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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Adaptation

After a long, long time - when did it first air? - I finally saw The Stand miniseries. It came on when I was in college, and although I recall seeing bits of it, I never did catch the whole thing. And... it was good. On balance. I mean, there were some parts that were great, and some prats that were lousy, so it averaged out. One thing's for sure: it's about the most faithful book-to-screen adaptation I think I've ever seen, and it was the adherence to the pretty flawless story of the novel that made the film work.

I did have greater hopes for it at the very beginning - the opening sequence was particularly excellent (the camera tours the carnage in a military research lab to the tune of Don't Fear the Reaper), but nothing else ever got quite there. The direction, of course. Always the directing. Some scenes seem off. Some roles are miscast. Some people really act as if it were the end of the world, and some seem as though they woke up on set, were told they had a role in this film, and went to work without benefit of script (I'm looking at you, Molly Ringwald).

So, again: the directing. Mick Garris, who is a cottage industry of Stephen King on television and film, always approaching the target but not quite hitting it - even when the constraints of television censorship are off. I can't work out what the problem is. It's not that he's too literal, or too dry - there are definite attempts at actual directing, here - but.

Here's a topic for discussion: how hard is it to make a good Stephen King movie? Well-established stylists seem to have a problem wrestling with the themes: Kubrick certainly got a mood of foreboding that hasn't yet been topped, but we completely lose any attachment to the story or characters, leaving The Shining a beautiful exercise in cinematic abstraction. Cronenberg picked the wrong time to play it straight, choosing to amp up the weirdness of the Johnny Smith character but leaving the film around him dull and unimaginative.

The ones that really work are Carrie, and Misery. I'll grant The Shawshank Redemption, but it's a lot easier to make a period prison film than to make one of King's patented fucked-up-supernatural-shit-with real-people numbers. Also, I think Shawshank is pretty dull and moralizing, but that's beside the point.

And if someone could make a digital mash-up of the cinematic Shining and the miniseries version, that would be right. Take Kubrick's tone, pacing and cinematography, and swap out the leads. Except Scatman Crothers, who did a better job than (WTF?) Melvin Van Peebles. Also, as grotesque as it would no doubt be to finally see, please put in the bit where Torrance (played now by Stephen Webber) smashes his own face to bits with the mallet in front of his son.

To date, the best King in a visual medium award has to go to The Storm of the Century, a really, really well-cast miniseries (starring Tim Daly) that sticks to its premise and delivers at the home stretch. Thinking I might need to watch that one again.

BTW: What's with the cast of Wings turning in these great performances in King adaptations? What odd cultural signifier is that?

D.

5 comments:

John said...

I like the Dead Zone very much. I think it was quite original and imaginative as a film, for its time. Plus, it's just flat out good.

What about Christine? I think that might be the best Stephen King movie ever. Of course, I never read the book...

Others that bear mentioning as having generated that "Stephen King feeling" (which I have some sense of from Night Shift and Skeleton Crew):

Creepshow (Big time, come on! With the great Stephen King acting job as Jordy Verrill...)

Silver Bullet (I was completely entranced for about a year by Cycle of the Werewolf, with the Wrightson paintings, and I was not at all disappointed by Silver Bullet, Corey Haim and all...)

The Dark Half (solidly directed, of course, by Romero, and actually quite good, at least better than it was received at the time.)

The Night Flier (I don't remember this too well, but Miguel Ferrer is always engaging, and I remember it was quite creepy...)

Hopefully the Mist will be good fun...

Dave Kopperman said...

Dead Zone missed the boat with the casting of Martin Sheen. The point of the Stillson character is as a steamroller of force, a short, stout energetic man who can be a 'man of the people.' Sheen overdid the slickness. Really, it should have been a toned-down Sam Kinison. Beyond that, it totally missed the point of Johnny's story being an allegory for the end of the 60's and hippie ideals.

Oddly, they went the same route with the character on the TV series, but since the arc and backstory is changed so much, the casting works.

Yeah, the Night Flyer was good. Miguel Ferrer does well in King things, being one of the better performers in The Stand.

Never saw Christine, or read the book! One of the few early King novels I missed. It's DePalma, so it's probably good.

Creepshow is sort of outside the circle, because it's not King - it's King doing EC Comics, and very well, I might add.

Never did see Dark Half. I do look forward to The Mist - that and The Dark Tower are the two really classic King things that have gone unfilmed.

D.

John said...

Actually Christine was John Carpenter. Check out the roll this guy was on, bottom to the top, until he hits "They Live" which was a true bad "bad B-movie":

They Live (1988)
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Starman (1984)
Christine (1983)
The Thing (1982)
Escape from New York (1981)
The Fog (1980)
Halloween (1978)

How weird a career has this guy had? Within four years Starman, which garnered Oscar nominations, he's somehow forced to work on a shoestring budget with Rowdy Roddy Piper. Must of pissed on _somebody's_ shoes.

Dave Kopperman said...

Ah, yes. Carpenter. Thanks.

Carpenter is his own worse enemy, because he doesn't seem to know the difference between good and bad. I mean, you've told me how much you hated/were disappointed by his later films. Nobody was paying him to make BAD films, after all...

D.

John said...

Well, his last good movie was In the Mouth of Madness. It seemed to have better production values than Prince of Darkness (which I also love). It was very well conceived, scripted, and made, was seriously creepy in spots, and had a great ending. Did you ever see it?