Sunday, November 2, 2008

#109: The Call of Cthulhu


The Call of Cthulhu
Directed by Andrew Leman
Written by Sean Branney (based on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu")
Released 2005

Aside from the obvious drawback of having virtually no audience interest (and therefore no box office draw), I've often wondered why no one attempts to make a "silent" movie anymore.

It's the disregard for the financial/box office slavery that bogs down most movies that proves that Andrew Leman's dialogue-free homage to silent movies of the 1920s, the black and white 2005 adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu," is an obvious labor of love for both the director and the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

In watching The Call of Cthulhu, I realized one of the major problems in trying to duplicate or mimic a style of film that has been gone for many decades: technology. One of the biggest problems with the movie is that it just doesn't look old. The charm of watching a movie like Vampyr partially lies in seeing how people back then made due with the limitations of their technology. Even though many of the special effects shots may be obviously faked, it's that element of trickery that makes it appealing.

The best example I can think of is comparing the original Star Wars trilogy with the films George Lucas has made in the past decade. While the digital effects and in his newer movies may be more seamless and less man-made, they wind up reducing the impact of what's onscreen. The collapse of one of the walkers in the Hoth battle sequence in The Empire Strikes Back is far more memorable than any of the countless flashy space battles in the newer trilogy.

A similar problem inhabits Cthulhu, in that you can tell it must have been shot digitally and then made to look aged after filming was complete. While this technique can sometimes work with films like Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, he was only trying to reach back to the 1970s and '80s. To make Cthulhu seem almost a century old, you'd almost need to dig up some ancient cameras and film stock to really duplicate that kind of film making. I realize that making such a decision would be economically unfeasible. It's ironic: it would cost you far more money to make this movie with shitty old equipment. There is admirable use of things like models, stop motion animation and miniatures, but there are little obvious digital intrusions that can't be ignored.

It's not that I don't respect The Call of Cthulhu for being a low budget tribute to both H.P. Lovecraft and those classic old silent films. For fans of the writer, this movie is probably a must-see. For the casual viewer, it's a curiosity and a fairly successful Film School type of exercise. Unfortunately, it's that limitation that will turn away most viewers.

For more on The Call of Cthulhu:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- More on the Lovecraft story on Wikipedia
- The official movie site
- Buy the DVD.

The trailer for The Call of Cthulhu trailer:

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