Moriarty's Look At Future Supernatural Thrillers Series: WHAT LIES BENEATH
For the next seven or so days Moriarty will be examining the paranormal that exists in the world of Hollywood... and will soon be haunting theaters near you. His series begins here with WHAT LIES BENEATH, one major point to note before you read what Moriarty has to say about this is the draft he read is pretty old, and I believe is the 'pre-Zemeckis' coming aboard the project. That being said... Well... It really isn't the greatest 'ghost' or 'haunting' story around. For me... Ghost stories must be able to send shivers when reduced to a ten minute oral presentation around a camp fire. And this really isn't the case here.... But enough of that... this is Moriarty's show.... so here he is....
Hey, Head Geek...
Upon my return to the Moriarty Labs after my recent road trip to Austin, I was distressed to learn that construction had begun on some sort of factory on the surface above the hidden entrance to the Labs. To understand what I’m talking about, you have to realize that I have constructed my entire compound underground. That was to avoid detection from the surface. On the one hand, building some sort of factory on top of the Moriarty Labs provides me with a perfect cover and may make it even harder for the authorities to eventually locate me. On the other hand, that means I have to suffer through however many months of construction are going to occur. Just this one week has been more than enough.
For one thing, there’s been dirt and debris in the air constantly due to the massive concussive blasts going on upstairs as they try and lay a foundation. These blasts have kicked more than debris loose, though, as they seem to have shaken up some ghosts here in the Labs as well. I can already imagine many of you readers saying, “Ghosts, Moriarty? Come on. There are no ghosts. We all know that.” Well, I wish that were true. These have been noisy, active poltergeists from the moment they manifested, and they’re starting to make my life almost unendurable. We’ve had nightly hauntings, the walls have bled, there have been moans, screams, apparitions, things have floated across the room in front of us -- in short, it’s been like Robert Wise’s worst nightmare.
In looking for a solution to this problem, I turned to the one authoritative force that can seemingly answer any question you have. That source, of course, would be Hollywood. You see, right now, they’re infatuated with the supernatural thriller. I must admit, I’m a bit mystified as to why. I understand the SCREAM phenomenon kicking off the new wave of slasher movies, but I don’t understand where the supernatural thrillers are coming from. There really hasn’t been one in a while that’s worked in a big way. Still, that hasn’t prevented everybody in town from getting into the race. I figured we’d use this week to sort through what’s coming out in the next 12 months and see what looks like the best and the worst of the bunch. I’m going to list the projects in my personal order of least promising to most promising. Then I’ll have a very special surprise for you at the end of the week -- a review of what may be the best horror movie of the decade.
When I first heard the news that Robert Zemeckis was going to be making a supernatural thriller starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, my interest was immediately piqued. After all, a powerhouse cast, a powerhouse director, and a genre that none of them has worked in before -- that’s an exciting combination. My excitement was brought to an abrupt end, though, the day I received and read Clark Gregg’s original screenplay WHAT LIES BENEATH. It’s more than just a letdown; it’s a complete mystery as to why any of the creative elements attached to the film would have ever become attached. I understand that what I read was an early draft of the script. Still, unless they’ve done a complete revamping from the ground up -- and I’m talking about at the very concept level -- this is a film that has fundemental flaws that cannot be overcome.
The picture basically plays out as a combination of this year’s IN DREAMS and Harrison Ford’s PRESUMED INNOCENT. Without ruining what little there is to ruin about the film, it’s built as a mystery revolving around a ghost that appears in the life of Claire, a housewife who’s married to a perfect college professor named Norman. These are the Pfeiffer/Ford roles respectively. The film begins with their daughter leaving for college and Claire suffering through what seems at first like a mild case of “empty nest syndrome.” Claire quickly becomes obsessed with what she is sure is a haunting in their home. At first, there’s a nod to REAR WINDOW, with her convinced that the new couple next door has had a massive fight, ending with the husband disposing of his wife’s body in the middle of the night. Even upon first reading, though, this was obviously a narrative dead end. It’s obvious from page one who the ghost is, why the ghosts exists, and who’s responsible for the ghost. That’s a major structural problem. This film is built around the central mystery of whether the ghost exits and who it might be, but there’s really no suspense here. Any reader would see these twists coming 20 to 40 pages before they actually do.
