Saturday, November 16, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 6)

Moving right along, I never thought this would be such a long undertaking for me.  But I’m determined and will finish this, believe you me, because I love talking about movies.  And since horror movies are my forte and Stephen King is my favorite author, let’s continue.

Last time, I mentioned that we have some entries here that are not the best out of Stephen King’s adaptation litany, but I’m plowing forth nonetheless.  So hold on, try to stay focused, I'll stick to keeping everything upbeat, and here we go with part six...

The Langoliers
Stephen King’s novella, “The Langoliers,” published in his 1990 short story collection, “Four Past Midnight,” is a pretty awesome tale.  It’s Twilight Zone-esque in narrative and is quite an eerie story.  As with a lot of King’s well-told tales, and since—at the time—I wished there was a second sequel to Creepshow, I felt this one would be an awesome story to feature as a short vignette in an anthology film.  But, instead, it was made into a TV movie—a two-parter a week in between—in 1995 and I was pretty disappointed with it.

The story is about an airline flight where a commercial jet is on a five to six hour trip across the country.  Quite a few people fall asleep during the excursion, only to wake up and find most of the passengers and crew have disappeared.  The only people remaining are a school teacher, a mystery writer, an airline pilot (not flying but is a passenger), a British secret agent, a very unstable broker who’d been abused as a child, and a handful of other people.

David Morse as the passenger airline pilot does a fine job throughout the film and is the center of the film and winds up as the one who can help the most in the weird situation they’re all in (obviously, since he’s the only one who can fly the plane).  Bronson Pinchot is waaaaay over the top as the broker who starts getting a little too crazy as the film progresses.

The film is definitely a victim of bad special effects, bad acting and direction, and, of course, having to be filmed with television standards in mind.  Some elements of the film are sort of well-done and keep you in awe, but the rest of the film is terrible and no suspension of disbelief would make you believe what’s going on in the story.  It’s too bad, because the story is such a good one and I wished they’d have taken better care of it.  The one thing that stands out in my mind was the very end where all the remaining characters are suddenly so cheerful and happy; they finish the movie with them sort of jumping in air as they all start running forward.  The film freezes the frame and the credits roll.  In my mind, these people went through such a strange ordeal with people dying and their lives in jeopardy, you’d think they’d be traumatized for life.

The Langoliers is definitely not one of my favorites, so I’d skip it and read the novella instead.

Earlier, in part three of this lengthy retrospective, I’d mentioned a film that was based on Stephen King’s alter ego, Richard Bachman.  Once again, a film from one of the handful of books written under that pseudonym was made for the big screen, although the story feels more like your average King tale and not the real-life-cynical stories he wrote as Bachman.

Published in 1984, I read this book a while back as it was released as a paperback, touting that the book was written by Stephen King “as Richard Bachman.”  From what I remember, the book was an easy read and I was neither moved nor disappointed in the story.  In fact, I was rather surprised when the film was announced to be released in theaters.  But, being a somewhat hardcore King fan, I did my due diligence and went to see this film.

The 1996 film is about a lawyer, Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke), who has a bit of a weight problem.  He’s constantly overeating and, of the food he consumes, not eating well.  His wife is constantly nagging him to eat better, making him eat healthier foods, but Billy keeps eating unhealthy foods.  A carnival run by gypsies comes to town, but some of the people from town are a little disgusted by them and made it known that they didn’t want the gypsies around long.  Feeling the hostility of the town, the gypsies, of course, held some animosity toward the townspeople.  Leaving a dinner party one night, Billy and his wife, Heidi (Lucinda Jenney), are a little tipsy and decide to drive back home.  On the way, Heidi decides to give Billy a blow job, momentously not paying well enough attention to the road, resulting in running down a woman in the road.  The woman turns out to be one of the elder gypsies and she ends up dead.  Billy ends up in court as a result, but gets off due to his connections with Judge Rossington (John Horton).  After the trial, the woman’s father approaches Billy, outraged, and places a curse on him, touching his face and muttering the word “thinner.”  Soon after, Billy begins losing weight rapidly, which he sees as a blessing at first, but when his weight keeps dropping, he begins to understand it’s the result of a curse placed by the old gypsy that will end with his death.

The film had a very lighthearted and somewhat comedic approach to it at first.  Robert John Burke is a little hard to take in the lead, but I had fun with that.  What I really didn’t like is the mob hitman, Richie Ginelli (Joe Mantegna), who helps Billy try to get the old gypsy to take the curse off.  It really went off the tracks at that point and turned into sort of an action movie.  It did have a nice twist at the end and, thoroughly, I liked this movie.  I revisit it often, usually when I go through a Stephen King movie marathon, so I recommend it for the King fans out there.

The Shining (1997)
When Stephen King announced his next project would be a sequel to “The Shining,” called “Doctor Sleep,” I became very excited and looked forward to buying and reading that book.  As time went by, and a release date was finally announced, I began thinking about the fact that I hadn’t read “The Shining.”  I’d only been familiar with the Stanley Kubrick film and never bothered to read the book.  So, hearing how King (as well as a lot of outspoken fans) really didn’t care for the 1980 movie, saying it wasn’t faithful to the book, I wanted to experience it for myself and read the novel.

I really don’t see what the big deal is.

I thought the book was very entertaining and had some scary elements that they couldn’t include in the movie because of special effects restraints, as well as a few subplots that wouldn’t be able to fit in the movie.  In fact, I’ll go out and say that I still think Kubrick made an amazing film that scared the shit out of me and probably outdid the source material.

