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It was almost too much to hope that someone would make a movie version of
Ray Bradbury's outstanding fantasy novel 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'
that did justice to it, but director Jack Clayton did. He and his cohorts
managed to capture all the dark, ominous portents and mysterious, mystical
happenings that fill Bradbury's book.
Set earlier in this century, a carnival comes to a small town at a strange time of year, October. But then it's a mighty strange carnival, one that fulfills the fantasies--and fears--of the town's residents. Two young boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade (Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson) find out the foreboding and forbidden secrets of the carnival, as does the tired, prematurely old man (Jason Robards) who is Will's father.
As has been noted, there probably isn't another film with the Walt Disney name on it that is as dark as this one. It may be too frightening in parts for very young children and too disturbing at times for slightly older ones. A person's enjoyment of the film would be helped considerably by reading the book beforehand, much like Kubrick's '2001...' Besides those already mentioned, some of the good performances in the movie come from Royal Dano, James Stacy, and Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark.
This film is well made in all regards; the cast is top-notch, the
cinematography and direction drive the tone of the movie, the effects
inventive and wonderful (even by late-90's standards) and best of all, the
That said, this is arguably the best film made from any of Ray Bradbury's works. I first read the book years ago as a 13-year-old and remember the images the tale concocted, and the questions about myself that the storyline propose ring as true today from the film as they did then from the page.
Owing much to the casting of the film, the director marvelously weaves the story around the principal leads by allowing a score of tertiary characters to guide the plot's tone, mood and motion. Each person, whether major or minor, is an intriguing part of the tale with their own tale to tell. With great efficiency we understand what drives each of the townspeople, and grow more curious and suspicious as to the background of the carnival folk.
Sympathy -- or contempt -- for each of the characters is developed throughout, and best the film's two supporting actors, Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce. While neither is exactly cast against type here, both provide a driving stability for the film. The two boys that serve as the film's protagonists do an admirable job in portraying both the fear and delight that is part of youth, and inherent to coming of age.
This movie is a fine example of how an effective thriller can be made without resorting to language, blood, sex, or violence. While I am not all opposed to films that use any or all of those conventions, it is a refreshing change from what is otherwise the norm.
One of the greatest benefits is that the resulting film is one that you can watch with your children, a film that will provide them a healthy scare and stimulate their mind as well. As the film does contain some dark and frightening imagery, it could certainly serve as a source of nightmares for younger children.
Ray Bradbury and the makers of this film ventured into foreign territory for the Disney Studios, they went to explore the dark side of humanity and came back with the honest truth that much of humanity is plagued and there are shiny bright spots within. This film explores the petty desires of everyday people, their eagerness to give what is really important in life up for things like vanity, lust, money, etc... The story centers around two small boys, Will and Jim, and how their lives change and the townfolk around them when a carnival comes to town. The atmosphere is chilling to say the least. It is easily the darkest of any Disney film(even considering the outstanding The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It uses dark landscapes, eerie haunting music, and bleak characterizations to perfection. The acting is good all around with two standouts. Jason Robards plays Will's father, and is the epitome of flawed goodness. He suffers for his goodness but has strength of heart. Robards is wonderful, and I felt myself wishing this man had been my father(or my father more like him). For an actor to be able to create that appeal is a true feat of integrity of performance. On the other side, in a simply sinister portrayal of evil incarnate is the performance of Jonathan Pryce, an overlooked and underappreciated English actor. His performance is scary, and he chews up every and each scene he is in. The script by Bradbury himself, based on his novel, is full of rich texture and subtlety. As with just about every film adaptation, the film is not the book...but then if you wanted that you only have to sit down and read...one page at a time.
After reading some of the previous comments made about this film, I
feel compelled to add my own.
I've never read the Ray Bradbury novel, though this movie did make me want to read more of his work. So what if it's not entirely true to the book? How many supernatural-themed stories adapted for film actually were true to the story in pre-CGI days? At any rate, I love this movie because it was spooky without being scary, and for a kid's movie, that was perfect for me. I'll never forget how creepy Jonathan Price was in this film. I loved the effects and the moody art direction.
It's dark without being too dark for kids, which I'm pretty sure is what Disney and most parents would want.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two young boys (Vidal Peterson & Shawn Carson) notice the arrival of a
carnival. Its owner (Jonathan Pryce) makes wishes for the town's citizens
come true, but with horrifying results. Pryce knowing that the two boys know
what is going on unbeknowest to the town sets about trying to hunt them down
with the assistance of a dust witch (Pam Grier). However, if he is going to
get the children he is going to have to go through the boy's father (Jason
Sure, it is predictable. However, it has excellent production design, original and creative special effects, and a thoughtful screenplay. Pryce turns in a scary performance. Robards captures that right balance of being brave, yet terrified. And Grier turns in a seductive, very mysterious performance that has a very commanding presence in the film even though she has very little screen time. Rather intense and scary film. The scene with Pryce ripping pages out of a book and Grier placing a spell on Robards are quite memorable.
