Boldly Going Forward And Things Are Getting Worse! – Molly Watches The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (2003)

Even a cursory glance at my last two Lovecraft reviews will tell you that I am frequently Unimpressed when it comes to adaptations. The productions I viewed were certainly watchable, but don’t have a whole lot to do with their source material (and the Re-Animator movies are all downhill from here on that front).

So I decided to share some thoughts and reactions to a Lovecraft adaptation that a) I have already seen and love to pieces, and b) is faithful almost to a fault. That adaptation is Guerilla Productions’ 2003 animated adaptation of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, or, as I like to call it, Randolph Carter and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Nap.

This story is so so dumb in so many ways, and I love it for that. As such, I was delighted to discover that the aforementioned film version is barely-animated, questionably-scripted, and not always well-acted or well-cast, but made with genuine love for its source material.

I should clarify, this is not really an animated feature so much as it is a motion comic/pseudo-animatic using visuals from a pre-existing graphic novel. I haven’t actually read this graphic novel, and so I can’t tell you how much of the dialogue comes from this source and how much was added for the film. As such, I will by necessity have to treat the two as different stages within the same adaptation and review it as a whole. [Update 11/07/20 – Since writing this, I have come across the artist’s annotations, which provide a little more insight into this.]

As always, this review will be in four parts: my timestamped reactions, my assessment of the quality of the adaptation, how well it works in its own right, and what I would do if I were in charge.

I actually don’t have any trigger warnings for this one, although there are a lot of references to slavery; I’m not sure if that’s actually a trigger but it’s certainly an Unpleasantness.

So let us go with bold entreaty whither no man has gone before, and look at this beautiful mess of a story.

00:00:12 – This music is So Stupid, and the quote at the beginning is from The Call of Cthulhu, not Dream-Quest. Also, why is there so much weird purple shit? [11/07/20 – it’s probably a reference to S’ngac, thinking about it.]

00:01:27 – The narrator is pretty good, honestly. Not a problem here.

00:03:00 – Stock flame footage! Yay! Also, the music for this section is so much better than the intro music, which sounds like someone got drunk, found a disused theramin somewhere, and decided to play the original Star Trek theme backwards from memory having only ever seen one episode five years ago.

00:03:29 – The guy voicing Carter is actually really great, but the same cannot be said for most of the voice cast, or for most of his other roles in this.

00:04:20 – Props to whoever wrote the script for cutting the priest off before he could say ‘Azathoth’!

00:06:11 – Quality Zoog noises right here! Until they start speaking English, and then I can’t take it seriously at all. I’m also not a fan of their visual design here.

00:08:30 – Must resist urge to cross over The Cats of Ulthar with Cats The Musical…

00:08:47 – Every single character: Carter, no!

Carter: Carter YES!

00:13:46 – This scene is odd to me, because some of the voice-acting is excellent and really conveys the right kind of atmosphere, and the other half has the most bland soft-spoken intonation imaginable and breaks it.

0:15:22 – GAH! The dialogue for the merchant is So Good but the voice just doesn’t fit!

00:15:45 – I do like that little Dickens reference, although on reflection it doesn’t actually make any sense here.

00:20:20 – I also like the Moon-Beast designs the artist used.

00:21:12 – The Felis Ex Machina isn’t any less dumb in audiovisual form.

00:26:23 – I don’t actually recall whether or not Carter bought his scimitar in Baharna or if his dream-self just has one as a result of his being Like That, but including this scene at least establishes that He Has A Cool Sword so it’s not just randomly mentioned out of nowhere later.

00:30:27 – No matter how fitting a song’s lyrics are, you generally don’t see them used as a backing track outside of montages and establishing shots for a reason. They’re better served in the credits, in my opinion.

00:31:03 – I love Carter’s dialogue in this film because it makes him sound like an overly-excitable, over-dramatic little shit. I am also 100% prepared to believe that he just talks in Lovecraftian purple prose as a matter of course because again, he’s just Like That.

00:32:55 – “Don’t you detestable creatures speak at all?” THEY DON’T HAVE MOUTHS, RANDY, YOU INSENSITIVE SHIT.

00:33:46 – I was wondering going into this the first time how they’d flesh out Carter’s informed aquaintance with Richard Pickman, and whilst I was not expecting ‘pining ex-boyfriends’ to be the answer I am utterly thrilled to finally have some content for this ship. (Yeah, I know, this probably wasn’t what they were actually going for here, but it’s cute.)

00:34:23 – WHY WILL NOBODY TELL ME WHAT GLIBBERING SOUNDS LIKE? Cowards. (There is a credit at the end for ‘ghoul vocalisations’ but I cannot recall any.)

00:35:32 – I’m not a fan of the idea that the ghoul that rescued Carter from the Vale of Pnath was only looking for a snack, but I do like how Carter’s immediate response to learning this is to essentially go “Don’t you dare fuck with me or my boyfriend will fuck you up.” I’m not so keen on these visual designs, however. I’ve seen better. Sara Bardi does awesome ghouls, and my only quibble with the guy who illustrated these Providence covers is that they’re Too Fluffy. (I’ve said before that I don’t really like fluffy ghouls, but they’re still better than the Night Gallery interpretation.)

00:36:30 – The pining is mutual, and there is something creepily adorable about the way Pickman initially assumes Carter wants to join him as a ghoul. (Seriously, there are So Many fanfic opportunities for this pairing, WHY DOES NO-ONE SEEM INTERESTED IN WRITING THEM?)