Another major problem is that Clark Gregg’s script only really works when it’s not dealing with the supernatural at all. His use of ouija boards and other conventions of the genre is clumsy, hamhanded, and feels like that’s the part of the script he’s least committed to. The thing that does work about the script is the backstory regarding Claire, Pfeiffer’s character, and some of the simple character moments between her and her daughter or her and her friends.
Perhaps the biggest problem the film faces is that by casting it with major stars of this magnitude, the film becomes radically unbalanced. In order to really work, this film requires a lesser-known cast like David Strathairn and Mary McDonnell that could vanish into the film. Ford, in particular, is destined to overpower his role. There’s no way he’s going to convince the audience that he is Norman, or that he could do any of the things Norman does. At every point, this is going to be a film about Harrison Ford. “Oh, man, can you believe Harrison Ford did that?” “Oh, man, this doesn’t feel like a Harrison Ford movie.” I’m normally all for him stretching, but not when it’s at the expense of the material. The other problem with casting him is that it makes Norman seem more important than he is. He’s basically just a plot device. Norman only exists for his wife to react off of. Everything he brings to the film is plot-oriented. Everything he contributes to the film is plot mechanics. There’s nothing memorable or likable or notable about him aside from the role he plays in the plot.
With Claire, there are at least dimensions to the writing. She’s an interesting character. Her backstory provides her with some real depth and shading. Pfeiffer may do very well in the role. In fact, it’s the kind of role she’s perfectly suited for -- at least, in the first half of the script. Ultimately, she’s left with much the same problem that Annette Bening faced in this year’s IN DREAMS. After a certain point in the film, there’s nothing left for the actress except hysterics. All she does is act upset, out of control, and there’s not much for an actress to do once they’ve reached that place. It makes them far less interesting, and it’s easy for an audience to stop caring.
I’m afraid that this is a case where even an innovative, gifted director like Robert Zemeckis is going to be lost at making this material more than what it is on the page. This is the kind of script where everyone involved probably read it and thought, “Oh, a ghost story. I’d like to do a ghost story. I’ve never done that.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the one they should have held out for. When you consider what the competition has up its sleeve this year, and when you look at how poorly IN DREAMS played, this is the kind of film that should be seriously reconsidered before Fox and DreamWorks move forward on it. If they are indeed determined to move forward with the picture, then they need to decide what kind of film they’re making. Is this a creepy character study in the tradition of DON’T LOOK NOW, or is this a full-on supernatural haunting picture? If it’s the latter, then DreamWorks should take a cue from themselves. Tomorrow we’re going to look at the haunted house movie to beat this year, Jan De Bont’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE.
Right now, I need to go look up Peter Venkman’s phone number and see if I can’t take care of the problems here at the Moriarty Labs. Maybe I can get him to make a house call. Until then...
MORE TOMORROW, HARRY...
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March 1, 1999, 2:29 a.m. CST
The script has been revised.
March 1, 1999, 4:06 a.m. CST
*Sigh* Thank you, Templar, but didn't I make it clear in my review that I knew this was an early draft of the script. My problems are indeed with the initial draft. However, being familiar with the process of revision, chances are it's the dialogue for the stars that's getting the most attention in rewrites and not the story, which is where the major problems with the film are. I truly hope Zemeckis is able to turn this into something decent, but I'm expressing my concerns over the draft that kicked things off. Jeez... you explain yourself, and people still feel compelled to "help." "Moriarty" out.
March 1, 1999, 4:11 a.m. CST
It's a great resource for films that are out, that have final credits, but their track record for films in development in laughably bad. They print any half-assed rumor that comes along, and they typically print them in such a way that people who don't know any better accept them as fact. This WHAT LIES BENEATH entry is a perfect example. Some jerk reporter somewhere came up with the bogus plot description that the IMDb ran, and I've seen it over and over. It's got nothing to do with the actual plot of the film. There's nothing about a college basement in the movie, and it's not about Harrison's character investigating anything. Please don't throw the IMDb up to me as authorities, because they're not. "Moriarty" out.
