sultry, devilish way of speaking (provided by Teri Hatcher of all people).  Other stop motion animated films lend themselves well to the bizarre and the frightening (Nightmare Before Christmas for example) but Coraline managed to go even further, helping to create a scene that can bring out terror in any audience member, young or old.



Now you would think that a Gothic filmmaker like Tim Burton’s first feature would be as dark and macabre as some of his later work.  But in reality, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a fun, quirky comedy; albeit still firmly in the realm of the bizarre.  For the most part, the movie is colorful and harmless.  That is until we get to this scene.  During Pee Wee’s travels, he gets lost in the woods in the middle of the night and has to resort to hitchhiking to get where he needs to go.  He is picked up by Large Marge, a deeply disturbed lady trucker, who recounts to Pee Wee her story of the worst traffic accident that she has ever seen.  Told like a campfire ghost story, Large Marge spares none of the gruesome details, and shows in what is probably the film’s most hilariously frightening and out-of-nowhere moment what the truckers corpse looked like when it was pulled from the wreck.  In that moment, Large Marge’s face transforms into a bizarre mess of hellish proportions, and then returns back to normal like nothing had happened.  In this moment, we see the kind of storytelling that Tim Burton would become notable for years later.  Here he manages to distill terror and shock into something funny, without sanitizing it at the same time.  This is something that he would take to more extremes in his next film, Beetlejuice (1988).  The Large Marge scene however still stands out today due to it’s unexpected nature and it’s hilarious payoff.  The fact that it comes out of nowhere is what makes the fright feel all the more rewarding, especially when it’s played off of Paul Reuben’s innocently naive Pee Wee Herman to hilarious effect.  Remember, tell them Large Marge sent ya.



Animation director Don Bluth got his start working for Disney Animation during the transition period following Walt Disney’s passing in the late 60’s.  During that time, Bluth became increasingly frustrated by the aimless direction of the company, which was increasingly relying on soft, harmless fare that he felt restricted the possibilities of the medium.  He felt that animation should not be afraid to explore some darker themes, and as a result, he left Disney Animation to start his own studio in order to make this ideal come true.  And indeed, many of the earlier films made by the Bluth Studio were much darker and more mature than anything else that was coming out at the time.  Films like The Secret of NIMH (1982) and The Land Before Time (1988) pushed the boundaries of animation into darker realms, and it earned Bluth the notoriety of being a respected filmmaker who took chances.  But perhaps the scariest moment in any of his movies comes from one of the least likely places.  It happens in All Dogs Go to Heaven, which is itself primarily an animated comedy.  It does deal with death in a direct way, but mostly played for laughs.  However, when the main character Charlie cheats death only to fall back into his bad habits, he soon has a dream that brings out his subconscious fears.  What follows is a surprisingly vivid portrayal of Hell, complete with demons, fire and brimstone, and the fear of no escape.  In this scene, Don Bluth best represents his ideal of animation being unafraid to go into dark places.  Sadly, most of his later films like RockaDoodle (1991) and Anastasia (1997) would play it more safe, but All Dogs Go to Heaven’s most notorious scene still has the power to frighten, and it shows that it helps to be a little dark sometimes.



We now turn from a subconscious Hell to a literal Hell on Earth, brought to life by Disney Animation in it’s early heyday.  Fantasia was created as a blending of two artistic mediums, animation and classical music.  The result gave us many beautifully drawn renditions of orchestral masterpieces.  While many were easy listening like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Sweet and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Disney made the peculiar decision to craft a sequence of the film around Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky Gothic orchestral piece Night on Bald Mountain; a notoriously dark sounding piece of music.  Disney pulled no stops with it’s rendition of the composition, and the result is one of the most vivid pieces of Gothic and macabre animation ever created.  The segment is littered with ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and at the center of it all is one of Disney’s best remembered villainous entities; the demon god, Chernabog.  Pretty much a representation of the Devil in the segment, Chernabog is a striking creation, showing off some of the best character animation that Disney was churning out at this time.  Much of the segment’s resonance comes from the moments that he’s on screen, and he remains a terrifying presence.  The segment is foreboding, without ever being truly terrifying, but it’s still remarkable to see an animated movie portray evil in such a vivid way.  In the end, it provided a perfect match for Mussorgsky’s dark music and it represents another example of early Disney animation taking some chances by going into grim and unyielding places.