00:37:40 – I don’t really like the idea that Pickman only agreed to arrange guides for Carter due to the latter calling in favours. My personal interpretation (and one that works way better for these versions) is that he didn’t want his friend running around unsupervised and getting himself killed, which, let’s be honest, is exactly what would have happened.

00:40:03 – Also not psyched about their ghasts, but their gugs are pretty rad.

00:46:00 – The Zoog Elder’s threats to Carter are legitimately quite terrifying. Also, Awkward Carter is best Carter.

00:46:48 – I’m not sure if the kitty gender-blending is an intentional choice or just because of limited VAs, but I kinda like it.

00:49:30 – I’m also very keen on that little prayer section.

00:54:40 – I know I said that the voice acting and dialogue in this film are mostly Bad, but when they work they really work, and the best example of this is the conversation between Carter and Kuranes. It gives me chills.

00:59:54 – I didn’t realise before that the writing used in Dylath-Leen is Nordic runes! That’s awesome!

1:01:30 – “WHY ARE YOU RUNNING?” I don’t know, Randy, maybe because it’s fucking terrifying over here? Why aren’t you running?

1:03:00 – These Shantak birds look really cool.

1:03:59 – A lot of the merchant’s dialogue is so creepy and opens up so many weird avenues of questioning.

1:04:50 – This is awful. I love it.

1:06:54- NOBODY ASKED FOR A CLOSE-UP ON WEIRD GHOUL NIPPLES. That’s not right, my dude.

1:07:40 – I vastly prefer the way the original makes clear that the reason for the night-gaunts obeying Carter is because he’s using a password they understand. This just comes across as him trying to invoke Translation By Volume. Which I guess is on-brand for a Lovecraft character, but I’m not a fan.

1:08:18 – I have so many feelings about literally every interaction between Carter and Pickman. I need way more content for these pining morons.

1:09:13 – I stan Bonnet Ghoul.

1:10:00 – I didn’t notice that this artist’s ghouls all have six nipples the first time I watched this but I have noticed it this time and I am So Uncomfortable with this entire situation.

1:10:38 – The visual of night-gaunts roosting snuggled together in clusters because they get cold is adorable.

1:12:40 – This does such a good job of conveying the horrors of the Moon-Beast stronghold on the Nameless Rock.

1:13:33 – The ghouls trying to eat rubies are great. Also, Carter and Pickman run into interspecies awkwardness regarding what is and is not food.

1:15:58- The dialogue between Carter and the merchant in their duel (an excellent addition to the battle) is raw as fuck, but then you get “NO ONE DEFEATS A CARTER WITH A SWORD” in the middle of it and you facepalm.

1:18:12- I am choosing to believe that the two ghouls who keep turning up to complain about food are the same two each time. I don’t think they’re meant to be, but it’s funnier that way.

1:22:35 – This shot of the two-headed mountains is amazing.

1:25:19 – I’m not sure if having Nyarlathotep voiced by a woman was a deliberate choice or not, but they did not choose the right woman to pull it off.

1:27:39 – Is it just me, or does Nyarlathotep’s staff-thing look like a dick?

1:28:00 – I like how the non-Mockman portrayals of Carter here look vaguely like Lovecraft, given that Carter is Lovecraft’s self-insert wish fulfillment character.

1:32:50 – The designs for the Court of Azathoth are also pretty cool.

1.34:12 – The fuck is with the sound design for this scene? I guess it being weird and discordant is part of the point, but it doesn’t feel as effective as it could.

1:34:42 – I really do like how Carter has Ghoul Feeding hanging in his house. Presumably he purchased it from Pickman’s father sometime after his disappearance.

1:35:48 – I like the sound key it ended up on, and the visual of Nyarlathotep stalking down the row of gods. He’s not outwardly raging at them, but he’s chillingly furious with them.

First of all, how well do I think this stands up as an adaptation? Well, it’s almost a line-for-line replication of the original story, and the parts they added enhance rather than distract from the narrative. In terms of plot, it’s a perfect adaptation, but that might actually be to its detriment, as I will explain in the next section.

As a story in its own right, I’m not sure how well it holds up – the animation is Bad, the voice acting is mostly Bad, a lot of the script is perfectly serviceable in writing but just doesn’t work in this context, and I really don’t think I would like it nearly as much if I wasn’t familiar with and fond of the original.

Additionally, this film sticks so closely to the original story that it really highlights one of the problems anyone trying to adapt this story would have to deal with – Dream-Quest isn’t film-shaped, but travelogue-shaped in many places, and it can drag somewhat.

The fact is, Re-Animator and the Night Gallery version of Pickman’s Model were made for general audiences and take numerous liberties with the source material in order to make the final product accessible to that audience, whereas this film is made for people who already know and love the original novella.

I don’t want to talk about how I would change this film, because I love how terrible it is. It’s trying its best, and I respect that.

You could, in theory, make this weird travelogue into a full-length animated film with skilled direction and writing. Hire some good voice actors, spend more time in each location, make sure your art and animation are amazing, and give the characters scenes where they have nothing to do but interact with one another, and it could work! I adore the way they flesh out Carter’s relationships with Pickman, Kuranes, and the merchant here and hope any future adaptation takes some cues from this one.

But whilst that’s the Dream-Quest movie of my dreams (animated in 2D and directed by Guillermo del Toro), it’s not this movie. These guys did what they could with limited resources and a difficult story, and I admire that greatly. And it’s a fun movie, both in the intentional ways and the unintentional.

It’s a ridiculous mess of a film based on a ridiculous mess of a novella, and I highly recommend you look into it if you ever have the opportunity.

And in other news, I feel a playlist coming on.

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