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Frank Darabont reveals 'The Mist's original sci-fi opening scene and why he decided to cut it
The Mist almost started with a much more concrete explanation.
This week marks the 15th anniversary of The Mist, Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's creature-laden novella about a group of people trying to survive a mysterious, monstrous mist that surrounds a Maine supermarket. It remains one of the most celebrated adaptations of King's work, and a gut-wrenching piece of horror all its own, but according to Darabont, it almost had some big changes to its structure.
Speaking to Slashfilm as part of an oral history celebrating the film's anniversary, Darabont noted that at least one producer objected to the film's now-iconic ending, which led the filmmaker to go in search of a different backer for the film early on. But the ending wasn't the only thing Darabont originally changed from King's novella. The writer/director also wrote a sci-fi-heavy prologue scene that would have shown audiences the origins of The Mist right from the beginning, well before the characters in the market started to piece a few things together.
"It was basically a scene where they're trying to open a portal into another dimension and suddenly the chamber, that I pictured as an old diving bell with portholes and stuff, suddenly the glass blows out and this mist comes pouring out and this chaos and screaming and then boom, we cut to the opening title and then the rest of the story goes on as you see it in the movie," Darabont explained.
In both King's story and the final film, characters eventually figure out that the mist has something to do with the Arrowhead Project, a nearby secret military installation that seems to have accidentally unleashed the mist, and with it the monstrous creatures who crawled out of another universe. But when the mist first arrives, with storm sirens sounding in the background as characters watch in horror, no one has any clue what's happening, or what they might be in for. They just know that the market is swallowed by the mist, certain people are running inside while screaming, and that something is very wrong. That allows certain customers in the market to argue over what might really be going on, and creates an even greater tension for what's to come, as co-star Andre Braugher pointed out to Darabont.
"I remember Frank was talking about, 'We're behind schedule. I got to film this thing with the army,'" Braugher recalled. "I suggested to him, I said, 'You don't have to film that thing. It would be best not to film it.' He was intrigued. He said, 'Why?' I said, 'Well, if you know that the army did it, then that means that everyone in the storefront who's speculating about its cause, we already know that they're wrong. So we're ahead of them, as the audience.' So I said, 'You can actually gain a day, and I think make a better movie, by not filming that rather than filming.'"
Sam Witwer, who plays a soldier who managed to escape from the Arrowhead Project early in the film and later explains the origins of the mist to everyone, also wanted the scene to be cut, but for less narrative-focused reasons.
"One of [my character's] functions is to give a piece of an explanation as to what's happened here and to do it at a really interesting point in the movie," Witwer said. "If you get that full-throated explanation of where the mist comes from in the very beginning of the film, doesn't that make Jessup a little bit redundant? I'm trying to not get cut from the movie. You know what I mean?"
So, Darabont eventually cut the opening scene without ever filming it, and The Mist went on with an extra layer of mystery, eventually becoming one of the scariest movies of the 2000s.
For more on the making the film, check out the full oral history over at Slashfilm.
Looking for more smart horror? Check out Jordan Peele's NOPE streaming now on Peacock.