One thing is pretty clear.  The Brave Little Toaster is one weird little movie.  Charming, and also a little brilliant, but very very weird.  On the surface, the movie is a very colorful and humorous musical about household appliances setting out into the open world in hopes of finding their old owner, a little boy that they refer to as “Master.”  Sounds like a trial run for the story line of Toy Story, which wouldn’t be far off; future Toy Story scribe Joe Ranft also worked on this story as well.  But what this movie also has is a large number of surprisingly dark moments throughout.  The main characters in this movie go through some very harrowing moments of peril, and in some cases end up becoming brutally maimed in the process, including electrocution and being crushed by giant gears.  But perhaps the movie’s darkest moment comes in this particular dream sequence, which is unbelievably frightening and creepy, even when re-watching it as an adult.  The titular toaster dreams of good times spent with the “Master,” until he starts to catch fire and looses his friend in the smoke.  But the nightmare hits it’s zenith when the horrifying Fireman arrives in the form of a demonic clown.  Why is it always clowns?  I remember this moment really messing me up as a kid, and even watching it as an adult, I still get that unsettling feeling when I see that clown appear.  It’s like something out of the darkest recesses Stephen King’s imagination.  This movie is still an excellent animated flick that deserves a second look and the fact that it doesn’t shy away from some really dark moments works very well in it’s favor.  Just keep in mind that there are some moments in the movie that will almost certainly scare your little kids.



Who Framed Roger Rabbit? has become a beloved comedy classic over time and it’s largely due to it’s mature story-line and themes, which contrasts perfectly with the wilder cartoonish segments in the movie.  But, at it’s center is also a memorably dark villain named Judge Doom (brilliantly played by Christopher Lloyd).  While Doom is depicted with brooding menace for most of the movie, the true nature of the character comes out during the final confrontation between him and the movie’s hero, Eddie Valiant (a remarkable Bob Hoskins).  Thought to have been crushed to death by a runaway steamroller, it is suddenly revealed that the notorious toon-hater is actually a toon himself.  And not only that, but the same maniacal toon that murdered Eddie’s brother.  This revelation is especially frightening when we see the blood red cartoon eyes appear on Christopher Lloyd’s face, making Doom more monster than man; and it looks terrifying.  This scene has all the terror of a scary monster movie, without feeling like it’s out of place in this mash-up of cartoon lunacy and film noir mystery.  I give the filmmakers and Mr. Lloyd a lot of credit for pulling off that revelation perfectly.  Handled differently, I don’t think the moment would have had the same kind of power that it does.  The high pitched screaming by the character especially heightens the terrifying quotient of this scene even more.  And, appropriately enough, Doom’s death is played out in gruesome detail, as he is literally melted away by the same chemical “Dip” that he was going to wipe out the city of Toontown with.  It’s a fittingly grim ending for a character that managed to creep us out right to the bitter end.  Even today, this scene still manages to be creepy, and that’s all because of how well executed the scary aspects are.



The best scares in movies, even in the ones that aren’t supposed to be scary, are the moments that come completely out of nowhere.  Usually it is by design, and then other times it comes from strange artistic choices.  Case in point, this truly WTF moment from this classic musical based on Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  As part of Willy Wonka’s (a perfect Gene Wilder performance) tour of his factory, the characters take a boat ride on a river of chocolate.  Things go gently at first, until they reach the tunnel, and that’s where all the really messed up stuff happens.  The characters are never in any real danger, but they are bombarded by images on the walls of the tunnel displaying some really frightening and grotesque stuff.  Willy Wonka may be the only G-Rated movie in existence to show a real chicken’s head being chopped off by a cleaver.  But that’s not the only creepy part of this scene, because as the boat ride continues, Wonka himself seems to be slipping into madness when he starts singing, and then reciting macabre poetry and then finally screaming hysterically.  It’s at that point where you start to wonder if Willy Wonka is really a harmless candy maker or something far more sinister.  The whole scene is one of the best trippy moments ever put on film, and it’s only made better by Wilder’s incredibly unhinged performance.  According to the actors who filmed the scene, Wilder’s performance was so convincing that they actually believed he had really lost his mind.  Roald Dahl was very notable for injecting dark elements into stories meant for kids, and while most of Willy Wonka seems like a sanitized version of his novel, this scene definitely feels true to the author’s own style.  And it’s an excellent example of how to make a dark turn in a light-hearted story work to a film’s advantage.  Yes, the danger must be growing.



