Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stephen King: From Page to Celluloid (Part 9)

And here we are…finally! As I’d gotten myself into this, I felt I’d do fine and have a lot of fun with it, reminiscing the first two films from the late 70s, and going into the good old days of the 1980s, remembering the over stylish 1990s, and consequently skimming through the early 2000s. But don’t get me wrong, I really did like doing this, but it was a lot of work and I had to write all these small reviews up from memory. And as I was doing so, I’ve also been checking out some new Blu-ray releases and theatrical releases not related to Stephen King, so I hope my memory served well.

If you’ve all enjoyed this look into Stephen King’s opus of movies made from his books, then that’s all that matters to me. With only three more works to go, let’s not waste any more time and get right into it.

Children of the Corn (2009) 
First off, I apologize that this first entry is so short, but if you ever decide to go against my advice and watch 2009’s Children of the Corn, you’ll understand. But there’s not much more I can say about this movie remake that I haven’t said in my March of 2012 review…

…except to avoid this film.

I'll never watch this movie again.  It's upsetting, stupid, and boring...and that's just in the first five minutes of this film.

Ugh...what a dumb idea to remake this movie.

Under the Dome
The biggest undertaking I took part in as a Stephen King reader was opening his 2009 novel, “Under the Dome,” a story revolving around the small Maine town of Chester’s Mill and what happens after an invisible dome-like barrier suddenly surrounds the entire town, where nothing can get in or out.

The book is 1,074 pages and I really enjoyed it, as it echoed back to many of his older stories. I say that because many of his books in the years prior were becoming a little too reality-based and not as fun as his older supernatural and horror-based books had been.

As large as the book is, there’s good reason seeing how many characters the story involves. There’s Dale “Barbie” Barbara, a regular in town who’s on his way out of town, trying to hitch a ride when the dome comes down, having to stay once it does and facing many problems purposely aimed at him. The town’s lead councilman and used car dealer, Big Jim Rennie, who has a secret side racketeering business, is the main antagonist in the story. Other subplots all deal with people’s lives in the dome and trying to get out of it or trying to make the dome disappear.

A film version of the book was discussed soon after the book was published and after reading the novel, I thought that was a good idea. But then word was going around that the story was going to be made into a miniseries with Showtime possibly picking it up; I was okay with that because of the length of the story as well as some of the adult themes involved. Finally, it was announced that CBS was going to pick up the series and make it into a whole season of episodes and that’s when I started to worry.

So the first episode in June of 2013 was really good, introducing us to some of the characters we’d gotten to know from the book. Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel), instead of being a known “townie,” is a guy who no one knows and is just passing through town. Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) is there, at first a likeable guy, but soon turns into the villain he is from the book. His son, Jim “Junior” Rennie (Alexander Koch), is just as crazy as he is in the novel. Many others you’ll recognize from the book are here, too, so the first episode is pretty enjoyable.

The opening scenes show what happens when the dome comes down: there’s the gratuitous gory halving of the cow that happened to be straddling the boundary of where the edge of the dome plops down, the small Cessna that crashes in midair, the truck that smashes into the dome, everybody’s reaction to touching the dome for the first time as it sort of shocks them, etc. But that’s where it stops, because soon after the pilot episode, things get pretty boring and off the rails when comparing it to the book. That might’ve been okay, but when all this lasts thirteen episodes, it gets a little tiring.

Bottom line, in my opinion, I think the book should’ve been made into a limited series, like a four-part television event. To stretch this out into a season of episodes, and without a resolution, is very upsetting. My thinking is, when you read this story, the main goal is to get to the end to find out how these people get out of this dome or how they get rid of it. What CBS is doing is making another "Gilligan’s Island," where people are stuck, season after season, never getting out of their trap, making up stupid subplots and trying to distract the viewers that a dome is trapping these people inside their town. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s very unsatisfying to go through a long thirteen episode season to see that everyone is still stuck underneath this dome. I don’t know…maybe if the subplots were more thought-provoking, the show would be more interesting and make us forget about the sole reason everyone’s there in the first place. But all I can think about when watching this program is, “Okay, let’s get through this tedious shit and make this dome go away so everyone can get back to their boring lives.”