March 1, 1999, 5:43 a.m. CST
Whew! Thank God, I'm not alone on this one. I read WHAT LIES BENEATH about two weeks ago, and was similarly disappointed. At first, I thought Gregg was going for something akin to DON'T LOOK BACK, what with the languid pace and all, but, and I believe it started with the neighbor "disposing" of his wife amid a violent thunderstorm (geez, I once saw that on an Alf episode,) it suddenly became apparent that he was writing a pretty standard supernatural yarn, and not a very good one at that. I would, though, like to point out to Moriarty that there have been cases of the original draft being used for its concept alone (note: I'm not saying this is even a good concept, just pointing something out.) If you've ever read the first draft of Graham Yost's SPEED, you'll know what I mean. Hell, the Jeff Daniels character was the bomber! Oh, well..... I'm still not very enthused with the prospects of WHAT LIES BENEATH. I would, however, take a crack at it for my usual fee of $750,000.00.
March 1, 1999, 6:28 a.m. CST
Zemeckis is a very good director and Harrison is the John Wayne of my generation. Why don't they team up to make something really disturbing? Not Seven, mind you, but something that makes you question reality a little bit? A good ghost story can do that. Hopefully this will be one, but right now it doesn't sound like it.
March 1, 1999, 6:49 a.m. CST
NOT FUCKING LANEMYERS AGAIN!!! PLEASE TELL ME IT'S NOT SO!!!
March 1, 1999, 7:10 a.m. CST
For bad buzz to be generated on a film before it even has a completed final draft of its screenplay is the height of absurdity. Have you ever read the early drafts of Star Wars? I'm surprised Harry would post such nonsense and put his own reputation in jeopardy. This is why so many people hate/fear the internet!
March 1, 1999, 7:18 a.m. CST
by Uncle Cracky
IMHO, 'Jacob's Ladder' is the supernatural thriller to beat, but I doubt it will happen. Can't wait to hear more on 'Hill House.'
March 1, 1999, 7:52 a.m. CST
I loved Jacob's Ladder. And I am looking forward to Hill House, if DeBont doesn't screw it up. Besides, it's got my man, Qui-Gon Schindler in it. One of my favorite disturbing ghost story movies was a little gem released back in the 70's called The Changeling with George C. Scott.
March 1, 1999, 8 a.m. CST
by Mike D
I, too, am somewhat let down about the alleged 'weak plot' here. Like most everybody, when I first heard word about this project, I was completely estatic. Harrison Ford (very well could be the John Wayne of this generation), Michelle Pfieffer (the most gorgeous, 'great' actress in film today), and Robert Zemmicks (proving to be among the elite after FORREST GUMP) seemed like a 'can't miss classic.' To hear this, the rumor of a 'bad story,' is totally discouraging. I have to believe it's at least a little better than this guy's implying. I have to believe that these three artists wouldn't have taken on the project if it weren't at least half-way decent. I don't know. We'll see.
March 1, 1999, 8:01 a.m. CST
OK, I don't always agree with the Mad Genius's critical assessments - he didn't manage to convince me, for instance, that the Iron Giant is anything more than a generic kaiju movie with an American setting and sub-Speed Racer art. With the plot he describes for What Lies Beneath, though, the movie has the potential to be a real turkey. But the stars may prove to be a good thing yet. So "Norman" is strictly a cog in the plot wheel. If you strip away Peter Cushing's performance, that's what Van Helsing is in "Horror of Dracula" - a plot cog. Ford can act, he's probably the mainstream actor most comfortable around "fantastical" material, it might be a Good Thing for this movie to have a humanized, or at least Fordized, Norman. Pfeiffer's done Gothic type material (Batman Returns) with no sign of discomfort, so she's cool. And I personally don't find her so obvious and recognizable that she'd squash the role. Also, never underestimate the effect of a capable director on an unpromising horror movie... here I am, defending a movie that I don't plan to see when it comes out. But hey, gotta see to it that justice is done.