Of course the scariest moment ever in a family-friendly movie had to have come from the imaginations of the Disney animators.  Pinocchio may very well be the darkest single movie in the entire Disney canon, and it is largely because of scenes like this.  Truth be told, the original book by Carlo Collodi was far more violent than Disney’s film, but give Disney credit for going absolutely as far as they could go.  The movie itself starts off much lighter in tone, as the innocent and naive Pinocchio experiences the larger world for the first time, but the second half of the film takes a considerably dark turn, especially when Pinocchio finds himself on Pleasure Island.  The island seems like a fun place to be at first, but pretty soon the awful truth is revealed.  As all of the boys on the island indulge themselves in their bad behavior, they literally make Jackasses of themselves, and are rounded up by the villainous Coachman who intends to sell the transformed “donkeys” to circuses and mines all over the world.  This is horrifying to begin with, but the revelation hits it’s apex in this specific moment, where Pinocchio witnesses his friend Lampwick transforming before his very eyes.  The scene is played out in horrifying fashion.  The moment when Lampwick’s hands turn into donkey hoves is just as disturbing as anything you’ll see in a horror movie.  And his final cries for his mother just brings an extra level of despair to the moment that leaves a chill in the spine of every viewer.  Another horrifying aspect about the scene is the helplessness of the characters.  Pinocchio is powerless to stop this from happening and he’s only saved by making a run for it.  No such salvation exists for the other boys.  This scene is the best example ever of how to implement  a terrifying moment into a family friendly movie, and it has rightly received that distinction among many animation fans for many years.

So, why do we still accept horrifying moments in movies and shows that are meant to entertain younger audiences.  You would think that many filmmakers would rather not alienate their audience too much, and indeed there are many filmmakers who do take that into consideration.  I think that scenes like this exist because they help kids understand at a young age the importance of a happy ending.  Before you can appreciate the light, you need to go through a lot of darkness, and that’s what these moments are meant to do.  We need frightening monsters and moments of terror in our fairy tale adventures in order to see why it was all worth it in the end.  It’s an essential way of teaching young kids the value of happiness and the differences between right and wrong.  Even still, scary moments can be entertaining in themselves, and what I’ve found is that the darker the moment, and the bigger the contrast it has with the rest of the movie, the more likely it will be appreciated by audiences for years to come.  I hope that more filmmakers in family entertainment take those same kinds of chances and not be afraid to go a little dark sometimes.  Sometimes you have to walk that thin tightrope, but the end result could become all the more satisfying.  And indeed, some of those dark moments in movies from our childhood become our favorite movie moments as adults.  Those classic dark moments in Disney animation are still celebrated today, and the Willy Wonka tunnel scene still resonates with audiences.  And in this bewitching time of year, audiences of all ages are in the mood for a good scare, and these moments show that they can be found in even the unlikeliest of places.

Evolution of Character – Count Dracula

dracula vlad

Every year when the Halloween season comes around again, we start to spotlight and celebrate the iconic monsters that populate the traditions of the holiday.  You’ve got your zombies, your demons, your Frankenstein monsters, and your warewolves.  But the monster that is the most iconic of the bunch seems to be the vampire, which is currently seeing a resurgence (for better or worse) in pop culture.  Thanks to stories like those in the Twilight series, younger audiences in particular are now looking at vampires as not only fascinating monsters, but also as desirable role models as well; which unfortunately is a sad reduction of the real menace and attraction that vampires have had in pop culture in the past.  Vampires have made far better villains in the past than instead of being the superheros that they are in today’s young adult driven media.  And no better vampire figure made menace and evil look so good on the big screen than the great Count himself, Dracula.  Though Dracula is larger than life and among the most imaginative monsters around, he is actually based off of a real life historical figure.  Vlad Tepes III, Prince of Wallachia, ruled his kingdom in modern day Romania in the late 15th century, becoming a valuable ally for christian Western Europe in repelling Turkish invaders.  However, though he was a popular king in his time, history has instead focused more on the brutality he showed towards his enemies, much of which has defined the legend around him.  Dubbed Vlad the Impaler, due to his common practice of impaling people on spikes outside his Transylvanian stronghold, the man’s legacy became one of blood-soaked terror.  Legends soon sprang up around the man, including one’s where people believed that he drank the blood of his enemies.

