Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 7)

I see something...in the dark...it's a tiny spark.  I can barely see it...it's a small glimmer at the end of a long hallway or corridor, but I can see it.  Yes, its the light at the end of the tunnel.

Nearly to the beginning of the 21st century and his stories are still being adapted to film, with some really great translated works, I don't know of many authors who are as successful as Mr. King.  He's been a household name for years and will probably be so even after he's gone.

All right, enough of that and let's get right back into it.

Storm of the Century
In 1999, Stephen King wrote an original screenplay for television that I thought was the best he’s done.  As a piece that wasn’t taken from a novel or short story, I thought this was something that could’ve been one hell of a novel if he had written it with the intention of having it as a book.  And maybe that was his intention, for the fictional town this story is set in is the same one in which “Dolores Claiborne” is set.

During a terrible blizzard, a mysterious man by the name of AndrĂ© Linoge (Colm Feore), appears in the secluded town of Little Tall Island, off the coast of Maine, and shows up at the door of an elderly woman.  He brutally murders her and waits until the local police constable, Michael Anderson (Timothy Daly), shows up to take him in.  The man tells him, “Give me what I want, and I’ll go away.”  The obscure message is repeated throughout as the town is plagued by strange suicides and terrifying dreams until Linoge escapes from his holding cell, finally telling the town what he wants.

The cold, yet chilling, performance by Colm Feore as Linoge was brilliant.  You get the sense that no one should mess with this guy right away.  The confidence the character exudes throughout the film was portrayed superbly and scared me just to look at that guy.  I hadn’t seen a performance like his (in a Stephen King adaptation) since Nicholson’s performance in Kubrick’s The Shining.

I really loved the story King told here, which really formed quite a dilemma the townspeople faced.  How they were secluded from the world, because of a literal storm-of-the-century-type blizzard, and all had to try to come together against this man who had powers beyond their comprehension really hit the mark.  They knew how powerful this guy was and what he was capable of doing as he gave them the horrible choice at the end, yet it still made you think about what choice you would’ve made long after the film ended.

Storm of the Century is, in my opinion, the best television Stephen King adaptation to date, even though it’s not technically an adaptation.  The story is available in book form, but written in a screenplay structure, obviously published after the success of the television film.  Also, to note, the film was originally aired as a three-part series, but available as a whole film on DVD.

Storm of the Century is a must for your collection.

The Green Mile
In 1996, Stephen King tried a new approach to publishing his written works by releasing his next story in serial form.  In six volumes, each in paperback, which was later released as a full hardcover book with all the volumes together in one novel.

King wrote a very special story about a head guard, Paul Edgecombe, at the death row section of a state penitentiary and a new inmate, John Coffey, a large black man who’s in for the murder of two young white girls, during the 1930s.  Paul and some of his fellow guards come to find out that Coffey is a little simpleminded and somewhat childlike, yet has healing powers.  Edgecombe and Coffey form a friendship throughout until the final day, when Paul has to make a decision that’ll haunt him for the rest of his life.

Once again, Frank Darabont directed his second full theatrical film in 1999 adapted from a Stephen King book and strikes gold again.  He definitely captured the era of the 1930s, making us believe we’re watching something of that time.  The story, much like Shawshank Redemption, is the story of life in prison and how one can endure.  But unlike Shawshank, which had the audience side with the inmates while the guards and warden were seen as the villains, The Green Mile had most of the characters sentimental to the audience while having two serve as antagonists throughout the film.

Tom Hanks, once again, puts on an Oscar-worthy performance as Paul Edgecombe, the no nonsense head guard at the death row section which is nicknamed the “Green Mile.”  Equally mesmerizing in their parts are David Morse, Barry Pepper, and Jeffrey DeMunn as fellow guards Brutus, Dean and Harry respectively.  Doug Hutchinson totally embodies Percy Wetmore perfectly, as the one guard who treats the inmates like shit and is a little loudmouthed dick.  Also impressive—as well as hilarious—is Sam Rockwell as “Wild Bill” Wharton.

Reading the book, I thought it was interesting how the floor leading to the electric chair was called “the mile” and how Mr. King was able to convey that thought by inmates as if he had that knowledge firsthand.  Especially after watching the movie, does it make sense that the short hallway to the room where you’re going to die seems like a mile.

With The Green Mile, Frank Darabont gives us a perfect adaptation, seemingly filming it right off the pages of Stephen King’s book.

Hearts in Atlantis
As I read “Hearts in Atlantis” back when it was released in 1999, I thought it was a really boring book and not what I thought it was going to be.  I was led to believe that it was a new King novel, but was surprised to see it was a collection of short stories that sort of tied in to each other.

Don’t get me wrong, the first story, “Low Men in Yellow Coats,” for which the film, Hearts in Atlantis, was based on, was very well told and I followed it all the way through, since it had ties to the universe Stephen King created in most of his books.  But it was still a little dull and hard to keep my interest in it.  However, the 2001 film fared a bit better and seemed to simplify it a bit more since it wouldn’t be comprehensible if the filmmakers included the reasoning behind the low men in the movie.

So, the story is about a young boy, Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin), living with his single mother who is sort of self-absorbed and doesn’t pay enough attention to her son.  An older man by the name of Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) comes into town and takes on as a boarder in their house.  Brautigan becomes a father figure to Bobby as they kindle a friendship and it’s soon apparent that the old man has some sort of psychic ability.  Ted lets it be known to Bobby that there are people looking for him, called “low men,” and asks Bobby to look out for them.  He tells him how to see signs of them being around, like if “lost pet” posters start to appear.  But Bobby cares for the old man so much and doesn’t want their friendship to end, knowing full well that if he sees signs of the low men, Ted would leave him.

