Friday, October 24, 2014

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

The Call of Cthulhu was not the movie I was expecting. It's a bit of a curiosity, and definitely a surreal experience. The date is marked 2005, but the movie is shot in the form of a black and white silent film. This is, perhaps, to make it feel contemporary with the publication of H.P. Lovecraft's stories, which occurred between the years of 1917 and 1935. Although, I wonder if this approach was not at least partly inspired by the desire to preserve some of the hauntingly crafted written words of Lovecraft's story, or otherwise to avoid even an attempt at vocalizing the largely unpronounceable words of Cthulhu's language.

In any case, this is a strikingly faithful adaptation of Lovecraft's story of the same name. This was the story that introduced the world to Cthulhu, and laid down the backbone of its mythos. It might not be Lovecraft's best story, but it is certainly an influential one. It is told mostly in the form of recollections of recollections, as a man pieces together the horrible knowledge of a secret thing that occurred in the spring of 1925, after posthumously acquiring his great uncle's notes. There are basically three chapters: the first involving the study of an epidemic of strange dreams in March of '25; the second telling the earlier story of an inspector's raid of a devil-worshipping cult ritual in the deep swamps of New Orleans; and the third recounting a sailor's experience on a strange, unmapped island, and the terrifying Thing he encountered there.

But it's the piecing together of these disparate parts that yields the most terrifying picture - one that hints at the existence of an ancient creature from the cosmos, worshipped as a god by savages throughout history, that is so terrible as to drive men mad through thought alone. The short glimpses we do get of Cthulhu (certainly nothing as concrete as the picture on the poster) manage to be pretty effective in spite of apparently being composed of claymation - but the clever way the film is designed assures that, if a little bit toy-y, it doesn't look too silly. And while I can't complain too much about the "geometry" of the island, it does look a bit too much like "crazy angles just to look crazy" rather than tapping in to some kind of non-Euclidean geometry that we can only guess how to make sense of. But I guess that's one of those imaginative things that's more effective when hinted at and not explicitly shown.

It's a remarkable adaptation of the story, with a suitably haunting atmosphere. Although there are little bits here and there that don't make the jump from page to screen so well - particularly, in my opinion, the philosophical/psychological impact of the horror of Cthulhu. And even with a little of Lovecraft's haunting prose thrown in, there's still so much more that gets left out. Which leads me to the conclusion that, if you want a proper introduction to Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, there's really no reason not to go straight to the source - the written story. It's not super long. But, once you've read it, this is certainly a fascinating movie to experience. It's not that long, either, clocking in at only 47 minutes.

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