Like most legends, these were exaggerated accounts, but over time they managed to catch the interest of a gothic Irish novelist named Bram Stoker, who distilled all of the legends of Vlad the Impaler and crafted them into his now legendary 1897 novel, Dracula.  Taken from the name of Prince Vlad’s ancestral house name, Draculesti, Bram Stoker crafted what would eventually become the first true literary representation of a modern vampire.  Though vampirism had been present in literature for centuries before, Stoker is the one who set much of rules and mythology behind the creatures.  The idea of vampires being immortal and able to infect others once they are bitten came from Stoker’s novel, as well as the ideas that vampires rest during daylight in coffins and cannot cast a reflection in any mirror.  Whether he planned it or not, Stoker’s novel would become the Bible to which all future depictions of vampires would follow, and over a century after the novel first premiered, it’s influence is still apparent in most if not all vampire stories today.  And the reason for this is probably because the central monster of his story, Count Dracula, is such an iconic and unforgettable creature who can still send chills down the spines of audiences both young and old.  As far as vampires go, there are none who are as frightening, or as seductive, or as commanding as the Count.  And though his character has changed little overall since Stoker’s original novel, it is interesting to see how Dracula has been adapted and re-adapted again to connect with audiences over time, while still maintaining his most essential elements.  In this article, I will be looking at some of the most notable cinematic iterations of the character, and see how well they have adapted and redefined the character over time.

dracula nosferatu 22


The first cinematic telling of the tale came from groundbreaking German expressionist director F.W. Murnau.  Though Murnau sought to adapt the original novel for his movie, he was denied the rights by Bram Stoker’s estate, since they believed that the new cinema art-form was nothing but trash and unworthy of a story like Dracula.  But Murnau was determined to get his vision of the story on the big screen and he worked through a loophole where he could make the same story as long as he changed the names of the characters and the location of the setting.  Therefore, Count Dracula became Count Orlock and the setting moved from England to Bavaria.  But make no mistake, it’s still the same story and Murnau proved exactly why the movie needed to be made in the first place.  The film is remarkably creepy and Gothic, which was quite a feat to accomplish back in the early days of cinema.  Murnau especially makes great use of the shadows to get the more horrific moments of the movie across in subtle ways.  But, what really sells this film is the intensely creepy performance by Max Schreck as Count Orlock.  His performance is so perfect here that it actually led to speculation at the time that the man was an honest to goodness real vampire; something that provided the inspiration for the movie Shadow of the Vampire (2000), starring Wilem Dafoe as Schreck.  I especially love the whole vampire bat motif that the character embodies, which makes him a truly grotesque movie monster.  Though there were objections to the portrayal of Dracula on the big screen beforehand, there were none after seeing the brilliant results in Nosferatu.

dracula bela


Although Murnau’s take on the character may have set a foothold in cinematic history, it was Hollywood that truly made Count Dracula an icon.  Directed by Hollywood shockmaster Tod Browning (Freaks), 1931’s Dracula brought Stoker’s famous character to life better than anyone could have expected, and that is largely thanks to the absolutely perfect casting of Bela Lugosi as the Count.  Lugosi has probably had more influence in defining the character of Dracula than anyone else, other than Bram Stoker of course.  His ability to deliver such menace in his eyes and the simple gesturing of his claw-like fingers brings so much out of the character and it helps to sell the idea of the true horror that this vampire inflicts without ever having to show it.  Bela’s appearance would also influence the character, with his floor length cape and slicked back hair.  But it was his voice that would have the most impact overall.  The movie was made in the early days of recorded sound in movies, and no one had any idea what Dracula would sound like, so it seemed natural that Bela’s deep Hungarian accent would stand out in the film; giving the character an almost melodic and seductive tone to his voice, which fit perfectly for the character.  Every depiction of Dracula since has taken some inspiration from Lugosi’s version, whether it’s the accent or the costume, which shows just how iconic his performance is.  Unfortunately, it was a character he never was able to grow out of, and his latter career found the man typecast in cheaper knockoffs of the original tale.  Still, his performance in the original is beloved today and has made Bela Lugosi a fan favorite to people all over the world.

dracula lee


While Bela Lugosi’s take on Count Dracula may be the most iconic, famed British actor Christopher Lee’s version would become the most prolific.  Lee portrayed the Count in nine different movies over a 15 year period, as well as portraying vampires in many other films as well, helping to cement his reputation as the go-to-guy for vampire movies for a long time.  Made by the England-based Hammer film company mostly during the mid to late 60’s, these Dracula movies were more stylized and graphic than the previous Hollywood versions of the story.  Where Hollywood would imply the horror offscreen, Hammer would display it in all it’s bloody glory.  Indeed, Hammer Films brought out more of the monster in the character of Dracula and helped to cement him as one of cinemas most truly horrifying creatures.  That’s not to say that he was completely savage either.  Hammer was wise enough to cast a quality actor like Christopher Lee in the role, who manages to balance the refined and seductive elements of the character with the more horrific.  He really captures the humanity of the character well in the movies, but is also not afraid to indulge in the animalistic terror that the Count also possesses.  One of the best touches that they added to the character in these films was the way that Dracula’s eye burn red whenever he’s ready to feast on his victim.  It’s a remarkably terrifying take on the character, and this role no doubt helped to shape Lee’s reputation as a memorable heavy in horror movies; something he would bring with him in later roles like Saruman in the Lord of the Rings movies and Count Dooku in Star Wars.  Not only that, but he also managed to give the character the update that he needed in a less innocent time, while still staying true to the character’s roots.

