JUNE 15, 2008
In an old Fangoria (not from when the film came out though – maybe 10 or so years after), John Carpenter said that he felt like “a ho” when he directed Christine, as he did it for the money and without any real feeling for the material. He simply wanted to make something different that might not be hated, like his previous film was (The Thing – because 1982 audiences were apparently all fucking stupid). But it’s a testament to how good a filmmaker he was in his prime that even knowing that his heart wasn’t in it, it’s actually still one of his better films.
It’s also one of his longest (if not THE longest) at 110 minutes. But it doesn’t feel long. Like Stephen King’s Stand By Me, it’s not so much about the horror but about the nostalgia and well acted character dynamics. In fact, horror/violence only takes up maybe 15 minutes of the entire film (most of that in the climax), the rest is just detailing Arnie’s withdrawal from his old life, becoming, for lack of a better word, possessed by his own car. He ignores his best friend, freaks out his girlfriend so much that she eventually dumps him, and slaps around his own dad. Watching Arnie transform from the pathetic nerd in the first part of the film to the tragic and terrifying guy at the end is far more interesting than watching a car run over a fat dude in an alley.
And that adds even more the irony of Carpenter’s somewhat dismissive feelings on the film – it’s his only King film, and he’s gotten it right more than almost any of his peers. Hell even Darabont, great as Shawshank and Mist may be, felt like he was phoning it in on Green Mile (granted, the source material was far from King’s best either, but still – it’s a mechanical and overlong film no matter what). In the lengthy history of King adaptations on screen, it may not be the most faithful (in the book, the ghost of the owner was actually in the car with Arnie), but it’s one of the very few that successfully showcases an oft-forgotten fact about King – his characters are very real and easy to identify with, which is what makes the horror elements so compelling in the novels. This “boring” character stuff is usually the first thing to get tossed out in the films, in favor of the monsters and supernatural visuals. But Carpenter (and screenwriter Bill Phillips) went the other way – you almost get the idea that they would have left out the murders entirely if they could (indeed, all but one are offscreen), as the focus is on the three main characters (four if you count the car).
It’s also interesting how the two main stars have gone on to be filmmakers in their own right. Keith Gordon has made mostly smaller, independent films (including A Midnight Clear, one of the best war films ever, period), while John Stockwell has helmed a trio of recent water based movies, such as the underrated Turistas. And I dunno if Alexandra Paul has ever directed a film, but she’s certainly not IN enough of them, because, as we discover in the film’s bonus material, she’s still super hot.
Speaking of the bonus material (which I watched when I got home – like The Fog, I had never gotten around to any of it before), this may be one of the most packed special editions for a pre-laserdisc/DVD movie ever. There’s the usual Carpenter commentary, which is also much better than usual for him, since he is joined by Gordon, who was sort of his protégé. It may not be as funny as the Carpenter/Russell tracks, but it’s still a worthy listen. There’s also 3 featurettes that total about 45 minutes, with just about everyone (except King) contributing new interviews. Why they are broken up is not very clear – one focuses on adapting the book, which is fine, but another one is about the music and the film’s reception from critics, as well as how they feel about it today – why not include this material with the other piece (which talks about everything else: casting, shooting, effects). Weird. There are also 20 (!!) deleted scenes, totaling about as many minutes. Most of them are worth seeing out of context, but in the film I can see how they would slow things down. Definitely watch the longer version of the bullying sequence in shop class though – in addition to a surprising character detail about Stockwell (he laughs a bit when Arnie is being humiliated), Buddy’s taunts are just hilarious, and features more of his peculiar Travolta-esque acting.
I’m glad Sony put together a special edition for the film, giving it some of the respect it deserves in the process. It’s definitely worth re-evaluating, and even though it’s a 1983 movie that takes place in 1978, it still doesn’t feel very dated. The basic themes are still easy to relate to, and like The Thing, the effects work holds up better than almost anything else of the period. It's almost insane that he thinks less of this film than his last couple - anyone who thinks Ghosts of Mars is a better example of his talent is just a goon.
What say you?