Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Television Miniseries/Movie Appraisal: Storm of the Century (1999)

"The good is an illusion. Little fables folks tell themselves so they can get through their days without screaming too much." 

I assume this review will be appropriate for those affected by Hurricane Sandy like I am. I am currently in Connecticut, having battened down the hatches for the storm. I haven't lost power, although the lights were certainly threatening for a while, and thus I can watch the long hours of Storm of the Century and put out my thoughts on it. I never really expected to review this one. I've seen it a few times before, have fond memories of it, but also find it incredibly long to watch these days, especially all in one sitting. I just usually don't have the time for a long television miniseries. But, with the hurricane, all my activities cancelled, and the perfect time to watch this miniseries again, I took the opportunity. I kind of had to do it. When will the next time be that I get a chance like this to be relevant in my review choice?

I'm not sure exactly what I can say about this. Obviously Stephen King wrote the screenplay, although this was not ever based on any of his novels. The screenplay was published too. I own a copy of it. I read it along with watching the movie this time around. Some things are changed around, but a great deal of it remains the same or largely similar. While I won't say that this is absolutely the best movie/miniseries based off of something Stephen King wrote, although it is a very good one, I would say it may very well be his most ambitious and possibly also his most poignant. I've thought on Storm of the Century a great deal, particularly when the weather is stormy... or when there is snow on the ground.

Craig R. Baxley directed it, and the job he did is absolutely wonderful. Yes, there are some awkward scenes, and yes, the actors aren't always perfect, but there are some great moments in this little film, particularly in the beginning and at the end. The time spent getting everything to look perfect, specifically Linoge, is something to be proud of unto itself. But there is also making the snow and the storm look like actual snow and storm... and that was accomplished fairly accurately. I've seen snow and storms... hell, two years ago we had three or four feet of snow on the ground. So, yeah, I'd say I have an inkling about how snow looks in real life.

As for plot, well, it's certainly well done. A murderer is caught on an island off the coast of (you guessed it) Maine that is bracing for a heavy storm, a storm of the century, if you will. This murderer, André Linoge, killed an old woman, and remained sitting in the house he killed her in until the main character and constable of the town, Michael Anderson, takes him away in handcuffs. The rest of the plot is rather straightforward, although there are moments of following around relatively minor characters who either kill themselves or others under the supposed influence of Linoge. Oh, I didn't mention something? Yeah, it seems like Linoge is some kind of supernatural force of nature. His name is an anagram of Legion, as in the Legion from the Gospels. You probably know the passage from the Book of Mark 5:9: "And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." (I'm citing this as the Revised Standard Version of the Bible.) Now, whether or not Linoge is that Legion or not is of no consequence. He remains stalwart, nearly silent, and fairly creepy until near the middle portion of the movie. He seems to need to act as the people he is attempting to control to make them do his will, but sometimes even he seems to fail. He tries to possess a man named Billy at one point so that Billy will kill his own girlfriend. But the plan doesn't go as it should because Billy's a coward and won't kill her. It's the only moment of the movie where Linoge absolutely fails, and it's a moment that shows his fallibility. It's also a moment the audience needs to see to sow the seeds of doubt in our minds. Yes, he succeeds quite easily in his next plan, but for that first plan to fail is telling.

The rest of the story plays out as Linoge eventually escapes from prison, the people on the island are upset, people start going missing, and all the paths lead to one message: "GIVE ME WHAT I WANT AND I'LL GO AWAY."
What Linoge wants is the big question throughout the movie. It is revealed, almost at the end of it, that what he wants is a child of his own, to raise as he will- a child of the residents there. While Michael dissents to giving away a child and his soul, the rest of the town concedes, and Linoge finds himself in possession of Michael's child at the end of the movie.

There are some fairly powerful moments within the plot, and some that are slightly less than powerful. Stephen King can sometimes let a story get away from him, and although seeing many members of the town can give us a good feeling of the town, it can also lead to confusion when one townsperson seems really important when you have no idea if you've seen them in the movie before they have an important moment. The amount of townspeople in this movie may well be accurate and well-portrayed, but they are also copious, and that led to a ton of confusion from me over who I was actually looking at in parts of the movie. The problem also is that none of these extra townspeople are really important besides a select few... so featuring them seems a little dubious to me. Also, I have to complain about some of the CGI and Linoge's sharp, dirty teeth. Those things were utterly unneeded in my opinion. They were superfluous and worked on absolutely no levels. I did not like them is my point here.