dracula langella


After the gorier versions of Dracula made by the Hammer films, this version directed by John Badham tried to bring the character back to his more Gothic, Victorian roots.  The results were well crafted, if a bit stale.  By no means a bad retelling of the original tale, this one still feels a little lacking mainly because it departs so much from what had made the character so popular over the last few decades.  Instead, this version of Bram Stoker’s tale wants to tell the Masterpiece Theater version of the story, with lush production values and refined, theatrical dialogue.  That’s not to say that they water down the character at all, and indeed the best element of the movie is still it’s central monster.  Frank Langella definitely plays up more of the seductive side of Dracula’s character, making him both charming and alluring.  But, when he does go into full vampire mode, he does manage to come off creepy and menacing.  A break-in scene where he hangs upside down like a bat outside of his victim’s window is an especially frightening moment, and he manages to pull off the dead eye stare very well in that moment.  Unfortunately, the movie is also dialogue heavy in the wrong places, and it would have served the character better to have had a lot more moments play out silently like that creepy break-in scene did.  Interestingly, this is one of the more youthful depictions of the character, showing Dracula as less of the lecherous older man that he had been in previous versions, and more like a dashing young bachelor who can more convincingly seduce his female victims, which Langella embodies very well here.  It’s a flawed retelling, but one where the character still shines through.

dracula nosferatu kinski


Departing from the Hollywood image of the Count that had become more or less standardized over the years, German director Werner Herzog decided to take the character of Dracula all the way back to his cinematic beginnings and undertake a remake of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.  While many people would scoff at the idea of wanting to remake a beloved classic like Nosferatu, it actually seems like the perfect project for an unpredictable and button-pushing director like Herzog.  Add to the mix a performance by the equally experimental and temperamental German actor Klaus Kinski as the titular vampire and you’ve got a remake that is worth seeing.  The end results are mixed; amazingly the movie is only half as scary as the original, which is not good given all the advancements in cinema since the original was made.  And I think that’s largely due to Herzog’s inability to make this movie stand out against it’s predecessor.  You can sense the director’s affection for the original, but by emulating it so much, his film lacks any identity in itself.  However, where the movie does excel is in Kinski’s performance as Count Orlock.  While not as creepy as Max Schreck’s version, it is still nevertheless a bizarre and engaging performance that’s well suited for the character, as well as for the notoriously oddball actor.  He embodies the character perfectly, and even manages to find some depth in the performance that wasn’t there originally in Schreck’s portrayal.  As far as remakes go, the movie could have done a lot worse, and it does still works for the most part by staying true to the depiction of it’s central vampire.  Still, if you had to choose between the two, I would still recommend the original, and only check out this version for Kinski’s performance.

dracula oldman


Lugosi may have set the standard for the character, and Christopher Lee may have given the character his frightening backbone, but if I were to pick the greatest single portrayal of the character of Count Dracula, it would be this remarkable performance by Gary Oldman.  Oldman truly proves why he is one of the greatest actors of our time with this multi-layered, nuanced, and just downright terrifying portrayal of Dracula in the movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  In many ways, his performance is an amalgam of all the previous versions of the character all put into one.  His early scenes as the incredibly creepy, ashen-faced vampire contains echos of Lugosi and Lee’s versions within it, played out in a wonderfully over-the-top fashion that’s all Oldman’s own.  And then when the movie shifts to it’s London-based second half, we see Oldman embody the seductive, youthful version of the character that Frank Langella first brought to the screen.  And Gary Oldman manages to infuse all of these elements together perfectly in a remarkably soulful performance.  This is a Dracula that brings in all the familiar elements, but is brought to life in a way that we’ve never seen before, making this version feel wholly unique.  If only the movie surrounding the performance was better.  While not terrible by any means, Coppola’s movie does feel disjointed at times, especially when Dracula is not front and center.  It’s also a really bizarre movie too, with many scenes taken to such outlandish extremes, that it sometime feels exploitative (not to mention that it features Keanu Reeves embarrassingly trying to work a British accent into his performance).  Still, Gary Oldman is the absolute highlight of the movie, and elevates the piece as a whole.  It’s probably well suited that the movie is a little on the messy side, because it makes his groundbreaking work in the role stand out all the more.

