Dear Dream Quest of Unknown-Kadath,
The story off which you are based, and from which you take your title, is considered one of the more dense and unapproachable works in all of Lovecraft’s oeuvre. So it is not exactly a surprise that you should strike a tone of stubborn exclusivity. Those who are unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s work and especially the minutiae of some of his more abstract and dream-based work will find you to be a strange, confusing, maybe even tedious journey. However, those who are familiar with the mythos, and the Dream Cycle specifically, should find plenty of virtues in your tale.
Randolph Carter, your protagonist, is an appealing everyman character. He has seen in his dreams a “sunset city,” a place he longs to see again and visit and dwell in. However, the city resides only in his dreams, and men are not permitted to walk to this city of dreams on their own. However, he undertakes the journey, and finds himself in a village besot with cats, in the hulls of ancient merchant ships that travel into the reaches of space. He meets the ghouls that feast on the dead, the night gaunts that soar among high, forbidden peaks. All the while he searches for the one place he finds he might yet be able to call home.
This is a story well trod in literature, but what makes it worth revisiting for a fan of Lovecraft is the way in which all of his other stories are gently, loosely, or sometimes deeply melded with the story of Carter’s trip through the Dreamlands. Places only every mentioned are seen in full, while characters and concepts introduced more firmly in other stories stop by to make themselves known. It’s a veritable who’s who of Lovecraftian creations. But again, if you don’t know anyone at this party, you might not feel particularly welcome or entertained.
But that’s what you are like as a story, and in that way you are no different from the written work. The real question here is how you are as a film, a visual adaptation of the story at hand. Sure, your story is nigh on impenetrable to someone unfamiliar with the world in which you take place, but what are your merits for those of us who know that world in terms of cinematic experience?
I have to say that from a visual standpoint you are probably the closest that any of Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle will get to a truly faithful adaptation. As an animated film you are allowed certain liberties that other films would have a difficult time getting away with. This is especially true given the style of animation that you choose to use – dark pen and ink drawings in a tableau that features moving elements. Since most of the scene is static the physics of the dream reality never have to be resolved in the minds of the viewer. The way creatures move and the manner by which horrific beasts and cats speak never has to be explained. The mind of the watcher is allowed to fill in these blank spots, which is both a virtue and a detriment to your storytelling, depending on the viewer and their familiarity with Lovecraft, in addition to their intrinsic interest in your story. As I said before, much of what occurs in your tale involves creatures and figures from other Lovecraft stories, so a major reason to be engaged with you would be to see these phantoms interpreted by an artist.
This is another way that your tableau style works to your advantage. The viewer is given plenty of time to drink in and study the figures before them, allowing a pleasant and unhurried amount of time to contrast the artist’s vision with their own. The detail of the drawings is fine enough to allow for no ambiguity regarding the artist’s intentions, and yet they wider aspect of the drawings is loose enough that there are holes to be filled in, which allows for a finer level of audience engagement, especially when paired with the otherwise static physicality of the creatures. It is an interesting creative choice, and one probably necessitated by budget, but it works so well for you and your story that I can’t help but think that even if your creators had had more money that they would not have messed with the concept too much.
However, this “moving comic book” style of animation, while aesthetically interesting and beautiful, adds to your proceedings an extra level of remove and also further distances you from an audience that is not familiar with Lovecraft’s world. So just as with your core story, your visual elements depends wholly upon the familiarity with the author that the audience brings with them. I found those still pictures to be engaging because they were not so far removed from the words on the page, they existed to tease the idea without defining the thought completely. Some, though, might wish they had more hand-holding with which to become engaged in your story.
Your sound design and voice acting and soundtrack all work in your favor as well. While obviously not “professional” in a strict sense of the word, those who lend their voices commit to you with obvious earnestness and reverence. You are above all things a passion project, a creation of those who felt compelled to create you in spite of limitations. This isn’t trying to make excuses for any failings you might have in the eyes of others – I am merely expressing my appreciation and admiration for both you and your creators.
I look forward to seeing you again, and I also look forward to introducing you to my friends who are similarly smitten both with Lovecraft, and with independent artistic endeavors.
Brian J. Roan