Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adapting Stephen King

Writer/Director Mick Garris is a friend of Stephen King's. He directed the mostly excellent TV version of The Stand; the more-faithful-to-the-novel TV version of The Shining; the direct-to-video version of Riding the Bullet and the TV version of Desperation (which makes no sense without its companion piece The Regulators, which was written under King's pseudonym, Richard Bachman). Most of Garris' versions of King's works are just okay. They certainly can't compare with Frank Darabont's astoundingly good film adaptations of Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; The Green Mile or The Mist.

Garris is back with a two-part mini-series version of King's ghost story Bag of Bones airing tonight and tomorrow on the A&E network. Since I rarely watch TV in real time (I love my DVR), I won't be reviewing Bag of Bones until Tuesday. But I thought I'd share my thoughts on Garris' (and other directors') takes on King's works.

King is difficult to adapt to film. His novels often rely on emotional reactions to what is happening on the page, and that's not always easy to convey on film. And while King's plots and premises are often silly, he is quite skilled at developing characters about whom the reader grows to care. When awful things happen to those characters, it's easy for a reader to get caught up in those characters' emotional responses to whatever outrageous things are going on around them. Few film directors have been able to capture that. Brian DePalma (Carrie); Lewis Teague (Cujo); David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone); Rob Reiner (Stand by Me) and - to a lesser degree - Mikael Hafstrom (1408); John Carpenter (Christine); Mary Lambert (Pet Semetary) and George Romero (Creepshow; Monkey Shines; The Dark Half) have all had some degree of success with adapting King's works. And while there are plenty of folks who adore Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining, I have never been anything less than disappointed with that brilliant film which completely ignores a full third of the novel and makes so many changes to the story that renders it almost unrecognizable from it's source material. None of these movies can compare to Darabont's films in capturing King's intent, though a few come close. And don't even get me started on the many dreadful adaptions of King's novels and short stories, one of which was directed by King, himself.

Garris is limited by what American TV standards will allow. His version of The Shining, while closer to the novel, because of standards imposed by the FCC, omits all of the truly twisted sexual passages King wrote. And while Garris' version of The Stand is quite good (though often miscast), I imagine the proposed theatrical version might be better. Garris is a decent director, and his adaptations of King's novels are workmanlike and serviceable. Still, they don't always succeed in capturing the essence of what King manages to convey on the page. Not to be a naysayer, but I hope he is not involved with the upcoming TV version of The Talisman*, King's brilliant novel co-authored with Peter Straub (another amazing author whose work has been abused by Hollywood).

I'll let you know what I think of Bag of Bones once I've seen the whole thing. In the meantime, here's the trailer:

And here's a teaser trailer (which I've posted before) for a movie version of The Talisman (one of my favorite modern novels, ever) which never got made:

*Which partially takes place in the same universe as King's "The Dark Tower."

More, anon.


Mrs. Mount said...

lookin forward to your review. i'm taping, too. we shall see...i'm still addicted to AHS!!!

Anonymous said...

I watched most of part I. It is very much like the book which is not such a good thing but it is one of the better King adaptations. I thought the book dragged too much in the first half.

The Talisman is in my top 5 of King books. I read while on a ski trip and as I was swishing (yes I went there) down the slopes, I kept thinking, "Where is Jack now?"

I can't believe you didn't mention Dolores Claiborne. It was an excellent movie and adaptation of a book that was written completely in the first person.

Prospero said...

I actually liked the book and thought it was one his better ghost stories.

And while "Delores Claiborne" is an excellent movie, I often forget it's King's for some reason.