March 1, 1999, 8:23 a.m. CST
I remember a few months before Forrest Gump started shooting, there was this same-type word of mouth about that project as well. And look how that film turned out, it's considered one of the greatest films ever made. And, it too, was directed by Robert Zemeckis. Give it time. Just like the reviewer said, the draft (of WLB) that they reviewed, was an older version. Heck, you can go into your local script-store and buy it right off the rack. Anyway, the new version is structured differently and the pacing is somewhat faster as well. And yes, I agree with the two that commented about Ford. He is the John Wayne of today. Both "most popular" of their time. Templ"e"r
March 1, 1999, 8:53 a.m. CST
Most cities of moderate size or larger have decent mom and pop video stores. James Cameron as a directing god, Forest Gump as one of the best movies ever made, Seven considered genius.... These are the movie lovers equivalent of saying that Marilyn Manson is subversive and original. If you love ghost stories, at least give Carnival of Souls a chance. It is beautiful and chilling and incredibly influential without fancy special effects. It is the Velvet Underground of horror films.
March 1, 1999, 9:39 a.m. CST
Every self-respecting connoisseur of cult classics (incl. me) is familiar with Carnival of Souls. It's practically required viewing. Which is not to say that it's perfect, just well-done and important. And BTW, very few horror movie of the era had much to brag about in the FX department anyway. And though they were all low-budget, they were mostly a lot more ambitious than some guy in a mask chaing Neve around. Which doesn't, of course, actually make them any good... Sigh, you get all kinds of Johnny-come-latelies on this site.
March 1, 1999, 10:37 a.m. CST
I know everyone's sick of hearing me bitch so Im gonna lay off Zemeckis. But does anyone else agree that Harrison Ford just ain't what he used to be? The only really good perfomance this decade i think is The Fugitive. As we all know, Ford is no DeNiro; he is more like, as someone said, john Wayne. Considering Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Ford is the king of action/comedy roles. So I dont blame the guy for trying to stretch himself. But it seems like during this entire decade, he's been churing out almost nothing but political thrillers. I know he did Sabrina and 6daze,7nites but those are nothing to brag about. But come on! Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Air Force One, The Devil's Own, any others? And I hear we havent seen the end of Jack Ryan. I just hope that Zemeckis gets the same kind of performace of out him that Speilberg and Lucas got. But I will say he kicked ass in The Mosquito Coast!
March 1, 1999, 11:44 a.m. CST
The surprise best horror film of the year is the Blair Witch Project... I mean what else could it be?
March 1, 1999, 11:46 a.m. CST
Could our favorite mad scientist be referring to the Blair Witch Project? After reading Harrys review and others this is THE horror movie to look for this year.
March 1, 1999, 11:48 a.m. CST
Wow Nihilon! Beat me by 2 minutes! Does anyone know when this movie will be released?!?
March 1, 1999, 3:19 p.m. CST
I don't know when it's going to be released but I'd love to know. There is a site at haxan.com. It's got some nifty stuff on it. From what I've read, I can't wait!
