Movie Review - Color Out of Space
I first became aware of Richard Stanely via the previously reviewed ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’, where he provided great insight not only to Jodorowsky’s filmmaking, but also to Frank Herbert’s Dune itself. And while that documentary had credited him as a filmmaker…well, I just hadn’t seen anything that he’d made. This wasn’t difficult to cure, as two of my favorite YouTube channels, Brandon Tennold and Good Bad Flicks, had done profiles on his cult-classic film ‘Hardware’. [GBF hasn’t done a profile of the film at the time of this writing, but he’s likely made mention of it in some way. – Ed.] This 1990 film, his feature film debut, is pretty solid overall and will likely be a film we’ll take a look at here on the site later on down the line. [Sooner rather than later if this coronavirus stuff keeps at it. – Ed.] While limited by budget and technology, that film presents an interesting cyberpunk tale that’s a pastiche of Mad Max, Judge Dredd (comics) and Terminator. Later on, I’d learn that Stanley was originally the director for the 90s adaptation of ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’…a film later taken over by John Frankenheimer…that, while I haven’t revisited it in a while, was a film I recalled enjoying back upon its initial release. Thus, I tracked down the documentary made of that initial failed attempt, ‘Lost Soul! The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Doctor Moreau’ and, again, found him to be an interesting, if not a slight bit mad, voice.
Yeah, I know, long-winded intro, but having come off ‘The Void’ I figured we should keep the Lovecraftian vibe going…and lo and behold, for his first film in over 20 years, Mr. Stanley has opted for A Lovecraft adaptation: Color Out of Space. So let’s see if we can do a little plot blurb before we start discussing the film itself. The Gardners have moved from their more urbane home to a small rural farm on the boundary where their new small town home is planning a massive hydroelectric dam. Nathan Gardner, the family patriarch, has dreams of a simple existence; growing tomatoes, keeping alpaca and making wine, while the rest of his family struggles with this sudden lifestyle change. Their lives and his already fragile dream are overturned even further when a mysterious meteorite crashes into their yard one night and slowly starts to change not only the farm itself…but all those that live there.
Now, if you’ve got visions of Stephen King’s performance in the original ‘Creepshow’, ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’, well, you’re not too far off. It’s the same basic core idea, but the aforementioned short goes more the comedic route whereas with this film…definitely not so much. Instead, what we get here is that trademark Lovecraftian cosmic horror and pure dread that Stanley does such a fantastic job translating to the screen through all the tools at his disposal. The cinematography, though increadibly beautiful, is also very successful in helping to create that atmosphere, as are the music and sound engineering. The mix of both practical and digital effects present here also go a long way in selling the horrors that unfold during this subtle but not so subtle alien invasion. That being said, sure, the CG here is not up to the usual Hollywood standard, but I think that the loftiest praise I can levy to Stanley is that he does such a masterful job at pulling you into the story and crafting the atmosphere that…well…it doesn’t have to be. I mean, sure, they can’t look like old school PS1 or PS2 graphics…and they certainly don’t…but it’s not anything you’re going to mistake as real either. Instead, what we get…and I’m particularly thinking about a scene with a mutated praying mantis…is something akin to the current generation of game systems or maybe even next-gen…and given some of the graphics coming out of that realm, well, that’s pretty damn fine.