Rated PG; Violence.
Frequently billed as kids fare, since it is a Disney Production, this movie
is a beautifully crafted adaptation of the Ray Bradbury science fiction
story. It is perhaps one of Disney's finest productions, a real movie with a
real plot, excellent characterizations, and well acted. This from a company
more known for mindless mush. This movie has something for everyone. For the
kids there is a simple horror story, not too scary, one they can handle. Yet
for the mature viewer there is lots of symbolism and allegory, deep imagery
and lots to analyse.
The cast is first rate. Jason Robards plays Dad, the town librarian. Arthur Hill is the narrator, or the voice of young Will Halloway, son of the librarian. Royal Dano has a role as the one legged, one armed town barkeep. And Johnathan Pryce plays the evil Mr. Dark. Diane Ladd plays his sidekick, the evil Mrs. Nightshade.
The story is about young Will, acted by Vidal Peterson, and his best friend Jim, acted by Shawn Carson. Both are 12 years old, and the movie is really their coming of age. For a boy to become a man, he must realize the consequences of his choices in life.
Everyone in this little town needs something, has a dream or wish. Will needs a dad who's healthy and can play with him. Poor dad needs a better heart. Jim's dad ran away, and his mom is loopy. The barkeep needs new limbs. The barber needs a girlfriend. The teacher needs her beauty returned.
The evil Mr. Dark and his circus arrive in town. And promise to make everyone's dream come true. But only at a great price, of giving up their souls. A deal with the devil.
This is temptation with a capital T. Greed overcomes prudence, and everyone will take on Mr. Dark's offer. Only Will can save his best pal Jim, and also the rest of the town. Love will conquer evil, good will triumph after a long fight. Temptation does go away if it is fought long enough.
The boys act with great talent. Pity they did not go on to similar quality appearances. One is reminded of the twin boys Chris and Martin Udvanorsky in the movie The Other, which is also a horror thriller. Or the horror movie The Good Son with Mac Culkin and Elijah Wood.
Yes, this was a big disappointment to many Bradbury fans, but it still has
enough charm to make it a satisfactory cinematic experience. It is
debatable whether or not one should read the book before seeing the movie.
You will certainly have a better understanding of what is happening, but the
terror conveyed in the book is not present in the movie.
There is the scene with Pryce and Robards in the town library. Even with the outdated FX, this scene is pure Bradbury...I could feel the tugging on my heart as Pryce's character ripped each page from the book. Truly a classic moment and not to be missed.
*** out of *****
This is always touted as a movie for children but not much is mentioned of the way it is also aimed at adults. The narration is skillfully done by Arthur Hill. In the beginning he speaks of his "first look into the fearful needs of the human heart." Maybe it's just me, but that sounds fairly mature. And the theme of the movie, selling ones' soul to the devil is both scary and grown up. And the final theme, the one of love overcoming regret is very adult. Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451 and Martian Chronicle fame) adapted his own story for the screen and did a wonderful job. This movie has a lot of mood and atmosphere too. This is a movie both children and adults can enjoy.
There seems to be something about small Midwestern towns that sticks
with the writers who have grown up in them, a sense of childhood
idealism now lost. Ray Bradbury had it. So did Rod Serling and Harper
Lee. (Okay, I'm defining the Midwest in such a way as to include New
York state and the South. If there's "poetic license" and "artistic
license," we can have "geographic license" too.) I don't know how
Hemingway didn't "get it."
This movie does a much better job of translating Bradbuy's often lyrical but still commercial prose into a visual medium. The village atmosphere is effectively evoked. The script tells us that everyone knows everyone else. And two you boys are the kind of close friends you can only have when you're a twelve-year-old kid, secretly crawling across tree branches and roofs into each others' bedrooms and worrying that one is trying to "ditch" the other. These boys aren't interested in girls -- yet. Freud called this developmental phase "latent homosexuality" but he probably had it wrong. What we see is not inversion but a budding social solidarity, a loyalty to a still-small group. If these kids are gay then so is the U. S. Marine Corps.
Anyway, the acting by everyone concerned is splendid, with the possible exception of Jonathan Price. It isn't his performance at fault. It's just that I couldn't buy him as the demonic carnival owner. Maybe it was his hair do, which was like unto that of a Beverly Hills doctor specializing in diseases of the rich.
