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October 10th, 2012


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10:48 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: The Shadow Out of Time
Tonight, again, was a busy evening, and as promised (or threatened), I didn't have time to watch an entire movie. I chose a short film from the backlog of YouTube videos that I've bookmarked, and I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't just be watching these. I mean, they're a shorter time investment, and sometimes they're amazingly rewarding. Tomorrow we'll be back to actual movies, but for now I bring you...

The Shadow Out of Time!


...by H.P. Lovecraft. All the shorts I've bookmarked are Lovecraft adaptations. Well, either that, or videos of Mitt Romney saying horrendously stupid things. That's a different type of horror altogether. Where was I? Oh, The Shadow Out of Time.

The Shadow Out of Time is a novella Lovecraft wrote during the winter between 1934 and 1935. It's one that I'd have considered unfilmable, except that someone has done it. They've done it well, and under fifteen minutes. I'm impressed.

This is a small effort, of course. "Small" as in "small budget and crew." It's obviously taken them a lot of work, and it pays off, I think. One tends to be forgiving of these amateur efforts, but there's so much more to praise here than there is to forgive.

The Shadow Out of Time is a really unique story in Lovecraft's canon. He uses the language of horror -- his favorite words, eldritch, ichor, and cyclopean appear twice, once, and seven times, respectively -- but this is really pure science fiction. Not hard sci-fi, but it's definitely not the sort of thing he'd been writing a few years previously. Toward the end of his life, HPL was de-mythologizing his creations, and explaining away his earlier monsters as aliens and (occasionally) mathematical anomalies. This story might be taken as a blatantly rude gesture toward his earlier work, to which it barely connects at all, which is a big deal, given that HPL was so famously self-referential. Alternatively, you could view this as HPL embracing modern Theosophy, but he'd already dismissed Theosophy as a bunch of "crap". Look it up, nerds.

No one will like this comparison, but it suddenly strikes me that The Shadow Out of Time is to Lovecraft's oeuvre what Easter is to Christianity. Easter should, if you're paying any attention at all, be the biggest Christian holiday. But it's not, because hot cocoa and crappy trinkets are waaay more fun than reverence and spiritual introspection. The Shadow Out of Time -- which I don't even enjoy reading very much -- is a better and more important story than The Call of Cthulhu, but The Call of Cthulhu has a six-eyed, winged, dragon octopus from space who stands a mile high in the deepest part of the ocean. What's The Shadow Out of Time got? Inverted ice cream cones with tubes coming out of the top.

Also, the word connexion appears five times. I'm just throwin' that out there.

Anyway, Shadow is the story of Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, a Professor of Political Economy who collapses one day in the middle of a lecture, and when he comes to, he spends the next five years as a different person. He travels to far corners of the globe, hangs out with occultists, and delves deep into forbidden. He alienates his family, and then one day his personality resurfaces. Where the hell has he been? Why won't his wife see him? He falls apart.

He also begins to have strange, vivid dreams in which he inhabits an alien body in the distant past, while the alien's mind takes possession of his own. He meets other beings from other epochs, similarly displaced from their own times and bodies. In his waking hours, Peasley researches conditions similar to his own, and finds accounts scattered across the globe and across history. He is it all coincidence? Is he going mad?

I won't spoil it for you, except to say that the answers to those last two questions are both no, obviously, because that's how storytelling works. The point of this write-up is not to talk about the story, but to talk about the film, which is superb.

Well, it's not flawless, actually. It's cheap, and you can see that. But there's a lot of impressive work here, mostly in the puppetry. The CGI doesn't look great, but I suppose it beats the hell out of whatever non-green screen set design you can afford on an amateur budget. What really shines here are the creature designs. No matter what anyone says, good practical effects beat good CGI any day for me, and the aliens, animated by Richard Svensson, look gorgeous. Or, well, if not gorgeous by conventional standards, they're at least gorgeously executed.

The story is told entirely in voiceover narration which manages to hit all the main points of the story. The actual narration is good, but the ending of the story is oversimplified in a way that I don't at all like. If you've never read the novella, you won't notice. The actor who plays Peasley (Åke Rosén) is serviceable, but his motions look weird when he's acting against a CG background. My other complaint is that I find that the war between the Great Race and the Flying Polyps looks silly. Maybe others disagree with me, but I wasn't really picturing it like this.

All in all, though, this is as good a visual adaptation as I could have hoped for, and much better than I'd expected. Look, you can spare fifteen minutes. Just have a look.

You can watch the whole thing here.

Then watch this completely unrelated commercial.

...and if you've got a whole bunch of time on your hands, here's the original novella.

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31 Days of Halloween: The Shadow Out of Time - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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