dracula hotel


Certainly an odd pick to include with all the others in this article, but I chose to highlight this version of the character because it illustrates the impact that the character has had in pop culture and on Gothic horror tropes in general.  This animated film focuses on a luxury resort run by monsters for monsters, with Dracula himself is the owner and caretaker.  Naturally, there are in-jokes to be had regarding the monstrous inhabitants of the titular hotel, and the filmmakers actually show off a particularly extensive knowledge of all the different monsters that they are spoofing.  Like many people have said, spoofing is the highest forms of flattery, and that’s exactly what goes on in Hotel Transylvania.  While nowhere near Disney/Pixar in quality, this film is surprisingly better than it has any right to be, especially considering that it features Adam Sandler in the role of Dracula.  The reason for this is because of the quality of it’s humor.  Hotel Transylvania does an effective job of taking many notable elements of Dracula’s persona and turning them on it’s head.  And indeed there are clever nods to past versions of the character, like Sandler laying on the thick accent that Lugosi made popular, or the glowing red eyes that Christopher Lee had introduced.  It all brings together a version of the character that can exist within a PG-rated cartoon, without feeling like an insult to previous versions.  Indeed, this movie does a better job of poking fun at Dracula movies than what Mel Brooks failed to do with his Dracula, Dead and Loving it (1995); a rare misfire for the usually reliable humorist.  Is Hotel Transylvania a great movie?  No, but it serves as a fine introduction to the character for younger audiences.

Dracula has had a long history as an icon for both cinematic and literary horror, and his legacy shows no signs of stopping.  Even this very week we are getting a new film called Dracula Untold (2014) which gives the vampire the Game of Thrones treatment by drawing upon more of the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler and infusing him with all of the famous tropes of the modern Dracula character.  What is interesting about the character today, however, is that he’s managed to become not just a defining character within his own story, but pretty much the symbol of the Halloween season itself.  Dracula has managed to outshine all other Halloween monsters to become the leader of the pack, and is usually depicted as such in many Halloween themed films; particularly the ones aimed at kids.  The fact that Dracula has become an accepted movie monster in kids entertainment just shows you how far flung his influence has been.  And the reason why Dracula has had such a deep impact in our pop culture is because of the many great cinematic incarnations he’s had.  From the creepy re-imagining of Nosferatu to the iconic portrayals by Lugosi, Lee, and Oldman, he’s a character that has deservedly “staked” his claim in our collective imaginations.  And what makes him so interesting is the fact that he embodies all the things that we fear the most; the danger of the unknown and loss of innocence.  No one else embodies the idea of vampirism better than the Count and one wishes that his creepy, seductive presence would take a hold once again over all of these recent cinematic vampire wannabes.  You know why true horror fans always gravitate towards Count Dracula in the end?  Because Dracula doesn’t sparkle.

Gone Girl – Review

gone girl ben

Taking on an adaptation of a runaway best-seller novel can be a daunting task for any filmmaker.  On the plus side, you are bringing something to the big screen that already has name recognition, but the downside of this is that the same audience is going to hold the material up to high standards, putting a whole bunch of extra pressure on your translation.  That almost certainly had to be the case with David Fincher’s recent adaptation of author Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel Gone Girl.  The novel was a smash hit when it first was published, spending eight weeks at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.  And while the novel itself certainly has been branded within the mystery thriller genre, it has also often been praised by fans and critics alike for it’s unexpected twists and unconventional plotting.  Naturally, this instant success led to an immediate acquisition of the film rights by 20th Century Fox, who quickly moved the adaptation of the novel into production.  Flynn herself was hired on to adapt her own work into a screenplay.  Naturally, for such a high profile adaptation of the novel, Fox would want to get someone on board who could do the material justice, without alienating too much of the built in audience.  Fincher is already a well respected filmmaker, but Gone Girl seems like a departure for the man who brought brilliant oddball features to the big screen like Seven (1995) and Fight Club (1999).

