Thoughts on “Color Out of Space”

I’m a big fan of the “Arkham Horror” board game, and that and the complete collection of Lovecraft works that I started and never finished make up the totality if my experience with Lovecraft and his works.  So I was interesting in picking up “Color Out of Space” because it aimed to be an adaptation of his ideas and stories.  It also fooled me a bit as the cover looks like the one you’d see on an older movie but as it turns out it’s a modern movie.  I had heard that the older adaptations weren’t all that well-received — I personally watched part of “Dunwich Horror” but that’s all that I know about them — but thought it would be worth giving one of them a shot because the DVD was cheap.  If I had known that it was a modern take … I probably would have bought it anyway, so it didn’t matter that much.  But it was a bit surprising when I saw the lead Nicolas Cage and noted that he was, well, old.

The movie avoids the mistake of not leaving itself enough room to develop things, as it clocks in just short of two hours.  The problem, though, is that it takes up most of that time with fairly standard family scenes from the main family instead of doing actual development.  Now, even though I complain about developing doomed characters, in this situation doing this isn’t necessarily a problem.  Lovecraft in general and the Color Out of Space in particular are associated with madness, and so showing them as people and then showing how their madnesses were born from their individual personalities would really work.  And the movie might have handwaved at this in part.  However, it doesn’t really follow through with it.  For example, the father gets most of the focus and the movie does focus on a few tics of his, but it takes a lot of mental work to associate it with his personality since much of it seems out of character, and his character seems mostly dull and uninteresting anyway.  Also, they establish that the daughter is into Wicca and so she ends up carving protection spells into her skin, but it isn’t clear that her doing this is a sign of madness or a legitimate attempt to protect herself that could have worked (she uses a copy of the Necronomicon, which either should have worked or should have done far worse things to her).  So it is very difficult to see how their madnesses and even transformations later relate to their personalities, but that’s the only reason to spend so much time on them earlier in the movie.

The movie also makes the mistake of trying to come up with some kind of explanation for the Color while not actually explaining anything.  The narrator talks about how the meteor that fell from space poisoned the water, and so drinking the water causes madness.  This is despite the fact that everyone who went mad had seen the Color itself, often repeatedly,  and so in the context of the movie that made the better explanation (the original short story doesn’t associate the madness with “seeing” the Color but also doesn’t try to explain it by talking about tainted water).  It makes the madness too mundane but doesn’t actually explain anything, such as how the mother and son became merged from a blast from the Color itself (see what I mean about the visual being the more sensible explanation?).  The visuals explain it by the visual experience but the words explain it by something in the water that will show up in an impurity test.  That’s not really how to pull off that sort of thing.

But this leads to another issue with the movie, as the narrator is a water surveyor who finds out about the impurity in the water and tries to stop people from drinking the water.  He’s also attracted to the daughter of the family — the aforementioned Wiccan — and tries to save her.  The problem is that he doesn’t actually show up much in the movie itself.  He starts out meeting the girl and then wanders in and out of the story for a bit before coming in at the end to try to save her and failing, and then getting a monologue about the water now being buried under a newly created lake and that he still won’t drink it, though (despite it being the case that if it’s an impurity that can be detected he could test for it and/or filter it out).  Now, it’s not really an issue to have a narrator that’s somewhat disconnected from the main story.  But he isn’t just a bystander that observed what was going on.  He was a part of it and a fairly large part of it in a number of ways.  Since he manages to survive at the end, he’s also arguably the sole survivor of the events.  And yet he rarely appears in the movie.  It’s a bit problematic that he’s neither a clearly important character nor a simple bystander, as it leaves us wondering just what he was supposed to be in this movie.

The performances are okay, but for me the problem is that the family stuff is boring and takes up too much time for no real payoff, and the Lovecraftian horror isn’t.  I won’t watch this movie again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: