Delve Deeper

Monday, August 29, 2011

THE COLOR (2011) (aka DIE FARBE)

Ask anyone who has lived in Germany for a while and they will tell you that the Germans are a very literal people. Their language is literal, their machinery precise, their thought process logical. Nobody has ever been forced to read German poetry in high-school. It should come as no surprise then, that the Germans have produced one of the more efficient Lovecraft adaptations in years. Even the title is efficient, paring down Lovecraft’s title “The Color Out of Space” to a mere two syllables (“die farbe” in German).

Opening in Arkham, USA, in 1975 (for no apparent reason other than the producers had a ’75 Audi 100 at their disposal – efficient filmmaking!), Jonathan Davis is searching for his father who went missing in Germany during WWII. “Wait!” I hear you cry. Yes, yes, I know. After a paragraph talking about the literal Germans, I start out with a plot synopsis that has nothing to do with Lovecraft except be set in Arkham. Simmer down teapot and hear me out.

After obtaining some clues from the local Arkham librarian, Jonathan sets off to Germany to a farming village where his father was last stationed. Blocking the road to the valley is a road crew who are detouring motorists due to the damming up of the river to create a lake. Once in the village, Jonathan finds the villagers to be sullen lot who claim to not recognize the man in the picture that Jonathan passes around. Except one. A white-haired farmer, Armin Pierske (read: Ammi Pierce). Pierske tells a tale in flashback about how he met Jonathan’s father, a US Army medic, at the end of the war, after the incident at the Gartner’s farm (which took place before the war) and how he at that time related the incident to Jonathan’s father. Confused? Yes, it is a little convoluted in the telling as well, but the main portion of the movie is an almost exact adaptation of Lovecraft’s short story.

Pierske is a neighboring farmer who witnesses a meteor crash out of the sky into the Gartner’s (read: Gardener’s) fields. The local scientists analyze it six ways to Sunday and discover it has the most peculiar properties. It’s a metal, but not one that is known on this planet, and unfortunately reacts with air, so that it eventually disappears entirely. The Gartners, pleased to forget about the meteor and get back to farming, awake one morning to discover their pear orchards filled with giant fruit. What seems like a godsend soon turns to horror as they discover that the fruit has an unpleasant after-taste which is only a foreshadowing of things to come.

If you’ve read the story, you know what comes next and writer-director Huan Vu (yes, I know I spent a paragraph talking about Germans and this guy is Vietnamese) follows Lovecraft’s story virtually to the letter, though he does add one or two details and omits others. One of the nice touches Vu adds is a scene in which the Gartner’s boys flip a coin to see who watches their deranged mother and who does the farm chores. The winner does the chores.

Shot on video, with lots of processing to appear as a black and white film, Vu makes the best of his medium, employing pages from Ivan Zuccon’s book to try to hide the deficiencies of the medium. Maybe not as successfully as Zuccon, but as this is his second film (the first being 2008’s DAMNATUS, based on the
"Warhammer 40K" games, that has not been released due to legal issues), Vu hasn’t had as much practice either. While Vu does a great job with very limited resources and sets up stunning camera shots, it sometimes feels a bit too much like a technical showcase for camera composition that does little to impact a story that has been told many times before. Ironically, at the same time, there are scenes that could benefit from some artistic license. When Pirske and Nahum Gartner discover the giant fruit tastes odd, there is little dramatic impact in the scene. Instead, the giant pears (which appear to be created from plaster) that the actors pretend to eat, end up looking rather comical. In THE CURSE (1987), the idea was retooled to fit a visual medium; the fruit looked beautiful, but was rotten and writhing with worms on the inside. This gives the rather crucial scene much more dramatic impact, even if it does lack in the subtlety department. As far as the script goes, the few little injections of added depth, like the aforementioned coin-flipping, are actually really well done and it would have been nice to see more of those and less of the oddly structured and somewhat clumsy wrap-around story.

On the plus side, Vu shows a nice sense of restraint, using CG effects seemingly sparingly, and for the most part, to excellent effect. Like Zuccon’s THE COLOUR FROM THE DARK (2008), Vu uses CG to add atmosphere and obscure the undesired qualities of the digital video format. When he does use CG for more obvious effects, they are generally well done. For instance, Lovecraft refers to the insects being “strangely puffed” and this is reflected in a scene where Pierske notices a giant bee on Mrs. Gartner’s clearly deranged noggin. Although the close-ups are, in my opinion unnecessary, the acting is what carries the scene, not the effect.

Over all THE COLOR is an excellent Lovecraft adaptation that is marginally lacking in a few areas making it not quite as satisfying as it could have been, but on the other hand, completely blows away bigger budgeted tripe like THE VALDEMAR INHERITANCE (2010/2011) and should be eagerly hunted down by even the most casual of Lovecraft fans.

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