Thursday, November 08, 2012

Demystifying The Colour Out of Space (Die Farbe): A Movie Review

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Writer/Director: Huan Vu.

Cast: Ingo Heise, Michael Kausch, Marco Leibnitz, Erik Rastetter, Marah Schneider.

Not many of H.P. Lovecraft's works are easily translatable to screen. Try as some might with a huge budget, others have gone low with varying degrees of success. The German Die Farbe (The Colour out of Space) fits right in as one of the better calibre products. Its DVD/Blu-ray release is terrific, since it comes with a small selection of extras, from the making of to the explanation of science in horror fiction. And the multi-subtitle track is perfect to tell viewers what the story is about.

Readers familiar with Lovecraft's tale will find a respectful retooling of his work. Instead of Arkham, Massachusetts, which the original story takes place in, the foothills of the Swabian-Franconian Forest in Germany is explored. Purists may not like it, but the setting is just as good to solidify the isolation of the Gärtener family put themselves under. After when the meteor struck, they were the talk of the town. The scientists came and went, wanting to study the rock and talk to the Nahum (Erik Rastetter) about his discovery. But with most of it evaporated away, they left disheartened.

That feeling later gets reflected with a visual and narrative finesse that shows what the patriarch and his sons have to face when they see the land blossuming and dying. When they realize the matriarch, Frau (Marah Schneider), is going mad, their desolation only gets worse. Schneider provides the most compelling performance as she slowly succumbs to what has been absorbed by the land. The scientists unwittingly released a mysterious substance that bled the life out of the forest-side. The Gärtener farm lies just at its edges.

By presenting this film in black and white, a noir aesthetic is quickly built. It works for this particular story. Had this style been used for a different one, like Mountains of Madness, or the "Dream-Quest" series, the presentation would feel out-of-place. And for any cinematographer who knows their medium, to present The Colour as a vibrant violet - which symbolizes mystery - is no surprise. Any other hue would not have worked. For the German-Vietnamese director Huan Vu to decide which colour to use would have been difficult. Even Lovecraft would approve.

And to show the slow crawling decay of the land is beautiful. It shows how the family is being entombed. The encompassing narrative is atypical for Lovecraft's style. The real plot centers on Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) searching for his father (Patrick Pierce). After hiring a detective to do the dirty work, he eventually travels to Germany to find Armin Pierske (Michael Kausch) tell the story of what happened to the Gärtener family and how that may link to his missing father. This World War II vet may have suffered from more than just being shell-shocked. A bit more character development would have helped make this subplot important.

The layered tale is effective though. It interweaves at least 25 years worth of flashbacks into a short run-time of 86 minutes. The only problem is that the movie does not know how to end. A rewrite was made to accommodate the finale. But unlike the original tale, the story does not go off with a bang, no one goes mad, a trademark of Lovecraft's tale. It drifts like a piece of burnt paper against a gentle wind. If this movie is an allusion to the folksong, "Ring a Ring o' Roses" and its association with the Black Death (as it happened in Germany), the final images are very strong. Ashes! Ashes! We All Fall Down. But how many viewers will get that?

Overall: 7 out of 10.

The film's homepage is here:

Die Farbe's Official Website

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