“War thundered and whined around the dugout and battered at the door. There was a rending of wood and splinters flew through the room.
‘A bit of a near thing,’ said Captain Mitty carelessly.
‘The box barrage is closing in,’ said the sergeant.
‘We only live once, Sergeant,’ said Mitty, with his faint, fleeting smile. ‘Or do we?’”
Last week on Trailer Tuesday, I chose the newly-released preview of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as my pick for the most exciting prospective film of that collection. I am here to revise my statement and inform you all that this film is gaining momentum and may very well become the most exciting of the year. If you still haven’t seen the trailer for the film, stop what you’re doing and watch it. Now. And for God’s sake, watch it in 1080p, please. Standards, people. Standards.
There are about ten thousand reasons to get excited about this project. The film is based on a short story by James Thurber and, by short, I mean two pages on the web and about 10 pages in a print edition. It was first published in March of 1939 in The New Yorker and is widely considered Thurber’s masterpiece. In the short, Mitty is a Connecticut local who tends to spend more time emerged in the fantasies of his mind than in the real world. He escapes the mundane chore of going into town with his wife by imagining himself as a WWII commander, a millionaire banker or a witness in a highly-publicized murder trial. Each fantasy is routed in whatever activity Mitty has committed himself to, whether it be driving, shopping or simply waiting for his wife to finish her appointment with her hairdresser and dissolves seamlessly into his alternate reality, but abruptly yanks him out when disturbed.
The story is a whimsical 10 pages that’s worth the 15 minutes it requires to read. It faces the subject of life’s daily monotony with gusto and gives dreamers a good excuse to defend the escapades of their own mind. Thurber asserts through Mr. Mitty that with imagination, you can live the life, or lives, you want, even if it seems impossible. Walter’s narratives give him a chance to take on the form of whoever he chooses. He is timeless and unlimited by money or age or talent or any other worldly inhibitions. Which sounds like a fantastic story to adapt into film, does it not? One of the most advanced and influential storytelling devices of our age is the perfect platform to tell the story of Walter Mitty. Samuel Goldwyn certainly thought so.
In 1947, Thurber’s short was adapted into a film by the same title. This production of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, however, had very little in common with its source material. Other than Mitty’s ability to fantasize his way out of the mundane, Danny Kaye’s titular character was more dissimilar to Thurber’s creation than similar. A comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty depicted what happens when a dreamer is thrown into a true adventure and the way that experience gives him the strength to be what he dreams he could become.
Not interested in this newest adaptation yet? Keep your panties on.Here comes the good part.
Fast forward to the mid-1990s. Talks are set in motion by Samuel Goldwyn Jr. to begin pre-production on a new adaptation of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Actors such as Jim Carrey, Owen Wilson, Mike Myers, Johnny Depp and Sacha Baron Cohen and directors such as Steven Spielberg, Chuck Russell, Gore Verbinski, and Ron Howard come in and out of committing to the project for over 15 years, all with Goldwyn leading the charge in creating the best adaptation possible. “The goal is to go back to the short story and capture not only the content but the original spirit,” John Goldwyn (son of Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and co-producer of the project) told IGN in an article release in 2004. Then, after more squabbling and rumored casts and recasts and drafts and rewrites, Ben Stiller was finally announced as the lead in the production in the spring of 2011.
So why should you be off-the-wall stoked for this film? There are several reasons: First off, while the film doesn’t exactly have a cast and crew of reputable household names, there is talent in Mitty’s ranks that has been stealthily hidden away. This isn’t Stiller’s first time directing, first off. Yes, his credits do include things like The Cable Guy, Zoolander and Tropic Thunder. And while those aren’t exactly hard-hitting films, it’s easy to write them off as vapid, easy comedy without taking a moment to appreciate the cleverness in them all. Take Tropic Thunder, for example: would than film have been anywhere close to funny if the production team and cast didn’t understand the films they were poking fun at? The spoof trailers are evidence enough to defend Stiller’s innate understanding of film genre, the gimmicks and clichés of commercial production and an audience and critic’s perception of a filmmaker’s intent.
Stiller isn’t the only member of the crew with tons of talent and expertise. Mitty’s Director of Photography, Stuart Dryburgh has films like Bridget Jones’ Diary and Analyze This among his credits, but he also has quality films like The Painted Veil, The Tempest and even an episode of Boardwalk Empire in his ranks. That’s talent you can’t buy.
Another reason to get excited about this film is the fact that it went through so many drafts and production teams before it landed where it did. Sure, 15 years in pre-production sucks. It seems like no one was passionate enough to stay committed to the project. But, from my point of view, all that means is this film is truly the best it can be. It’s passed through some genius hands: Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Babaloo Mandel, Lowel Grantz, Chuck Russell, Richard LaGravenese, just to name a few. If this script was getting writes and rewrites, and directors were coming and going handing off their input, however small, isn’t it logical to imagine that this script is in tip-top form? That’s certainly what I imagine.
Also, the film also debuted about 20 minutes of preview footage at the 2013 CinemaCon and was met with awards speculations. The Hollywood Reporter called the footage evidence that “Stiller’s directorial effort is gearing up to be a possible awards contender. The trailer features some stunning scenery, which was mostly shot in Iceland, and an epic story with some fantastical elements.” The LA Times ran a similar story, stating that Mitty stood out at the convention as a potential awards season contender and pointed out that the trailer was gaining viral buzz hours after its debut.
The element that clenches it for me is Mitty’s thematic timelessness. An exploration of narrative as a vehicle to live a thousands lives and the discussion of whether or not they could ever justifiably substitute reality is immensely compelling one. What a better question to pose with one of the most influential me of our world? We live so much of our lives wrapped up in our own fantasies–seven-part books series and mobster television programs and romantic comedies where the guy always gets the girl. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a way to challenge an audience to argue the difference in that and any other form of escapism and, perhaps, give an answer to the question of whether it’s valid, real or not.
P.S.-I’ve recently become a contributor on moviepilot.com (if you don’t know about it, go exploring. It’s awesome). This post has also been added to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty page, so, if you’re feeling particularly supportive, follow the link so I get a couple more hits. The more readers I get, the more prominent it becomes on Movie Pilot’s homepage!