October 25th, 2005


Seconds from Disaster: The Call of Cthulhu

The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (whose Christmas album you may remember that I'm inordinately fond of) finally finished their biggest project to date. It's a complete silent movie adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's most famous short story, "The Call of Cthulhu." Their goal was to create a non-existent historical artifact, a movie that would look exactly as if the rights to "The Call of Cthulhu" had been picked up by a major motion picture studio as soon as it was printed, and made into a medium- to big-budget silent movie all the way back in the late 1920s. The movie is available on DVD now. I haven't seen it yet, but it's getting rave reviews in places like Boing Boing.

Anyway, the review got me thinking about two related problems anybody would have while trying to film the story. The first is that, well, frankly, it's unfilmable, and I don't just mean because of a giant squid-faced monster rising out of a slime-covered cyclopean non-Euclidian city to do battle with the crew of a trans-oceanic steamship. I mean it because as written, it doesn't exactly have a straight-forward storyline. The plot, such as it is, is that the narrator has found in his late uncle's (a professor of linguistics) effects a box of random clippings, notes, and souvenirs. When he figures out that his uncle was murdered because of what he'd figured out about the stuff in the box, he sets out to interview everybody in the notes that he can find. He eventually pieces together that after the fact, his uncle had figured out that the human race had just barely, through the heroism of one steamship crew, narrowly escaped extermination; that his uncle and the police had failed to put all the pieces together in time to do anything about it themselves. By the time the nephew figures all of this out, it's an even more moot point, because the events happened years ago. So how do you film this? Do you tell the story in chronological order, and leave the nephew out? Do you tell the uncle's story as he pieced it all together, counting on the audience to keep track of the jumps in the narrative as he gets the various pieces out of order? Do you tell the nephew's story, which is just basically a dry almost scholarly bit of news analysis? And the related question I thought of would be, how do you make this something that a modern audience could relate to?

And then, in this sudden flash of insight tonight, I realized what I'd love to do. I completely lack the resources and skills to do it, but I may just be nerdy enough and bored enough to eventually tackle the script and post it as a piece of fan fiction. Adapt it as an episode of the National Geographic Channel's series "Seconds from Disaster!" I'm thinking it might start something like this:

March 23rd, 1925, deep in the South Pacific. Yesterday, the crew of the steamship Emma nearly lost their ship to a typhoon, then nearly lost it again to an attack by pirates that cost them the lives of both their captain and their first mate. Little do they know that their situation is about to take a turn for the worse, putting them on the scene of the human race's narrowest escape from extinction yet to date. How did it all go wrong? What desperate act of bravery saved us from extinction, and what lessons can we learn for the next time?

Using advanced computer simulations, archival footage, expert analysis, dramatic eyewitness accounts, and careful re-enactments, we will take you there, to the South Pacific in 1925. Second by second, we will show you how law enforcement failures, mechanical complications, and the abuse of military-grade forbidden lore lead inexorably to the catastrophe. Stay tuned for Seconds from Disaster: The Call of Cthulhu on the National Geographic Channel.