Which just goes to show how far expectations and the reasons why you see a film influence your feelings.
Full disclaimer - oh boy, do I love that ride! I dream about it. All the time. Last month, I almost signed up to go work at Disney just to be closer. Instead, I chose to buy this film - this awful, awful film - to sate the addiction for just a little longer.
It cost me 0.01p. One careful previous owner (who hadn't thrown it across the room in disgust)
So. The script is very disappointing - much in need of some proper jokes. The two funny house-servants weren't funny. The kids were totally undercharacterised. But apart from that, it wasn't so bad.
I guess its failure comes from the ride itself. The concept behind the Pirates of the Carribbean is "THERE ARE PIRATES!". Within that framework, Elliot and Rossio wove a wide (and witty) story, taking the odd stopoff for Tortuga or a dog with a key, but mostly using the ride simply for tone. I don't know it so well, but I warrant there weren't nearly as many references. Jack, Elizabeth and the Other One are characters invented; so is Barbossa, the monkey, and the haunted gold. They've taken the concept of "piraty things" and expanded it into a story.
Mansion movie is too much like the ride - the house remains the main character, and the film merely serves to give you the guided tour. No wonder Murphy plays a real estate agent. Like Pirates, it has no clear canon or tale - simply a jumble of creepies. Unlike Pirates, though, fanboys have assembled it into stories - it is the fanboys, for example, who took the name Master Gracey off a headstone, made him the portrait in the foyer, and then the master of the house. And unlike Pirates, the writers have taken those stories and tried to make them into plot.
I'm kinda surprised the Mansion-fans hated it. Oh look, the brides chamber! The coffin conservatory! The breathing doors! The Doombuggy approach makes it a very bad film indeed, as the characters shuffle through to show off the next archetectural wonder. But if you're watching cus you can't afford a Magic Kingdom season pass? Next best thing. It's even better if you play it with other Mansion nerds (if you can get them out of their basements) and keep score of trivia. Did you know that the red couch was originally in Disney's 54' 20000 Leagues Under the Sea?
In fact, imdb has a whole list:
- the singing busts
- the breathing door (even the doorknob is the same) (wow! fancy that!)
- Madame Leota (and the spectral instruments)
- the busts that follow Jim
- the ghostly carriage (a prop outside the ride)
- the old man and the dog in the cemetery
- Master Gracy's hanging (oh, but I thought that was the narrator and not Gracey! Oh woes!)
- the ghostly ballroom dancers
- the Raven seen throughout the movie (which - bonus points! - was part of the original concept for the Mansion...)
- the hitchhiking ghosts
- the hangman
- the eyes in some of the walls
- morphing pictures in the hallway
- several lines throughout the movie that are also used in the ride's narration, such as: "Welcome, foolish mortals", "Final arrangements have been made", "There's always my way"
- the floating candelabra in the credits
- the bride's dress in the attic
- the screeching cat sound effect in graveyard scene (Whoah, I just lost nerd points! I didn't notice this at all! Also, what bloody screeching cat? Who rides the Mansion so seriously that they can identify a screeching cat? I never heard it!)
- the skeleton's hands that start to open coffin in the mausoleum
- the knights in the hallway attacking Jim
- the door knockers heard rapping in the bedroom hallway
- the pipe-organ in the ballroom
- the clock strikes 13 during the prologue
What it might hold for someone unable to squeal "oooh, the original Mark Davis concept art!", I don't know. 'Cus honestly, the hitchhiking ghosts aren't very funny if you don't go "the hitchiking ghosts!" Madame Leota is simultaneously under-exposed herself and over-provides exposition for others in what looks like a big narrative misstep - if you're not going "Madame Leota!" And WTF are there dancing instruments in her room?
On the other hand, if you're a Mansion fan there are only three serious complaints to make:
- no stretching gallery?
- no decent image of the iconic eye wallpaper?
- not coherent with my personal mythology!
- no Hatbox Ghost!
What did I want? That atmosphere. That moment when you step from Florida heat into a chill-cold parlour, and the sticky children and Mickey-tat are entirely left behind. Time spent absorbing the atmosphere. Watching out for new gags, new surprises. This? The film delivers in spades. I wanted my ride. I got it.
And if you're not a fan but you do like pretty, then oh! Costumes! Sets! Particularly sets! Some poor makeup though. And there is a good story in there, somewhere, even if you do need to work hard to find it. I'm a sucker for the central romance - I thought Mrs Evers one of the better characters. Loved Gracey and Ramsley. Why couldn't we have had more of those three, instead of kidnapping one for ages and mostly ignoring the other too. Although I'll be buried if that ending made any sense...are we meant to believe that, during eternity, Gracey never came across the letter? I know the building is big but still! True, he's depressed. Still! There are nine hundred and ninety seven other grim, grinning ghouls in there which might concieveably have ended up there too. Here's a better idea. Cus Ramsely is a poorass murderer if he's going to keep evidence in the victim's own house. Frankly he deserves to get caught.
I wonder whether Evers put "Deus Ex Fireplace" on the property listing?
Did love Ramsley, though, creepy old Terence Stamp! Fantastic character - the traditional Brit butler is a little dead, if only on the inside. And Master Gracey too, all emotion and Englishness and looking damn fine in a suit. "Was my crime to fall in love?" Aaaaaaaw.
Oh, I would have rewritten it in so many ways! What if Sara decided she loved Gracey, or had remembered being Elizabeth? That would have been good. I had so much more invested in that romance than the other. I wanted more of why the Graceys were in America. More of the interrelations between the ghosts - they've all been trapped their since the 18somethings, just because the Master couldn't get his act together. What intrigues and politics that would produce! More ghosts in general: the house seemed so empty in those huge rooms, and not in an "isolated!" way. In an "we could only afford eight actors" way. 999 ghosts, remember? That's lots.
And Eddie Murphey was - not-terrible. Had expected the worst. In fact, he just did the best with the material and, given that we've seen the Workaholic Father a billion times before, produced a rounded and solid performance. Not special, but I put that down to the script. No one had anything to work with.
But what I really want to know is....was Elizabeth's music box, with the mirror and spinning maquettes, a tribute to the Pepper's Ghost ballroom? I'll get my coat. Oh Lord, I want to watch it again. Bring on the del Toro reboot, and quick!