March 1, 1999, 6:50 p.m. CST
Do you even know how movies are made? You think that Jack Ryan would have kicked more ass if Bruce Willis played him? You forgot to mention Bruce. It's obvious you are the actor's moviegoer and not the director's moviegoer. The only complaint I have about Ford's career is people's incessant need for the poor guy to run and jump around with blood trickling out of his mouth. The man is TIRED! Of course he's going to be driven to romantic comedies where he sits and grins amidst poorly-written one-liners. The only other tripe floating past his office is the same Clancy political boy-scout drivel we've seen done over and over again. I for one appreciate him displaying the inferior side to the character he is playing. He's not contracted to be John McClane in every movie just because you want him to be. You should be complaining about the scripts and the fact that directors will only star Ford in their movies without ANY support whatsoever. He's constantly surrounded by second-rate actors. When they do pair him with a legitimate actor it's always: "So and So completely over-powered Harrison Ford in this movie!" It's because people go to the movies anticipating a pissing contest between actors, when they should be watching the characters in the story. But, along with the idea that if the character doesn't do what you would do in the same situation it's because the actor sucks, is the old idea that the actor writes and edits the damn film. You continually bring up the same tiring soliloquy as to why Harrison Ford is losing touch with his earlier career. The fact is, people won't let the guy act, because they demand him in certain roles. If he strays one iota, people complain. "I didn't like the latest Harrison Ford flick because his haircut was stupid, now I think I'll go watch Full House" Or, "I hated Patriot Games and Harrison Ford's poor depiction of rage at his daughter's medical plight when obviously the director called the shot." You see Lane, if it's not in the script or consistent with the previously established character it shouldn't go into the film simply because you would like to see it. Alec Baldwin's Jack Ryan was twice the bumbling analyst as Harrison Ford's. Jack Ryan isn't supposed to be Rambo. He's an analyst, a theorist-- not a field man. So to compare Harrison Ford to Willem Dafoe in that movie is like comparing Michael Keaton to Billy Dee Williams in Batman. Why are you even trying? Oh yeah, by the way, I heard from some uninformed idiot that Tommy Lee Jones is going to star in a film that hasn't been written yet, and he said it sucks. I'm so pissed. Tommy Lee Jones' career is in the toilet!
March 1, 1999, 8:49 p.m. CST
by Sterling Wolfe
1) I really wanted to like the script for WLB, but I just was not able to. I found Moriarty's analysis to be dead on, pretty much down the line. 2) Thanks guys and gals. I seriously thought that I was the only one, or part of a select few, who thinks that Mr. Ford has been sleepwalking a long time now. Harrison basically plays ... Harrison, which is fine when the script supports that interpretation, but throws things off big time when it doesn't. best, sterling
March 1, 1999, 9:50 p.m. CST
First off, I am not a fan of Tom Clancy; at least, not since THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Like Stephen King, the guy is in dire need of an editor. That being said, I found CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER to be something of a minor miracle; an involving and extremely well-made thriller that contains two set pieces that rank, in my opinion, among the best action scenes ever. The ambush in the alley, and the wiping out of the special forces unit being crosscut with the funeral for Jim Greer represent superlative filmmaking from Philip Noyce. As a whole, it ain't perfect, but it's miles better than PATRIOT GAMES, and, aside from a good script from Steven Zaillian, it's anchored quite capably by Ford.
March 1, 1999, 11:07 p.m. CST
The plot for that film seems vaguely similar to a U.K. novel I ran across last year by Jon Stephen Fink, called IF HE LIVED. That novel had a housewife whose 'perfect' life is marred by the sighting of a little boy near her house. There's a missing/estranged daughter, a marriage that's drifting apart, and the creeping realization that this boy who the woman alone sees is dead. I was taken by THAT story because it's a real psychological drama - is the boy a ghost, or just a manifestation of this woman's realization that her own life isn't right? Some strong stuff in there, all tied into human emotions and actions. If that's the path WLB is taking, it'd be commendable work - perhaps more similar to THE CHANGELING (the George C Scott flick) than IN DREAMS. If Ford were given the sort of material Fink used, it'd be a juicier role. As for HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, my god - after seeing the teaser trailer for this, all I can hope is that they don't put an over-reliance on cheap scares, and manage to keep the subtlety of Shirley's book intact. Someone did a revisionist novel on the Bell Witch a few years back which was equally creepy and smart in how it explained the murders attributed to a poltergeist (bit of family drama in that one). I'll be curious to see which of the upcoming films avoid the modern rubbish of slasher flicks and manage to pull off a decent supernatural thriller.
