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Monday, February 7, 2011

God Save the King, Book II

In preparation for the new adaptation of The Stand, due in theaters... sometime in the next few years (the project has only just been announced), I'm taking a look back at Stephen King's contribution to the world of film - the good, the bad, and the 'wtf'. Last time, we focused on the good: Carrie, The Shining, on down to The Mist. Overlooking... several. 

He's laughing because Maximum Overdrive still makes money.

More after the cut -- 

There hasn't been much said about The Stand's feature film adaptation, and even King said he doesn't know that much. But, here's what he does know - 

1. No one will be able to top Gary Sinise, who played Stu Redman in the original ABC miniseries. He was perfect. When he says “You don’t know nothing” to the soldiers who are putting him under mandatory quarantine, you believe his contempt completely. My runner-up pick would be Jake Gyllenhaal. 
2. I didn’t know anything about the remake until I read about it on the Internet.  
3. You absolutely can’t make it as a two-hour movie. If it was a trilogy of films…maybe. 
4. Molly Ringwald won’t be playing Fran Goldsmith this time.  
5. Rutger Hauer is a little too old to play the Walkin’ Dude, and that’s too bad. 
6. People who’ve seen Kubrick’s The Shining dislike the miniseries I wrote (and my amigo Mick Garris directed) even if they haven’t seen it. That’s always annoyed me. But the wheel of karma turns! This time people will probably say, “The miniseries was lots better.” BUT… 
7. …historically speaking, movie studios blow the budget on things like this, so maybe it’ll be fun to look at. The dough certainly isn’t going to me, although if it is a trilogy, and if it makes a lot of money, I might be able to buy a chicken dinner at Popeye’s. Great slaw! 
8. Molly Ringwald will probably not play the Trashcan Man, either, but Billy Bob Thornton would be cool. Billy Bob’s always cool. 
9. They need to write in a lot of heavy-metal for the soundtrack. 
10. M-O-O-N, that spells “you probably won’t see this anytime soon.” And when you do, Woody Allen won’t be directing it. Or Molly Ringwald.

So, now, let's take a look at all of the criminally awful adaptations of some admittedly excellent writing. 

Book Two - The Bad

Creepshow. 1982.
Mostly, this is director George Romero's fault. But, to be honest, most things that are wrong with the horror genre are George Romero's fault. That, however, is for another post. I might save my rant for the next "... of the Dead" flick. However, talking about Creepshow makes me remember seeing it at a young age and thinking, even then, "this is sh*t." Stephen King and Romero wrote the screenplay which tales five horror short stories, based upon a series of comics from the 1950's. It's the sort of time-bending filmmaking that leaves a lot of camp to be desired. What we get, instead of something brilliantly tongue-in-cheek, is something hamfisted and "thumb-up-butt" as my dad would say. It's terrible. Not a scare to be had, not a moment to think to yourself "this is so bad it's good". It's just bad. 

Children of the Corn. 1984.
Fritz Keirsch brings us the first in a mind-numbingly long series of horrendous horror films about demonic children who hide in the corn field. All the adults in the town have been murdered by a group of miniature "devil worshipers", and once a young couple stops into the town to report a murder, well... things just get redundant. Thing is, the book is brilliant. Full of depth and terror and that wee bit of heart that makes King's writing so readable. This movie, however, is full of none of that. It's just filled with hot air circling lazily in a weak atmosphere. And the performances are just as bad. 

Maximum Overdrive. 1986.
The most depressing thing about this film is that it comes straight from Stephen King himself. He directed and wrote the film based on his short story Trucks. Think of it as Tremors, but with headlights, a gas tank, and no Kevin Bacon with a plan. Instead, the Emilio Estevez and Pat Hingle duel with Peterbilt. Again, like Creepshow, this isn't even bad enough to be good. It's a cult favorite, and something that my family winds up watching whenever it's on television, probably just because it's a blast to riff over. But, if we sit in silence, it's only because we're briefly amazed by how dumb the entire thing is. 

Pet Semetary. 1989.
Mary Lambert is the woman responsible for The In Crowd, thus, I will always love her. She's a horrible director, and sometimes it works in her favor, allowing her to produce some beautifully unaware cult favorites. But, sometimes she just tries way too damn hard. Pet Semetary is a perfect example of everything going right, until you think back on what you just saw and realize how horribly wrong everything was. The tone works, but only in the moment, and the taste during the film isn't worth the aftertaste it leaves. It's a needlessly nasty and shallow adaptation of one of King's best books. Performances are solid, the script is heavy and appropriate, but Lambert's inept direction and tonal control make the film slide fast from excellent to crap. Takes a hell of a director to do that. Also, go watch The In Crowd and laugh for the rest of your life. 

Needful Things. 1993.
This is what disappoints me the most about Stephen King's 'filmography'. There's an extended cut available of this film that elongates it by about two hours, and puts sorely needed vibes and depth back into the production. The theatrical cut, however, is one of the trashiest and most hollow films of its year. In fact, it's one of the trashiest and most hollow films of the 90's, without those two extra hours. And that's saying something, because Kazaam and Steel came out in the 90's. Regardless, I'm only talking about the theatrical cut here. In Book IV, I'll get into the extended version, but for now, consider this extreme pulp and avoid it at all costs. If you have to watch it, bring a case of beer and play the ready-made drinking game that comes with it - every time Bonnie Bedelia is believable in her role, stop drinking. 

Thinner. 1996.
Let's just go ahead and blame all of this on Tom Holland. His direction, funnily enough, has no direction. And without control of the tone of your film, you've lost it from the start. Robert John Burke's performance is also the stuff that Jimmy Fallon's opening monologues are made of - terrible delivery, and zero timing. It's bafflingly awful, this one. Great source text, distractingly awful film.

The Green Mile. 1999.
I know, I know. You're already thinking to yourself "Scott's lost it. This movie was so loved!", and it was. In fact, there are parts of this film that are so well done, I'm hesitant to even put it on this list. Frank Darabont's direction is wonderful, Michael Clark Duncan's performance is the stuff Oscars are made of, and the late Michael Jeter has rarely been better. But, you know what kills this movie for me? wait for it, and I'm sorry Stephen, but it's the story itself. Not just the story, but the screenplay. I've seen the movie three times, and for some reason, I can never remember the film say... a week later. As compared to, let's say, Shawshank, which I can almost recite from memory. The script isn't full of holes, nor is the dialog particularly bad, but the magic of it all is dead in this film. It's like the spirituality has just been sucked out and replaced with a drippy musical score. 

Dreamcatcher. 2003.
Here it is. The mother of all bad Stephen King adaptations. Take one of the best books ever written, and invert everything that made the book beautiful and thought provoking. The film eradicates every bit of driven paranoia in the novel, and reduces all of the "in the situation" horror down to a simmering shock. I so rarely use this word, but it's a rape of literature. If you need help getting into the drinking mood required to watch Needful Things, just watch all of Donnie Wahlberg's scenes on loop. You'll get there, to rehab, and back. 

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have about half of the Stephen King feature films. The rest? Pure, unadulterated "wtf". Stay tuned for Book III.