Most people will know author Richard Matheson from his outstanding sci-fi novel ‘I Am Legend’. Three attempts to turn that into a great movie, three failures to capture its brilliance. It’s easy to imagine that a chat between Matheson and Alan Moore about Hollywood’s treatment of source material could go on for some time and contain a lot of swearing.
If anyone can set things right with a barnstorming adaptation of Matheson’s short story ‘Button, Button’, it’s ‘Donnie Darko’ director Richard Kelly. Unfortunately, ‘The Box’ takes that six-page tale and turns it into a bloated sci-fi melodrama. If you didn’t like ‘Donnie Darko’, this definitely won’t turn you back onto Kelly and if you loved it, you’ll be left wondering where the director’s magic has gone.
It’s to his credit that the director hasn’t hidden behind the kind of coyness that affects the Coens and the Wachowskis, who don’t like to explain their works. The solo drawl of his audio commentary tips up the tin box and spills out the beans, explaining the more bizarre elements of the plot and pointing out some of his story additions. Kelly doesn’t answer every question, but even those he leaves hanging usually benefit from a solid hint.
One of the most surprising elements revealed by the chat-track and the featurettes is the amount of personal information Kelly has woven into the fabric of the film. The director’s mother suffered a similar injury that afflicts Cameron Diaz’s character and his father worked at NASA on the mars programme, mimicking James Marsden’s role. The extra details are designed to create the believable, real-life characters that would struggle to make the moral choice to kill with the push of a button in return for hard cash.
At the very least the information should flesh out characters which Kelly admits are mere “sketches” in the novel and make you care about them. But somewhere along the way the simple tale is overwhelmed by those extra brush strokes, as well as the huge leap from the cliff-hanger of the original.
It doesn’t help that the initial acting from both leads lacks the necessary qualities to translate their difficult decision to the audience. The clever marketing campaign for Indecent Proposal used the question: “What would you do?”, but 30 minutes of will-they, won’t-they fails to inspire the same inward gaze. Only the finale sees both leads raise their game. By that point, most people will have closed the lid on this particular box.
An overlong stab at Matheson’s iconic short story, but at least the decent extras provide fancy wrapping for this box.