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review added: 9/13/02



The Fog
Special Edition - 1979 (2002) - Avco-Embassy (MGM)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Fog: Special Edition

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/A-

Specs and Features

90 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, full-frame (1.33:1), double-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:08:04 in chapter 23), keep case packaging, audio commentary by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Tales from the Mist: Inside the Fog featurette, original 1980 featurette, advertising and behind the scenes photo galleries, storyboard to film comparison, Easter egg outtake reel, 3 theatrical trailers, 3 TV spots, animated film-themed menu screens with audio, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and mono) and French (DD mono), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

The Fog was John Carpenter's follow-up to the successful and cinematically significant Halloween. Avco-Embassy liked Halloween enough that they offered Carpenter a two-picture deal. Needless to say, the pressure was on to create something just as bankable and frightening as its predecessor. When The Fog made its way to cinemas, it came and went without much fanfare, and was all but dismissed by critics and moviegoers alike as an average effort. But over the years, the film has gained a sizeable following, and has done quite well for itself on home video. It's an underrated creep-fest that has been unfairly held to the standards of its more influential predecessor.

Carpenter took a cue from the '70s disaster films and assembled an ensemble cast to tell the tale of a small coastal town haunted by the ghosts of its past. Antonio Bay is preparing to honor the 100th anniversary of the town's founding. Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) unearths a secret diary that will surely put a damper on the community's seemingly ideal existence, and shares his finding with city planner Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh). The night before the festivities, a series of strange events occur in and around the town - a fishing boat and its crew disappear, a piece of driftwood conveys a cryptic message, clocks and electrical devices malfunction.

As night approaches, so does the dense, inexplicable fog that will eventually overtake Antonio Bay. The ensemble cast - including screen veteran Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers and Tom Atkins - spend most of their time running from the fog. Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), the voice of radio station KAB, acts as a beacon for the townspeople. From her lighthouse radio station, she tracks the movement of the fog and takes to the airwaves to warn the ill-fated citizens of its approach. Until the film weakly explains it away in the end, nobody knows why the malevolent souls that dwell within the green, pulsating fog are terrorizing the citizens of Antonio Bay.

The strength of The Fog, much like Halloween lies more in its mood than in its subject matter. Carpenter's early work is reminiscent of the type of creepy, unsettling mood director Roger Corman brought to his Edgar Allen Poe films. This movie is quite literally dripping with atmosphere. From the simple but effective lighting, the impenetrable darkness of the midnight hour shooting schedule and, of course, the titular fog, Carpenter really hones in on what will scare the audience. He takes a perverse pleasure out of juxtaposing the wholesomeness of small town life with the fear that is associated with an unknown terror. Even better, he knows that audiences get even more pleasure out of it than he does.

MGM's DVD release easily bests the previous New Line laserdisc release in video, audio and extras. As good as the picture looks here, it is nonetheless frustratingly bad in some places. The bad first; some of the key sequences involving the fog itself are riddled with grain and artifacts. The worst offender is a key sequence atop the Antonio Bay lighthouse that is so packed with distracting grain and digital noise that you can barely distinguish what's happening. Fog is always a tricky effect to pull off well on home video, and indeed it does look good in most shots on the DVD for The Fog. The shots of the fog moving across the sea and overtaking the outlying parts of the town look very nice, but a select few individual scenes are disappointingly inferior.

On the other hand, the quality of the film negative is just about perfect, and lays the groundwork for a surprisingly fine image. Gone are the uneven edges from the laserdisc and the washed look of previous VHS releases. Colors are bold and pure without over-saturation, and the level of detail afforded by black level is exact. Cinematographer Dean Cundey's work with John Carpenter in the late '70s and early '80s is among the best of that era, and the DVD image does his fine lens work justice. On the reverse side of the disc, you'll find a pan and scan version of the 2.35:1 anamorphic image. Do yourself a favor and skip this one entirely. For all intents and purposes, it looks about as good as the widescreen image, but Carpenter's films are a case study in the advantages of widescreen over a butchered, forced 1.33:1 image. You're really not seeing The Fog (or, the fog, for that matter) if you watch it this way.

Audio, while satisfactory, is nothing more than a dressed up monaural audio track with a few 5.1 tricks here and there to give it a new and improved feel. Though you will notice a few jarring sound effects and occasional glimpses of Carpenter's excellent electronic score in the surrounds, this is above all else a front-heavy mix. Any of the movement in the mix is spread across the front speakers, but dialogue is evenly maintained in the center speaker. Bass response is average and barely makes itself known outside of the low end of the film's music track. Any of the drawbacks to the mix can be attributed to the limitations of the source material. Obviously it doesn't compete with a newer audio mix along the lines of Black Hawk Down, but it holds its own and sounds about as good as Anchor Bay's 5.1 upgrade to Halloween.

Originally slated for release last year, MGM held off to give fans of The Fog their heart's desire and make a true special edition. Yes, most of the features are ported from the laserdisc release but they're good extras, and they've bulked up the disc with a few additional supplements. From the laserdisc, we get director John Carpenter and co-writer/producer Debra Hill's thorough audio commentary. It's one of Carpenter's better blab fests, and he and partner Hill touch on just about everything you wanted to know about The Fog - location scouting, the film's extensive last minute re-shoots, wrangling the fog effects and tons more. What one doesn't know, the other is usually able to fill in. There's also a 3 or 4 minute reel of outtakes from the film (with an additional reel of outtakes tucked away as an Easter egg) that is worth seeing, more than anything else, to hear gentleman John Houseman punctuate his flubbed lines with an understated "Shit." Last of the laserdisc supplements are 3 cheesy theatrical trailers (2 of which are actually exclusive to this DVD) and 3 additional television spots.

The new 30-minute Inside the Fog featurette is both informative and entertaining. Much of it is repeat information from the commentary track, but it's very good to hear from others involved in the production. Barbeau discusses her dual-duty as first-time film heroine and wife of John Carpenter, and screen legend Janet Leigh (always a class-act) takes a few moments to talk about her experience on the set. Production designer/fog monster Tommy Lee Wallace and Dean Cundey add their perspective from the other side of the camera, and Carpenter and Hill return for additional insights into the making of The Fog. While piecing together the film in post-production, Carpenter and his team discovered that the film was not very good. Ultimately nobody involved with the project was satisfied with the end result, and with barely a month remaining before the scheduled release date, cast and crew scrambled for re-shoots. The documentary, in combination with the commentary, sheds more light on these scenes and how these additional shots (along with a re-worked music track) saved the film from the junk bucket.

The original 1980 feature runs about 8 minutes and is undiluted '80s fluff. Carpenter, Hill, a freshly scrubbed Jamie Lee Curtis and mom Janet Leigh all make appearances in this videotaped PR-fest. The film and storyboard comparison is worthy only of a single viewing, as are the several dozen pictures contained within the advertising and photo galleries. My only complaint with the features is the lack of an isolated film score. This is one of Carpenter's better music tracks, and the option of watching the film without the distraction of sound effects and dialogue would have been a nice addition. Otherwise, this is a very good set of extras.

I really like The Fog and I'm glad it's finally on DVD. I wasn't entirely thrilled with the quality of the video transfer, but I'm very pleased with the supplements. MGM has come a long way (baby!) since their depressingly awful barebones release of Escape from New York. Fans of The Fog will surely be satisfied with this effort, and the DVD seems sure to increase its fan base. If you've not yet seen The Fog, you'll definitely want to give the DVD a once over. You're in for a spooky treat.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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