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Getting into the 'Mist' with director
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/23/2007 1:07 AM

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I couldn't wait to tell director Frank Darabont what I thought of his new movie, "The Mist," based on Stephen King's novella.

"I view this movie as a totally optimistic movie," I said. Darabont almost seemed surprised.

"Well, bless your heart," he said.

"I think the movie says that we should always hold on to hope and never let go. In the end, you'll be rewarded."

"It's definitely from the same side of the coin as 'Shawshank Redemption' in that sense," replied Darabont, who was nominated for an Oscar for directing that movie. "It's like that whole thing between the characters of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Hope: Is it a good thing or a bad thing?"

Darabont loves good, old-fashioned horror movies. So do I. We never had met before, but we instantly bonded on many levels. What do two horror geeks talk about? Here's a sample:

"Monster movies are a mysterious, much maligned and misunderstood movie genre," I ventured. "Seventh grade."

"No way! I read 'I am Legend' in seventh grade, too!"

"What took me to Matheson was the movie 'The Omega Man,' which I loved. I saw it when I was 12. I loved it. It was my favorite movie (and based on Matheson's novel)."

"You know what?" I said. "I have looked all over the planet and I cannot find that score."

"It's a brilliant score."

"You can't locate it anywhere. No place! Have you ever found it?"

"I have not, I have not," Darabont said. "It was a great score. You know, you might check out Percepto Records. A friend of mine operates it in L.A. He releases really obscure and wonderful soundtracks. He does an amazing job of resurrecting things. But, back to 'The Omega Man.' That movie isn't nearly as wonderful as Matheson's book. But it led me to read his book, which is, man, like really a seminal piece of work for people in this field."

"The Mist" opened Wednesday. It stars Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden as shoppers trapped in a small Maine supermarket by a sinister mist that harbors bizarre monsters.

Exactly how does an Oscar-nominated director of such celebrated films as "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile" put a first-class sheen on what essentially amounts to a low-budget 1950s monster movie?

"What I try to do is the same thing I always do, stick to the path prescribed by Dr. Stephen King, in terms of the characters and the underlying human journey of the story," Darabont said. "That's his great strength as a writer. If you focus on those issues, focus on the human journey, and the rest of it, the monster movie parts, are the fun frosting on the cake. The real journey here is a pressure cooker of fear (in the supermarket). Seeing how people react when they're being whipped by fear."

Instead of the $45 million budget Darabont would have likely received from major studios, he opted to go with the Weinstein Co. and a $17 million budget -- a relatively paltry sum in Hollywood circles. The big studios wanted to back "The Mist." All they wanted was a few changes. Like the new ending, added by Darabont.

He said no, thanks.

"Steve's story originally had a 'The Birds' type of ending. (People drive off into an uncertain world.) I added the events that extend beyond that. There is a sentence in Steve's story that suggested this new ending to me," he said.

King loved the new ending to his story so much, he told a room full of Web site reporters that anyone who reveals the last five minutes of "The Mist" should be hung by the neck until dead. I promised Darabont I wouldn't ruin anything.

"Good." the director said. "We don't want Steve to have to string you up!"

Up next for Darabont will be a remake of "Fahrenheit 451" based on Ray Bradbury's classic tale of futuristic firemen who burn books.

"It's looking very positive," Darabont said. "We're on track. This will be a very faithful adaptation of Bradbury's book, which I loved. I am not a fan of the (Francois) Truffaut movie. It appeared to me to be a very passionless movie adaptation of a very passionate book."

Darabont's "The Mist" is hardly passionless. Any filmmaker who can scare King is doing well. During a test screening in New Jersey, King arrived to see what Darabont had done with his story.

"There was a moment when King jumped three feet out of his chair!" Darabont said. "That was reassuring."