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One of Carpenter's best directed films.
on 17 October 2013
"Christine" is one of Carpenters' best directed films. It's about an evil car (which is at least an improvement on the books' "haunted car" premise), yes, but it's really well cast, well acted, well written, well staged, attractive to look at, and has one of Carpenter's best scores.
There's some great character actors dotted around the movie - Harry Dean Stanton (also in Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), Roberts Blossom (from DERANGED and the "You can be too old for a lot of things, never too old to be afraid!" OLD MAN from HOME ALONE), Robert Prosky (GREMLINS 2), but this film belongs to the three stars - Keith Gordon (DRESSED TO KILL) as Arnie, John Stockwell as Dennis (most sympathetic movie jock ever) and Alexendra Paul (a convincing "smart and sexy" movie girl). Stockwell and Gordon get a really terrific scene near the end driving the wrong way down the highway, emotions souring high. I used to think Gordon was doing a well-intentioned but unconvincing job, but re-watching the movie recently I realised what a great performance it is - I cringe because I see myself there, everyone, I'm not afraid to admit that now.
CHRISTINE also has the distinction of being the most thematically rich film Carpenter has made - is Christine the car so very different to a drug entering a friend's life and asserting control? Note how much paler Arnie gets as the movie goes on (and like all good macguffins on this front, from the One Ring, the spice Melange, Aylmer in BRAIN DAMAGE, the bug powder in NAKED LUNCH...it doesn't fit EXACTLY, which is why it's so compelling). CHRISTINE only plays old rock and roll songs on her radio, too - is Christine a spectre of the baby boomers, continuing to haunt the teenagers of the late 1970s? Alexendra Paul gets a great line on this front near the end, where it counts: "I hate Rock & Roll".
Carpenter's score is also fantastic - it's got something of HALLOWEEN III's score in it's DNA, but it is its own beast. The use of old rock and roll songs is very smart (particularly a cut from Buddy Holly's original "Not Fade Away" to a very bouncy 1970s cover version), but Christine's song choice most likely to burn into your head is BAD TO THE BONE by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, which plays to bookend the film. Not only is it a neat choice to highlight a big change from the book's plot - here "Christine" is bad from day one at the Detroit factory - it's also a perfect set up for the hilarious, blackly comedic, first injury by Christine.
I'm not sure, but I think the movie did quite well on release - not well enough to salvage Carpenter's reputation after THE THING's flop performance (probably, it's success was attributed to King's popularity more than Carpenter's direction), though I have to wonder about what the target audience is. If it's aimed at the teenage audience, the same age as the characters, why set it five years in the past (when the book was set, I think, but the book is bookended by "four years later" stuff that the film thankfully lacks)? I read that the film was all set for a PG based on the screenplay as written, so they punched up the violence somewhat (not much, this is not a gory or grisly film by any means) and added a lot of swearing - I believe it's the first film I heard the "C word" in, and there's tons of f-bombs and mf-bombs.
At 1 hour 45, Christine is something of an epic in evil car pictures and frankly, there'll never be a better one. THE CAR, for example, just doesn't have the resonance of this one. They could do better car crashes but the movie's heart lies elsewhere.