Friday, October 8, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 8: Christine

(This not only acts as my last entry in Radiator Heaven’s John Carpenter Week, but my first entry in what will become my Stephen King Week. I love King. I’ve read and damn near own, everything he’s ever written.

But Good Lord his books have turned into some truly fuck awful movies. And I’ll be wading right in. Classic and disaster alike.)

Though it doesn’t often get credited as such, Christine is one of Stephen King’s most complex novels.

Just hear me out here for a second.

Yes I know we’re talking about Christine, the one where the car kills people. But King has a whole hell of a lot up his sleeve. He makes the novel a microcosm of adolescent experience dividing the novel into “Teenage Car Songs” “Teenage Love Songs” and “Teenage Death Songs”. Capturing how the years of impotency and repressed rage can fester and then erupt into fury (wink wink) which presages with startling precision the proto Columbine mindset even moreso then Carrie and Rage.

And while there is plenty to like about it, Carpenter’s adaptation doesn’t quite capture it.

Christine is one of those textbook problematic book to film adaptations. It irons out all the subtext, speeds up the slow burn, telescopes the action so things no longer develop but just happen, and basically removes all the interesting wrinkles from the book for the sake of expediency.

Still let’s face it, most aren’t watching Christine for it’s nuanced take on the adolescent psyche. Most are watching Christine to see a possessed hunk of unholy metal mow down "shitters".

But even this is surprisingly underwhelming. Aside from the suitably OTT finale; which features a bulldozer duel, and a sequence in which the Car drives around while on fire (something impossible not to make look badass and metal as hell) most of the crash sequences are strangely underwhelming. For a movie that features cars running into things the stalk sequences are surprisingly “low impact” (sorry I was possessed by the ghost of Peter Travers). Most of the time, people run screaming from the car, the car corners them, and we cut away. Death Proof this is not.

The cast does a decent job, particularly Keith Gordon, who does his best with Artie, even if the screenplay basically has him turn from guy getting sand kicked in his face to swaggering hood more or less off screen.

Christine as a movie just isn’t as tight as the typical Carpenter fair. It’s filled with odd stylistic tics. Like the true crime style date subtitles that occasionally pop up, and narrative dead ends. Like Harry Dean Stanton’s perfunctory role, as a detective who shows up to harass Arnie in a few scenes, disappears, and then randomly appears in the last scene to solemnly inform our two leads that they are heroes, having never once appeared in the same scene with them prior to this event. One keeps waiting for one of heroes to turn to him and ask "And who the hell are you?" Obviously his role was cut down, and I’m never particularly sorry to see Harry Dean Stanton. But it's weird sloppy details like that which keep Christine lodged firmly in Carpenter’s second tier.


J.D. said...

Yeah, I was never particularly crazy about this film. It's fine but certainly not Carpenter's finest moment committed to film. I have to say I've never read the original source material so you comparison of it to JC's film was very interesting!

Thanks again for doing another fantastic contribution for my JC Week!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. Had the character of Artie been flushed out better, the scene in which he tells his parents off before storming out of the house wouldn't have felt as awkward and clunky. As it was, Carpenter had a hard challenge and its just one of those works that just doesn't translate well with such an abbreviated format.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ JD: And thank you for hosting it!

@ PoT: True. I look forward to the Platinum Dunes version with stark existential terror.

Chris Regan said...

Agree with your review. The Car was a much better killer car movie.

Neil Fulwood said...

I'm with you on 'Christine' as one of King's most in-depth works. The slow-burn narrative really allows you to integrate with the characters. For me, one of the key mistakes of the film is having Christine reveal her power to Arnie ("show me!") whereas the book keeps his complicity in Christine's rampages incredibly ambiguous. Also, King's brilliantly creepy coda to the novel is pretty much unfilmable, and the film's throwaway pay-off ("god, I hate rock 'n' roll") doesn't match it.

Still, 'Christine' (the movie) is entertaining enough and you can't fault Carpenter's energy in giving what must have been something of a poisoned chalice his best shot.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Chris: Never seen that one. Though I've always been curios to.

@ Neil: You make an excellent point about Arnie's complicity. I never even thought of that before, but it really does alter everything.

Biba Pickles said...

Christine is one of my favorites!!! I always kind of had a weird thing for Arnie Cunningham along with Herbert West.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Biba: Man I need to pick up a pair of glasses ; ). Herbert West is dead sexy though.

PS. You in LA yet kid? Let Me know.

Biba Pickles said...

I am not. I'm still in town takin' care of business like Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I'm being very esoteric today.