Most of the cast here really shine, each doing a great job at showing the slow erosion of themselves and transformation into otherworldly…things. Joely Richardson’s character, Theresa, probably goes through the largest transformation and, unlike other cast members that we’ll talk about in a bit, NEVER oversells it. The remainder of the cast all maintain this vibe, keeping their roles rooted in the reality of the situation instead of devolving into caricatures…which is a real potential pitfall in films like this. But between Madeleine Arthur’s Lavinia, Brenden Meyer’s Benny and even little Julian Hilliard’s Jack, they maintain the real feeling of this family and the turmoil they were going through even before this unwelcomed visitor entered their lives. [Okay, Meyer’s Benny stumbles a bit…but that might just be the character himself. – Ed.] You know, the more I think about it, this family ends up kind of becoming the anti-Fantastic Four. Yes, each of their mutations are reflected in their individual characters, but in typical Lovecraftian fashion, there’s no positives here…nope…this one’s going all negative. Elliot Knight’s Ward serves as our entry point into the story as well as our POV character and he does a really good job with that. Well…except I’m still not convinced a hydrologist would know what radiation burns look like…I mean, I work with one and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t. Sure, I could, but…you know…I’m weird. [You said it, I didn’t. – Ed.] Lastly, HUUUUUUGE shout out to Tommy Chong for his role as Ezra. First of all, yeah, I love it when performers typically known for one thing turn and do something very different…so just to see Chong in a horror movie is great. And while yes, he plays a stoner…he also fills the role of the ‘harbinger of doom’…you know, as in if this were an 80s slasher movie, he’d be the one in the first 15 minutes telling the new camp counselors that they’re doomed…DOOOOOOOOOMED. Chong instead makes that archetype his own and because of this different way of playing it, perhaps that ended up making his warning just a little more dire. And to go back to the sound engineering, let’s face it, if you’ve got a team that can make Tommy Chong sound eerie and threatening…then goddamn do they deserve Oscar gold.
Honestly, there’s only one flaw with this movie…but it’s a big one. I tried to push past it, I really did…but when the biggest failing in your movie is its star? Ugh. That’s a tough one. And as you can tell from all my gushing above, The Color Out of Space succeeds in overcoming it…but, well, it’s like blood-spattered white sheets: sure, if you get them back to being 99% pristine white it’s a hell of an accomplishment…but your eye is ALWAYS going to be drawn back to the one little brownish-red spot you missed. ALWAYS. And that’s Nic Cage here…doin’ his usual Craaaaaaaazy Nic Cage thing, chompin’ on any loose scenery he can find. With the rest of the cast doing their best to anchor this film…well…I just found Cage’s usual Cage-overacting to be an extremely poor fit. Now, I gotta be fair, I might be bringing some bias here. You see, there are two ‘stars’ that it takes a lot for me to bring myself to watch: Tom Cruise and Nicholas Cage. Both for the same reason: their public personas are so bat-shit crazy and the roles that they choose usually end up reflecting some aspect of that guano that they never really become the character they’re supposed to be playing. Instead, the instant they come on screen, I, as the viewer, am instantly pulled out of the film thinking, ‘Oh, god, Nic Cage is here, let the shit storm begin,’. And more often than not, in my opinion, I’m right. I think the last time I bought Tom Cruise as a character was back in 2013’s Oblivion…and maybe not even then. It’s been even longer ago for Nic Cage. But yeah, your mileage might vary here, but for me, sadly Cage never succeeded in shaking the caricature he has become and his performance left me hoping he’d exit the screen quickly, giving the more anchored and believable actors their deserved chance to shine.
With a flaw that prominent in the film, well, as a reviewer it leaves me in a really difficult space. [Ha, ha. Yeah, I see Let me be clear, the good of this film FAR outweighs the bad. This is a great, GREAT return for Richard Stanley, giving us horror fans a unique voice we really need out there in the film world. His control over the visual art form of cinema on display here is nothing short of masterful. The fact that he’s already made comments that he’s planning an adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror for his next project already has me salivating and very much looking forward to it. For this alone, the film deserves my highest ranking. But then there’s Nic. And there’s no avoiding it. He’s in this movie. He is…the “star”. And he is…not great. And for as much as I love this flick, that decision has to have repercussions. So, for the first time on this site, I’m giving a movie two different ratings. One without Nic, one with. But if I have to give you a verbal recommendation, I will simply say this; The film’s damn near perfect…but the overacting of Nicholas Cage steals away the greatness this film deserves and ends up only making much less than what it should have been. Regardless, it’s still definitely worth checking out.