The photography, lighting, and art direction couldn't be improved upon. There are a couple of shots of Vermont but most of the scenes are indoors or on a Small Town, USA, set on the back lot. That's okay. Sets can be stylized to a degree that real small towns can't, and that's what's required in a spooky fantasy like this. The smallest details seem apt. Note, for instance, the exceedingly drab wallpaper in Miss Farley's house. Ugh. It's the kind that Oscar Wilde must have had to cope with when he cracked from his deathbed, "Either this wallpaper has to go or I do." And -- whew -- is Pamela Grier a knockout. And Jason Robards has one of his best roles. What a magnificent smoke-and-vodka cured voice he has. In profile his features seem so flat as to have been painted on the front of his face, but when we get a good look at them they're extremely expressive. He looks and acts like a guilt-ridden father, frightened of death.
I don't know why it doesn't all quite come together. The story seems less focused than it might be. Oh, we know the carnival is evil, right from the beginning, that spectacular shot of the locomotive from hell pounding camerawards. But then what? Episodes that are hard to fit into the main plot. A big guy gets on a merry-go-round which spins him backwards and turns him into a child who then pretends to be Miss Farley's nephew, Robert, and she goes along with it. Why? Miss Farley doesn't seem especially fond of him. Is this her secret dream which the carnival is bringing to realization? Maybe, but later while looking in the mirror, Miss Farley turns into a lovely young woman and then promptly goes blind. How many secret dreams does this babe have? And why is she (and the others) punished for the dissatisfaction she feels? What do the evildoers at the carnival GET out of it?
I've used Miss Farley as an example but there are others. Too many. The plot seems loose limbed and gangles a little. What does Jonathan Price care whether he catches the two boys or not? Nobody's going to believe their story. And the multitude of tarantulas is a kind of cheap scare for a movie full of wistful memories like this. Especially when the kids wake up from the dream and thrust their screaming faces into the lens.
It's still a good movie for the reasons I've given, and the characterizations are good too. I wound up feeling very sorry for Jason Robards who is facing the prospect of being cured of life, which Kierkegaard called "the disease of eternity." At the same time I do wish they hadn't impaled Pam Grier on that shard of glass or whatever it was. I wonder how Val Lewton would have handled all this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bradburys book was a disappointing to me. I don't found it "more adult
a terrifying" than the movie. Really the movie is much more polished
(style, narrative, characters development, etc) suspenseful and less
I think that the movie was lucky to have a subtle, elegant and intelligent distant of ridiculous over-dramatic excess British director Jack Clayton (other claustrophobic dramas -with horror touches- involving (but non exactly for) kids from him: The masterpiece "The Innocents" and "Our Mother's House"). His mise-en-scene ideas are wonderful: an early happy camera movement around the square; a beautiful shot of fire reflecting in Wills glasses; the father-son conversations with (careful) culminating close-ups of their faces; the disquieting,sensitive captation of nightly, lonely streets; the filming and editing of Charles Halloway/Mr. Dark confrontation (genious Jason Robards & Jonathan Pryce) while the kids are hidden down the street; the famous library scene and a lot of other "little" moments (superb Stephen Burum cinematography). Clayton refuses much of the teletubbie metaphysics of the book in favour to lives up the symbolic cardboard characters with real more complex emotions: the "river incident" gives sense (inexistant in book) to father-son emotional paralysis and the weariness, downfall and fear to old age and death of the first one. Clayton also tighten much more the "Jim's wishes to be a mature man" with "his father absence". And in the movie we has more folk characters with emotional "faults": Crosetti desires women, Tetley wants money, Ed dreams with his missing arm & leg and Miss Foley dreams with her missing attractiveness. In book only appears Miss Foley (to cry and receive a more condescending treatment that in the film) and, during a moment, Crosetti (to cry, too ).
SPOILER! Moreover the director repulse the pedestrian didactism of the novels climax ending changing (with the help of his friend screenwritter John -"The Innocents"- Mortimer) the Bad Guys deaths and reducing the Good characters fool dances & singings (Oh, Susanna!. Oh, don't you cry for me!". Come on Ray, please ) to a few Jason Robards movements. Being implicitly didactic can be a good thing (why not?) but trivializing a story with over-the-head messages so that the less intelligent kid reader understand the whole thing, is a very different (bad) one. END SPOILER!
My only problems with the movie are the unnecessary fx imposed by the dumb Disney execs in post-production, above all the green mist. Those fx are a bit excessive but they don't attain to break the intimist tone of the movie. At least the train-carnival transformation was eliminated in last minute
Movie: 9/10 Novel: 4/10
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