Movie Review – Something Wicked This Way Comes

1983 Walt Disney Productions

Three Stars

Something Wicked

“It’s a thousand years to Christmas, Mr. Holloway. ” – Mr. Dark

Based on the story by Ray Bradbury Something Wicked This Way Comes is set in the small town of Greentown, Illinois. Greentown is a quiet place where not much seems to happen, but this year is different in a bad way. As the weather turns colder and autumn sets in leaflets are strewn about the town by a mysterious figure. The leaflets proclaim the upcoming arrival of Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival. Two thirteen year old boys, Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade are intrigued by this news and eagerly look forward to the arrival. Late that night the carnival arrives by train and the boys sneak out of their homes and are witness as the carnival magically appears in seconds. After digging a little too deeply into the strange events occurring around the town the boys find themselves the target of Mr. Dark and his band of cronies. Those who inhabit the carnival it seems are beings who feed on the desires, lost hopes, and regrets of others. Will’s father, a man of deep regrets and a longing for his youth, is drawn into the battle for the town and the life of his son and friend.

In 1983 this was one of the movies I was most looking forward to seeing. I had been keeping tabs on the production and when it hit the theaters I was there on opening weekend. Although I enjoyed it there is a choppy feeling to the movie that made me think a little tinkering or restructuring went on behind the scenes. It turns out some major changes had been made before the movie was finally released, changes that didn’t sit well with Ray Bradbury and other members of the production crew.

According to accounts of the production Ray Bradbury, the director Jack Clayton, and Disney all seemed to have different ideas about this movie and who the target audience should be. The original story is a little on the dark side and Clayton wanted it to be a bit more family friendly. Bradbury disagreed so Clayton wrote a new screenplay. After filming was completed the movie was re-tinkered by Disney who ordered reshoots, a new music score, and more special effects. The result is entertaining but a little awkward. It’s not too hard to tell that different people were calling the shots behind the scene at different points in the movie. As I have stated in past reviews I despise studio interference with the production of the movie. If you hire someone to do the job let them do it. Movies that have been rethought and tampered with rarely do well at the box office and this was no exception.

Despite the flaws I still find this to be a very enjoyable movie and it contains one of my favorite scenes of all time. Like many movies that were tweaked by the studio I would love to be able to see the version the director intended. The changes could have been for the better but I would still like to see the original vision.

The good:

Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Vidal Peterson, and Shawn Carson are all excellent in their respective roles as are the supporting cast.

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Pam Grier looks gorgeous as the Dust Witch.

Pam Grier looks gorgeous as the Dust Witch.

This is a nice dark and atmospheric movie. Just my kind of thing.

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Creepy.

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Even though I like to pick on composer James Horner for his recycling of certain themes I must admit the guy can create some good music. The music he did for this movie is probably my favorite of his scores.

This scene is one of my favorite movie moments of all time:

Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce just are amazing in this scene. Mr. Dark oozes evil and Mr. Holloway’s inner struggle to resist the ultimate temptation to be young again is very powerful. How many of us could resist being young again?

The not so good:

Some of the special effects are not that good and some are not needed at all. When the movie was being reworked Disney added in way too many unnecessary effects shots.

The tone is uneven. Feels exactly like a movie that has been retooled by a committee.

Random thoughts and observations:

Originally the carnival was formed from the smoke from the train but the special effects weren’t too convincing. I would love to see this scene anyway. This movie begs for a special edition Blu-ray with lots and lots of behind the scenes material.

The scene near the end in the house of mirrors and the scene where Will and Jim are attacked by the spiders were filmed a year after initial filming was completed. Originally they were attacked by a giant hand but the scene was apparently kind of hokey and the hand was not very convincing. Again I would love to see the lost footage.

Age

Will miraculously ages a year. The footage on the right was filmed a year after the footage on the left. Kids just grow up so fast!

The scene at the end where the carnival is destroyed by the twister was originally going to be done using computer graphics but it looked too fake. This movie was made thirteen years before computer technology made it possible to create authentic looking tornadoes in the movie Twister. I would love to see the footage they shot and compare the two.

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A giant piece of cotton takes care of the nasty carnival. When computers fail use cotton!

In this trailer the original music score can be heard:
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