Speak the name of Howard Phillips Lovecraft to most horror fans, and chances are discussions of Cthulhu and some other tentacled creatures invading your dreams and bringing about the end of the world will ensue. And rightly so; Lovecraft’s monstrous creations remain, even three-quarters-of-a-century since his death, some of the most original and horrific in literature, continuing to pervade the horror/sci-fi genre in some form or another. In reading his fiction, one can immediately detect his affinity for dreams, having written more than a dozen stories that encompass what would come to be known as the “Dream Cycle.” Perhaps the ultimate work in this series was Lovecraft’s first attempt at a novel, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, a fantasy adventure taking place entirely within the dreams of recurring Lovecraft character Randolph Carter.
As the result of more than 100 volunteers, and being the first – and so far only – film adaptation of this epic fantasy, you deserve much credit. Directed by Edward Martin III and featuring the artwork of Jason Thompson (culled from his comic book adaptation of the story), you present a noble effort to provide a cinematic version of the author’s work, although your status as an animation is dubious at best considering the static nature of the imagery. There is most certainly movement within your images, but it is hardly up to the standard of even traditional cel animation, relegated to what appear to be Photoshop effects – i.e. lens flares and composite images, mixing hand-drawn pictures with animated GIFs and the like. This is not to discount the effort as Thompson’s imagery depicting Lovecraft’s strange world is certainly dynamic and captures a sense of motion and action. However, this hardly helps to make the term “animation” any more applicable. One might wonder as to the point of watching you versus simply picking up a copy of Thompson’s comic book version. This is where your audio component would come in to the picture.
Much of your dialogue is directly from Lovecraft’s words, translating predominantly third person omniscience to the individual characters. I have to say, you didn’t do too bad a job in that regard, even if certain passages lack a naturalistic flair, though this is excusable given the nature of the story and the writing (perhaps another indication of the “unfilmable” aspect of Lovecraft). Where the dialogue mostly falls flat is in the voice acting, much of which plays out with a certain emotional disconnect akin to a radio production or an audio book. As well, some of the actual voices simply diminish the power of the characters.
For instance, Dwight Stone’s depiction of the malevolent merchant simply lacks a sense of danger and dread, sounding more like a cocky bookworm. Another example is Kate Webb’s performance as The Crawling Chaos, Nyarlathotep. Her warm, inviting, and decidedly feminine voice offers an interesting take on the character, but is simply not appropriate for the terror and foreboding Nyarlathotep evokes. Of course, his appearance in this story, even in Lovecraft’s novel, is one of his less malicious forms, and ably drawn in an almost pleasant Pharaoh-like fashion, perhaps making his statement, “And pray to all space that you may never meet me in my thousand other forms” all the more chilling. Still, in my opinion, it just doesn’t work.
What does work most of all, however, is your soundtrack by avant-garde composer Cyoakha Grace, whose combination of celestial atmospheres, dark ambient textures, and trancelike vocalization creates a truly otherworldly accompaniment perfect for Randolph Carter’s trek through the Dreamlands.
All in all, you bear the semblance of a public television version of Lovecraft’s fantastic adventure. Your lighthearted approach to the source material may lack the epic scope of the original novel, but at the same time is faithful enough to entice viewers who might be otherwise unfamiliar with the author to explore his work. As well, Thompson’s drawings and Cyoakha Grace’s music provide you with enough artistic merit to warrant repeated viewing.
Watching you, I get the impression that if given the same full scale treatment along the lines of Hayao Miyazaki or even if taken to the heights of live action filmmaking, you could have achieved a greatness befitting Lovecraft’s legacy and rivaling Peter Jackson’s version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. As you stand now, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, I can only say that you provide a modest pleasure that makes me all the more anxious to reread the book and continuing hoping for a grander, more serious cinematic treatment.
Thanks for the fond memories,