Anyway, that said, after reading the original novel and hearing that the TV movie in 1997 was more faithful to the book, I decided to pick up the DVD and give it a watch since I skipped it when it first aired on television.

If you’re familiar with the 1980 Kubrick version, it plays out much the same.  But seeing that this was made into a three-part mini-series, they had room to include a lot more detail from the book, and I think that’s probably one of the reasons I really didn’t care for this version.  One thing you’ll notice, instead of Jack going after his family with an axe, he attacks with a croquet mallet.  Another difference is rather than having a giant maze in the courtyard (there was no maze in the book), there were hedge animals that come to life (that’s in the book).  Of course, there are a few other subtle differences that really aren’t important, but they seem like they were placed in the film as filler.

The Shining mini-series stars Steven Weber as Jack Torrance and Rebecca De Mornay as Jack’s wife, Wendy.  Melvin Van Peebles plays Dick Halloran and, as the worst casting choice ever, Courtland Mead plays Jack and Wendy’s son, Danny.  My God…that kid was a terrible choice!  Bad acting and that inability to close his mouth bothered me!  He had that turned up nose and upper lip that always exposed his teeth and made him look odd…bad choice for important character of Danny!

For the most part, yes, this version was very identical to the book, with all the complaints by King taken care of.  However, I feel it was a detriment to the whole film to include everything.  As much as Mr. King (and a lot of his fans) would disagree, I feel that Stanley Kubrick made the right choice and made the superior film version.

The Shining marks the third time Mick Garris has directed a Stephen King adaptation and I’ve got to give it to him for having the balls to take this on.  Kubrick was still with us at the time and I’ve always wondered what he had thought of this remake.  Maybe something was said about it; maybe not.  I haven’t seen any quotes online.  But it doesn’t matter…Kubrick didn’t need to say anything…the films speak for themselves.
This remake…take it or leave it…you won’t be missing anything.

Quicksilver Highway
In the same year Mick Garris directed his third Stephen King adaptation, he also directed his fourth.  Although not such a great outing, and only half the film at that, Quicksilver Highway is a two-tale anthology film starring Christopher Lloyd as Aaron Quicksilver, a travelling showman who delivers horror stories to people he meets.  In the case of this film, he tells two tales to some newlyweds and a pickpocket.

The first vignette is based on a short story by Stephen King called “Chattery Teeth,” about a man who is saved from a dangerous hitchhiker by set of wind-up teeth.

The second, based on Clive Barker’s short story, “The Body Politic,” is a story about a man whose hands rebel against him.

The film—a television movie—is a bit uninteresting.  It’s nice to see the short story by Stephen King come to life, but it leaves me a bit dry and bored.  I actually didn’t proceed with the film after “Chattery Teeth” and just turned it off.  It’s not very good and should be skipped, unless you just want to waste an hour and a half of your life.

Apt Pupil
Back in the early 90s, I read “Apt Pupil,” a novella from Stephen King’s 1982 short story collection, “Different Seasons,” and thought it was quite a good tale.  As with most of his books, I pictured certain celebrities in the roles of the characters, which helps me—and I’m sure others—to visualize the story better.

As with this story, the way the main teenaged character, Todd Bowden, was described and detailed in the book, I immediately pictured Rick Schroder as the high school boy.  As for the part of Kurt Dussander, I pictured Max von Sydow, for the much of the same reasoning.

Little did I know—and I think many people might not know this—a movie was filmed in 1987 with Rick Schroder in the lead.  Production was shut down ten days before filming wrapped due to budgetary reasons and the movie was never finished.  I’m actually just reading this, now, online.  There’s even an IMDb entry with the information about this film.  I’ve even come across a blurb from Stephen King, himself, saying he saw a rough cut of the film (back in 1987) and said it was great.  Wow…too bad.

Well, let’s talk about what we did get.

In 1998, Bryan Singer, who’d made a name for himself with The Usual Suspects, was chosen to direct the Stephen King adaptation.  The film stars the late Brad Renfro as Todd Bowden and, pre-Magneto, Ian McKellen as Kurt Dussander.

The story is about a high schooler, Todd Bowden, who is very intrigued with World War II and Nazism during the time.  He makes the connection, after a bunch of library detective work, that an old man down the street is a Nazi from that time who had committed many crimes of war due to his affiliation.  Todd approaches the man and begins showing him all the evidence he’s collected and threatens to turn him in unless he does what he says and asks the old man to do.  It begins with simply dressing up as a Nazi and goes down a morbid path from there.

The story was mesmerizing as I read it, because of the way King writes and describes the characters’ thoughts.  I thought it might’ve been an easy adaptation to accomplish, but with this film, Singer just couldn’t keep me interested.  It seems boring at times, but interesting at others.  Ian McKellen does a great job embodying the character of Kurt Dussander, but Brad Renfro as Todd Bowden was a little off.

All in all, the story’s still there, and an interesting one at that.  I don’t know where King comes up with these, but I love them.

The film is definitely watchable and very interesting at times, so it’s worth the rental or even owning it.

So there you have it…I told you there were going to be some bummers in this part, but I revisit most of them at least once a year.

A little side note: I was going to include 1997’s The Night Flier, but Netflix didn’t have it available and I didn’t want to take the time to download it from some sketchy internet site or buy it.  When I do finally see it, I’ll give it its own review here on Cinema Bits.

Stay tuned for the seventh part of my Stephen King retrospective and, as always, thank you for reading.

If you have any comments, I welcome them any time.

You can also tweet at me on Twitter: @CinemaBits or visit my Facebook page, Cinema Bits.

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