The main body of the story with Linoge and Michael being featured and opposing one another is a big draw here. The other is the actual storm itself. I'm sorry, but a movie featuring the title Storm of the Century better damn well have a storm of the century. And this movie doesn't disappoint. The storm is both atmospheric and vicious, and hearkens back to times when whole places would disappear from a storm. Roanoke colony is heavily referenced within the framework of the plot. Linoge is even indicted in its disappearance. The storm is truly the big draw here... which, I suppose, is one of the reasons I'm reviewing this movie now. It's atmosphere, tension, darkness, and acting are also all topnotch so as to make this a very enjoyable film... even if it is overlong.

There are three extreme acting powerhouses in this film. Colm Feore, who plays Linoge, is absolutely haunting. The man plays creepy better than most I've ever seen. His serenity, calmness, and utter lack of emotion lends a lot to the idea that he is purely evil. The character, I mean, not the actor. Opposing him as the protagonist of the feature is Tim Daly, who has the most emotionally driven performance of the miniseries. It's hard not to relate to the hardworking man, who tries his best to be good in a world working against him. His good that opposes the evil of Linoge works very well in a black-and-white world... but... this film may not be just black-and-white, as we'll see. The last actor I really want and need to mention is Jeffrey DeMunn, who plays Robbie Beals, the town manager. Jeffrey Beals must love working in Stephen King based movies, because those are the only movies I've ever seen him in. The guy knows how to act though, and is thoroughly entertaining throughout without ever being wholly unlikable. These three really are featured the most, and definitely hold their weight up a fantastic actors all of them. As an honorable mention I should say that Casey Siemaszko, who plays Hitch, is also very well done. The actor had the exact right face and acting style for the character he was playing, although I'm pretty certain he never had a true moment to show off what he could truly do acting-wise.

Anyway, this movie is incredibly enjoyable with some genuinely creepy moments in the first half of the film and small parts of the second half. (Yes, I know the miniseries actually consists of three episodes, but I'm watching on DVD, so I'm going by halves here.) Linoge and the storm itself are the real scare factors here and both do a good job at heightening both tension and atmosphere almost to breaking points. I also love the moral choice at the end of the film. It is a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of choice. It is not a black-and-white and clear-cut choice, but one that has no truly good answers. While I agreed with Michael that you can't deal with the devil, there would be no guarantees that any of them could ever leave that island alive... or be found at all. Maybe the dreams and the dropping of the children as they flew with him were all bluffs Linoge put on, but seeing what he did to establish himself before then, it's hard to argue that he probably would send as many as he could to their deaths, either until they agreed with his terms or they were all dead. Maybe a few of strong moral compass would survive the ordeal, but what then? Would the children still live? Would they still be damned? There is no way to know since they made the other choice. And that choice, although terrible for Michael, saved the lives (even if those lives are damned) of the rest of the townsfolk. And I'm not certain that is the worst choice in the world in this case. There are times when you should not compromise your codes, and others when it is the only choice, but here there is no truly right or wrong answer, and that's what makes the choice so fascinating to look at.

I guess that, besides my praise, I have a final and important question to raise: Why couldn't Linoge just choose an orphan to raise? I mean, there are plenty of orphans seeking adoption. Why not a baby that is well on its way to being aborted? Why not a child that is lost in the woods? Hell, if he wanted to adopt a child, couldn't he just make up an identity and go get one legally? Or enlist some nice people to adopt one for him? Why did he have to go through all the trouble and all the murder, all the complications really, when there are simpler ways of dealing with these things? I assume it speaks a great deal about the personality of Linoge that we didn't see. He wants to create chaos and disorder and ruin lives. It wasn't just for the child that he came to Little Tall Island, ME. He also came there to have his own brand of fun, causing strife amongst the people, and causing more than a few to kill themselves, kill others, or die untimely deaths. I guess that's the real kicker here. Linoge could have done this anyway of his choosing. He could have made this easy. There was no reason for him to need an island child that we know of or suspect. He wanted to watch those people on that island cave into themselves and lose themselves and their souls to that decision because he truly liked to revel in their pain, their misery, their discomfort, and their terror. And that's what makes Linoge all the more terrifying. He exists to feed off of these negative emotions. He acknowledges the evil of men, but as that first quotation at the start of this review says, "...good is an illusion."

I'd suggest this movie as a watch if there is a storm going on or the snow is coming down. It is a good watch under the right conditions. There is a lot of good things here, but a great deal of superfluous plot threads, characters, motivations, and the like. I could have done without at least an hour or two out of that four hours or so of movie. But then it would truly be a movie and not a miniseries event. So, there's that. While I liked the miniseries, I would be reticent to truly recommend it for everybody. Again, it's a great watch under the right conditions and when you know what to expect from it. But it can also get quite dry, quite boring, and quite long at other times. So, use your discretion and have a good deal of time to put aside if you do decide to watch it. You probably won't regret all of it... only the parts where nothing's happening.

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