And yet at the same time, Fincher is actually perfect for the film.  For one thing, he has become the go to guy for bringing almost un-adaptable novels to big screen and making them work.  That was definitely the case with the gonzo Chuck Palahniuk novel Fight Club, or the oddly themed F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).  These two novelizations almost defy any filmmaker’s notions of trying to make them into a coherent movie, but Fincher managed to find a way.  He has also proven himself to be qualified to take on popular best-sellers as well, as he did with The Social Network (2010) which was based on the popular Ben Mezrich novel The Accidental Billionaires, as well as his 2011 adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  But, unlike these other novels, Gone Girl is far more conventional and less flashy.  Some would say that Gillian Flynn’s novel is more or less an “airplane read;” good for passing the time, but nothing that really defies conventional standards otherwise, like the majority of Fincher’s adaptations usually do.  But in the hands of David Fincher, audiences will soon learn that there is more under the surface in Flynn’s novel than meets the eye, and it shows how one artist can actually elevate the work of another, and bring out the best of both worlds.  Indeed, Gone Girl may seem like another conventional thriller on the surface, but in the hands of some truly talented people in front and behind the camera, it becomes anything but conventional.

The story involves a failed writer named Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) as they try to make life in small town America work after Nick has lost his cushy job in New York City.  Naturally this has put a strain on their marriage.  One day, on the eve of their fifth year anniversary, Nick comes home to find his living room in shambles and his wife nowhere to be seen.  He contacts the police and is soon visited by Detective Rhonda Boney, who quickly begins an investigation into the disappearance of Amy.  The investigation quickly gains traction in the press, due to Amy’s status as a quasi-celebrity, being the inspiration for a protagonist in a series of childrens’ books written by her mother titled The Adventures of Amazing Amy.  Nick remains cooperative with the authorities and the media, but after a couple of days, he soon discovers that the focus has shifted away from finding Amy and more towards pointing the finger at him.  Soon accusations start to fly at Nick, which he is unable to shrug off, and dark secrets about his marriage start to come to light.  Even his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) begins to believe the worst.  It all leads to where you might expect a typical missing person scandal would go, but as readers of the novel know, all of this is just half of the story.  From the point where Nick seems to hit a wall and appears to be the untrustworthy psycho that the whole world believes him to be, the story suddenly shifts focus and we soon learn that there’s a whole other side to the story that I can really get into without spoiling some of the most unexpected plot twists.  Suffice to say, there’s a reveling exchange that sums up the whole story when Det. Boney is told by her deputy that “The simplest answer always seems to be the right one” to which she answers, “Actually, I’ve never known that to be true.”

So, as far as adaptations go, was David Fincher the right man for the job here.  Though the material may be more conventional than the typical Fincher flick, he still managed to make this film adaptation work for him.  There are plenty of Fincher touches throughout, though he seems to have abandoned the flashy camerawork that defined most of his early career.  Here, his style comes through in the editing and the composition of shots, which are all exquisitely done.  Fincher has achieved that rarefied place in cinema where his style can work with just about any story-line, and Gone Girl is no exception.  Indeed, if any other director was tasked with adapting this novel to the big screen, I don’t think that it would’ve gone over as well as it does here.  Probably one of the most helpful elements in the adaptation was having the author around to help shape the story to fit Fincher’s vision.  Gillian Flynn started out as a television critic for Entertainment Weekly, so she already knows the game about taking material from one medium to another, so it probably led to fewer conflicts of interest that usually plagues many big screen adaptations.  And indeed, both director and author have managed to work together well here.  Fincher gets to satisfy his cinematic intentions while Gillian Flynn’s story is maintained with all of the memorable twists and turns preserved.   And when those twists come to light, it is exploited perfectly by the film.  The third act in particular is where the movie really crosses over into Fincher territory, with some truly unexpected flourishes that helps to make this movie stand apart from other mystery thrillers.  Some may be put off by where the left-field turns this movie makes, but I for one felt that it was what ultimately elevated the movie as a whole in the end.

If there’s one thing that Fincher’s adaptation manages to improve upon in his adaptation, it’s the commentary about the media.  Flynn’s novel also touches upon the abuses of tabloid journalism, but Fincher brings those themes to new light by presenting the full extant of their impact on the ordinary citizen.  Indeed, the harshest criticism of the movie is saved for the vultures in the media who exploit crime investigations for ratings and those who pass judgment on a case without taking in all the facts, which anyone who has seen the cable news networks in the last couple of years will know what I’m talking about.  In fact, there is a character in the movie named Ellen Abbott (played perfectly by Missy Pyle) who is obviously supposed to be a very thinly veiled representation of notorious media vulture Nancy Grace, complete with Southern drawl, which helps to relate this movie with the media’s disgraceful current state.  While the plot has it’s own intrigue to it, it’s the underlying message that really resonates in the end, and for a movie made by a studio owned by a giant new conglomerate itself, that’s a very bold position to take.  But it’s not just the media that the movie points the finger at; it’s us the audience as well.  The brilliant part of the movie is that it shows us that there are multiple sides to every story, and by showing us only parts of it at a time, through some truly brilliant story-editing, we soon realize how easy it is to be swayed by our own prejudices.  It’s the kind of manipulation that the media preys upon, giving us only the side of the story that they want to satisfy their own agendas.  Overall, I’m very glad that someone like Fincher took the opportunity to take that aspect of the novel and bring it too it’s fullest potential.