March 2, 1999, 1:51 p.m. CST
by Corran Fox Horn
As usual, I can check the talkbacks and expect to see L'Atuer and LaneMyers (how old are you guys, 19?) denouncing everything in sight and screaming about "fucking this and stupid fuck that." Harrison Ford is a movie star, and he's an everday kind of guy. Being an older guy, he doesn't make a lot of expressions...in real life! If you put him (Ford) in the situation you see him in, in the movies, he'd look exactly the same! You complain about a certain scene in Patriot Games where he looks constipated. Well I don't remember that part too well, but I can bet you that's what Harrison Ford (and thus, his character) looks like when he's really freaking upset and frozen with fear. I do remember a similar scene in the great Air Force One, where Gary Oldman is making him choose between his wife and his daughter. He did pretty damn well there, I know that. He was okay in the Devil's Own, Sabrina, etc and crappie in Six Days Seven Nights (chalk THAT up to Ivan Reitman, who also made Anne Heche look bad when she *can* do well, witness Donnie Brasco for instance). Clear and Present Danger wasn pretty good, people liked Willem Dafoe, but he's just a more interesting person. I love Tommy Lee Jones, but I thought his character had a few too many stupid lines in The Fugitive. Granted he was interesting, but Harrison was the star of the show. When Harrison was younger he was more expressive: Indy, Star Wars, Mosquito Coast, Witness...however it didn't take much to be Han Solo, as much as we all love that scruffy pirate. Indiana was a perfect role for him, even though the sad fact most won't admit is that The Temple of Doom and the Last Crusade weren't that great as follow-ups to Raiders of the Lost Arc. People have a funny habit of liking a whole trilogy when only one may be very good. And btw Moriarty, I know you wanted to do it for your Seven Supernatural thrillers series, but I think it was not a great idea to review the crappie first draft.
April 27, 1999, 11:33 p.m. CST
Oh yes...how I so love the armchair quarterbacks of the world. Expressing (with such raw 'passion'?) opinion that I am sure MUST be a reflection of the writers mastery of the art of acting and film making. This is clear! COME ON PEOPLE! There is nothing I hate more than people who wax philosophical about topics they know nothing first hand of. These are pure uneducated opinion. Truly and absolutely subjective. We all know what we like and don't like and we can express our opinions accordingly. But as usual, the dipshits of the world run off at the mouth (or the keyboard as the case may be) with apparent authority on topics where they lack said authority. On the subject of 'What lies beneath' the unfinished film (as far as I know they are still in preproduction); I will reserve my critique of the film till I actually view the finished product. Doing so would be like, oh I don't know, deciding that I don't find pleasing the way someone will look as an adult when looking at an ultrasound. A lot can happen between first draft and final product (someone in an earlier post mentioned something about a film called 'Forest Gump' -- similar comments, same director huh ... lets see...). Call me crazy but I think you can file that under putting the cart before the horse. On the subject of Harrison Ford; I think he is one of the most under rated actors in the business. I think do in no small part to the fact that he has enjoyed such stellar success. To throw too many accolades his way would be allowing to have his cake and eat it too. He already has the golden ring. But to get away from my opinion, I defer to Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel who have said the same thing of Mr. Fords acting ability. Stating that they would love to see him win an academy award for his work. Saying that no one can do what he does better. And while they didn't like all his movies they have consistently praised his acting work. Saying that he was key to that movie, 'The Fugitive' made their top ten list that year. They loved and gave two thumbs up to 'Clear and Present Danger' saying they enjoyed his performance and that it was wonderful that an intelligent movie like this did so well at the box office. They gave two thumbs up to 'Sabrina' (put that in your pipe and smoke it). While 'Air Force One' and 'The Devils Own' only received one thumb up for each from Gene; they both again gave kudos to his work in both films. And though they both disliked 'Six Days, Seven Nights' , saying that it was beneath him -- they both said his performance was the highlight of the film. On the subject of the 'Patriot Games' hospital scene I could not disagree more. I found his reaction to his daughter lying unconscious in the hospital bed very moving. But once again I defer to Tommy Lee Jones who said of Harrison in 'The Fugitive' (in particular the scene right before he jumps into the dam) that he is '...incredible at that stuff''. The 'stuff' he is referring to is acting without vocalizing; expressing with expression; saying all that needs be said without saying anything at all (in the tradition of silent movie actors). Learned opinion brought about by experience quite to the contrary of opinion wrought in inexperience made by people that I would not be surprised had never even acted in a high school play. The moral of the story kids -- don't pass judgment before there is anything to pass judgment on (a little different from judge not lest ye be). And always remember who's to say someone has good taste ... or any taste at all!
July 7, 2006, 7:40 p.m. CST
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