Saturday, December 25, 2010

Deck The Halls With Scary Old Ones.

Since it’s Christmas, at least here in Australia, I won’t be doing a full length movie today, but I will be doing something. It will be shorter than usual, but that is because today’s film is only 47 minutes long.

The phrase “Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn", while next to impossible to pronounce, is on that will not be unfamiliar to a lot of us who live on the internet or read in general – it translates to “in his house at R’lyeh, d(r)ead Cthulhu waits dreaming”. And it is from this one line that an entire Mythos has been born.

Bought to life by the good people of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, The Call of Cthulhu is a brilliant telling of HP Lovecraft’s first and only major tale actually dealing with the most popular of the Mythos creatures. Much the same as any so-called “fan film”, The Call of Cthulhu is straight up a labour of love, created by fans: in this case of Lovecraft and the Mythos.
It’s hard to get into just what the film is without talking somewhat about what the Mythos is, and in particular Cthulhu. Instead of wasting valuable page space, though, I’ll just provide a few links in addition to the above provided:

Complete Mythos Timeline (warning, music)

The film itself has been shot to look like a 1920’s era silent film, in keeping with the timeframe of the original story, with the director having had extensive study in films of that era, to get the overall look and feel of the film right, both in terms of the story and of the overall item itself. From what I know of films of the time, they got the feel of the film as right as they could have – from the very first frame, where they use an “old timey, plane on a wire flying around the globe” studio identification. Every aspect of the film has been designed perfectly, no matter how small the detail, right down to dust and slight scratches on the film itself. In particular, the music (composed and performed by a number of members of the HPLHS as well as a couple of volunteers) is a standout; amazingly atmospheric, made moreso as it has all been given that “recorded in a tin can” feel that one gets with silent film scores.

As an adaptation, the film is almost spot on to the original story, with only a few minor changes made from the page to the screen. And, given the fact that it was made by the HPLHS, I would have expected nothing less. Much like the story, it is broken down into three sub-sections; “The Horror In Clay”, “The Tale Of Inspector Legrasse” and “The Madness of The Sea” having been wrapped around the tale of a man, Francis Thurston, who finds a series of notes left by his great-uncle. Part one, The Horror In Clay, concerns the finding of a sculpture made by a “mad” artist, which lead to the first mentions of Cthulhu or R’lyeh and the effects these items have on those possessed by them (the grand-uncle in question). In addition, we also hear tell of a madness that has overtaken various people around the world. The Tale of Inspector Legrasse (changed to Narrative of... in the film), as one could surmise from the title, tells the tale of a police inspector who had similar dealings with a cult of sorts that would have serious dealings with similar artworks, as well as purported voodoo and cannibalism. The final part, deals with Thurston’s own investigation into the strangeness, eventually leading him to the tale of a crew of sailors who (for lack of a better word) “meet” Cthulhu on an uncharted island in the Pacific.

This is one of my favourite stories, and was unsurprisingly my first introduction to the printed word of HP Lovecraft. So, when I first heard of its existence, I jumped at the chance to see it and was more than happy I did. The whole exercise succeeds on every level; technical, narrative, presentation and all stops in between. Just as I mentioned the sound design, now I feel I should draw attention to the artwork – given the conceit of the film, it’s not a giant CGI-fest, with everything created to be as practical as possible; from well integrated miniatures, fully designed statues, very good use of the HPLHS Props Department (of whom I can attest, make amazingly detailed things) to an awesomely realised Cthulhu, who is both horrifying and adorable. You can tell that it was made by people who care about the story about as much as any fan could, and it’s worth a viewing (if not an owning) of anyone who calls themselves a fan of Lovecraft.

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