Another aspect that has always characterized Fincher’s films is his exceptional choices in casting, and Gone Girl continues that trend.  Ben Affleck has had a hard time convincing people of his skills as an actor, given that his early career was plagued by a lot of bad choices in roles.  But in recent years, he’s been reversing that characterization very effectively, and Gone Girl may be his best role to date.  Let’s face it, he’s perfectly cast here, as someone who is hounded by the media and judged unfairly due to his celebrity status.  Affleck has lived in this world for a long time, and he draws from that perfectly to create a memorable performance as the heavily-scrutinized Nick.  But, an even more revalatory performance comes from Rosamund Pike as Amy.  The British actress has been around for a while, appearing in supporting roles from 2009’s An Education  to Edgar Wright’s The World’s End (2013).  Here, she is elevated to lead status, and she manages to give a knockout performance as the always mysterious Amy.  The brilliance of cutting between Amy and Nick’s stories, and seeing the crime from both points, is that it shows how unreliable they are as protagonists in the film, and both actors brilliantly exploit the flaws and quirks of each character.  Rosamund Pike especially creates a truly memorable and strange character in Amy, and ultimately it’s her performance that sells the movie’s twisted plot and makes it work.  The supporting cast is also great here, especially Kim Dickens as Det. Boney.  And Fincher managed to do the near impossible by getting a good performance out of Tyler Perry (creator of the Madea films), who is actually perfectly cast as high-priced celebrity lawyer Tanner Bolt.

If the movie has a flaw at all it would be in some of the pacing.  It’s something that usually plagues films that are told in non-linear ways, and while it’s not too distracting and doesn’t hurt the movie as a whole, it does detract the film a little in the beginning.  By going back and forth between the past and present in the opening hour of the film, we the audience are bombarded with a lot of information and misinformation, which does lead to a lot of intrigue in the story-line, but it also lags the film as well.  And that can be a problem for a film that runs 149 minutes.  While the first act is interesting, it isn’t until we reach plot twist #1 that the movie starts to find it’s footing, and indeed, the movie becomes a fascinating roller-coaster ride from there.  Not a huge problem, but it does make the film feel just slightly disjointed and makes this film just a little less than perfect.  It does come very close to being perfect however, especially when the movie goes into some truly out-of-left-field places, but when stretched out to 2 and 1/2 hours, there’s bound to be a little flab in the way.  Again, it’s the only flaw that I could see in an otherwise astounding presentation.  Taking a best-selling novel, even a conventional one, and making it work as a film can be hard work, and Fincher’s skills as a filmmaker really come out to shine here, particularly when it comes to staging.  Other directors may have played it too safe or would’ve gone way overboard with adapting something like Gone Girl.  Fincher finds that right balance between reigning in the flourishes at crucial times in the story, while at the same time letting loose when it absolutely needs to go there.  And it’s that balance that ultimately helps to iron over some of the more notable flaws in the overall story.

It may not be perfect, but I can think of few other movies out there right now that will really challenge it’s audience to think as well as Gone Girl does.  Like the mystery at it’s center, there’s more to this movie than what’s on the surface.  And indeed, I do think that this was a great exercise for David Fincher.  It may not be as flashy as something like Fight Club or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but that’s only because the material here needed to be brought to the screen with a subdued tone.  I actually look at this movie as Fincher’s Hitchcockian film.  It’s got the languid pacing, the unexpected twists, and even a mysterious blonde at it’s center just like most Hitchcock films.  And like Hitchcock, Fincher is a director who loves to play around with it’s audience.  The best part of the movie is that it’s unafraid to take it’s audience through all sorts of different emotions.  At some points you’ll feel un-eased and horrified by what’s going on in the plot and then by the next scene you’ll be laughing hysterically by the wild turns that that the plot takes.  That certainly happened in the audience that I watched this movie with.  Again, the wild third act may throw some people off, but judging by the audience reaction that I saw, it looks like Fincher managed to tap into something good here.  I admire a filmmaker who can do that to an audience and that’s why I continually put my trust into David Fincher’s cinematic choices.  Gone Girl may not be the kind of movie you would expect from a director of his caliber, but after seeing the final results, it’s clear that there was no one else better for the job.  And that’s no mystery.

Rating: 8.5/10