Hearts in Atlantis is a good dramatic piece with Hopkins doing a fine job as Brautigan.  The 12-year-old Yelchin tugs at your heart strings, as it was very apparent this kid was going somewhere in the acting business.

Yes, I watched the movie, liked the movie, but I chose not to own it.  I think it’s worth a watch, but that’s about it.

Carrie (2002)
Back in 2002, an interesting decision was made to release a Carrie remake, which was interesting, followed the book a lot more closely (until the very end), but just wasn’t as good as Brian De Palma’s version.

The story plays out much like the original, with Carrie White living at home with her religious nut of a mother and getting harassed at school by some of the other girls.  There are some added scenes of her as a child, the raining down of stones, the complete destruction of the town and not just the school, and an added ending that wasn’t in the original nor in the book.

Angela Bettis as Carrie White does a fine job as the awkward teen (even though she was nearly 30 years of age when she played this part).  She definitely exuded the weirdness needed to make us understand why she’d be ostracized by her peers at school, so the movie had that.  But really, this film added nothing to the story except for the perverse ending.

2002’s remake of Carrie is forgettable, but interesting if you want to take a look.  I liked how the character destroyed the town, like she had done in the book, but that’s not saying much of this film as a whole.

Oh…Stephen King’s 2001 novel, “Dreamcatcher,” is one that I labored through, not really enjoying it, and the last thing in my mind was thinking this would make a good movie.  But when it was announced that it was...I had my doubts about how good it could be.

So, to give this entry as short of a synopsis as possible, the story is about a group of lifelong friends who get together once a year to go on a hunting trip.  During their stay, they come across a couple of people with some weird sickness that makes them fart and burp, as well as give them a weird discolored rash.  Soon, the area is surrounded by military, quarantining the perimeter, as the friends soon find out what’s going on.
I don’t want to waste too much time on this 2003 flick, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who has been involved in a lot of great movies over the years, so it’s hard to believe this was his doing.  Even more embarrassing is the fact that there are quite a few good actors in this movie who just play ridiculous characters.

I’m sure for individuals who’ve read the book, they might give this film a pass, but there are just too many things to overlook.  Like, for instance: Why the need to give Morgan Freeman those crazy eyebrows?
Really, it’s a waste of a movie and should be avoided at all costs.

Secret Window
When I found out that there was going to be a film version of Stephen King’s novella, “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” like most of his works being transferred to film, I became excited.  I immediately started to think back on my reading experience from that story in his “Four Past Midnight” collection of tales and couldn’t remember how it went or what was it about.  I then rummaged through my boxes of already-read books and found the dog-eared paperback near the bottom of the three or four boxes I have of just King books.  Leafing through the book, I found the story and started skimming through it when I realized, alarmingly, that I had never read it!  I still had a couple of weeks before the film was to be released, so I read through it, quickly but took it all in, and made it in time for its second week in theaters after it was released in March of 2004.

The film centers around Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), a writer recently divorced after catching his wife having an affair has taken refuge in his vacation cabin trying to write a new book.  Suffering from depression and writer’s block, Mort just sits or sleeps around all day in his cabin, not doing anything but wallow in despondency and anger over his wife, who still keeps in contact with him as she’s trying to get him to finalize their divorce paperwork.  One day, a strange man by the name of John Shooter (John Turturro), comes knocking at the door, claiming that Mort stole his story idea.  He leaves the script he claims that was stolen on the porch and tells Mort to read it.  Later, Mort ends up reading it and sees the similarities between the manuscript and a short story he had written called “Secret Window.”  The following day, during a walk through the woods, he’s approached by Shooter but tells him that he wrote his story years before Shooter’s claim.  Shooter tells Mort he has three days to provide proof, saying he better show him his published story when he returns.  What follows for Mort are constant horrible harassment by Shooter that lead to very twisted end.

Compared to the novella, the story is very similar, but with a different ending.  As for the character descriptions, Johnny Depp really differs from how Mort Rainey is described in the book.  In the story, he’s described as a portly, middle-aged man who is average-looking.  Depp may be the right age, but let’s face it, although he was over forty years of age at the time, the guy still looks like he’s in his twenties…very far from the man defined in the novella.  Also, in the film, Rainey and his wife shared a pet, Chico…an aging Australian Cattle Dog; in the book, it was a cat.  Aside from those character differences, the story follows exactly like the book (apart from the ending).

I really enjoyed Depp’s performance in this film, even though he’s just playing a boring slob.  But his interactions with his housekeeper and soon-to-be ex-wife, how irritated he gets with them, are pretty funny.  Even his witty comebacks he fires back at Shooter during their confrontations are entertaining, definitely making Depp the standout in this movie.

Equally a standout, however, is Turturro’s portrayal of John Shooter.  He’s exudes an evil presence as well as a country bumpkin with confidence.  His performance is excellent and straight out of the book, in my opinion.

Secret Window is definitely one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations and shouldn’t be missed.

So there you have it once more.  We had gotten the best film from a Stephen King story written especially for TV, the second knockout adaptation from Frank Darabont, and the worst adaptation to date.  Yet, all of them—save for Dreamcatcher—were watchable and I had enjoyed seeing all of them.

Stay tuned for the eighth 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.