Watch it if you want, but when the second season of Under the Dome comes around, I’m going to be watching something else…or twiddling my thumbs, because I’ll get more enjoyment out of doing that than sitting in front of the TV watching this crap. Skip it, unless you want to watch some useless soap opera drama.

Carrie (2013)
Well, here we are, full circle from the first Stephen King adaptation, 1976’s Carrie, to 2013’s Carrie, and I was really hoping for a big finish. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be had with this third filmed version of Stephen King’s first novel.

When I read the novel recently, I’d already known about certain scenes in the book that hadn’t made it to Brian De Palma’s version. However, some of those scenes made it to the TV version and was done with great effect. Remembering those scenes, I thought for sure we’d get something pretty grand in scale.

You know the story and what the film’s about—since I’ve talked about two filmed versions of the story already—so no need for a repeat synopsis. But before diving into this 2013 Carrie remake directed by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), let’s talk about the two main players in this, shall we?

ChloĆ« Grace Moretz plays the telekinetic, Carrie White, and pulls it off quite nicely. Like Sissy Spacek before her, we can believe that she’s the awkward teen who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the high schoolers and can understand why they pick on her. Julianne Moore plays Carrie’s mother, Margaret White, a nearly psychotic religious zealot. I’m sure she did her best with what was given to her to work with, but it just felt like she was trying to channel Piper Laurie’s act and really couldn’t give much more. I’m sure it wasn’t her fault, and I really thought she pulled off a good presentation, but it just seemed like she was imitating Laurie’s performance from 1976.

Now, the added material was quite effective and gave us a little more character development, as well as made some aspects a little clearer than was filmed in the first movie. For instance, Margaret White’s character in the first film, as well as the book, was an overblown religious nut that put a little too much faith in her skewed view of the bible. In this redo, she’s a bit crazier and really has some other issues, like how she really, really, hurts herself in some scenes (banging her head until bruised, stabbing herself with some sort of knitting hook, etc.).  As for the character of Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde), there was no guessing whether or not she was remorseful for what her and her friends did to Carrie in the girls’ locker room at the beginning of the film. Unlike Amy Irving’s portrayal of her in the 1976 version, you can see the guilt on Wilde’s face soon after, especially following, the “plug it up” scene.

As for everything else, it’s mainly the original movie done over with the story modernized. Besides little minor details here and there, nothing was added to the story to make it seem like a new take.

While watching the film, I was reminded of the Psycho remake back in 1998, where director, Gus Van Sant, filmed each scene like-for-like, with nothing added. Even some of the dialogue was used again: Carrie asking her mother why she didn’t tell her about a woman getting her period, the exchange between Carrie and her mother about the prom dress and her “dirty pillows” is there, the “what you did was a shitty thing” speech the PE teacher gives the girls, nearly everything was the same as the first film. The filmmakers made sure to add modernized touches like including smartphones taking pictures and video recording Carrie in the locker room, as well as when Carrie’s looking up information on the internet, but they couldn’t think about making up some different—or better—dialogue to go with it? And with so many scenes in the book not included in the first film, I was sure they were going to include it in this new version.

Kimberly Peirce totally missed her chance to make this her own by just going the copycat route and remake Carrie nearly shot-for-shot instead of doing something new. She did a great job directing the film, pulling out great performances from all involved, but all that’s overshadowed by the fact that this remake is going to turn out to be as forgettable as the 2003 remake. I don’t know if I can lay all the blame on her…the studio might’ve intervened and balked at the idea of adding anything else from the book, so the jury’s still out.

The bottom line is that this remake was unneeded and I really can’t understand why studios can’t green light other ideas. All these studio execs have to do is read through Stephen King’s library and they’ll find so many other works; there are several that can be relayed to film quite nicely. It seems as if these studio heads don’t know how to read or just don’t want to do their homework. Instead, they just attempt to climb onto the shoulders of other filmmakers who’ve succeeded and copy what they’ve done. I don’t know…maybe they think they’re going to do something better, but they usually fail miserably, leaving us with a mediocre piece of garbage that we pay for and generally regret watching.

Anyway, short and sweet, my final “bit” on Carrie is to wait for it on Blu-Ray/DVD or just watch for it to fall on your cable channel’s schedule. It’s a good movie, but I’d rather watch the De Palma original with Sissy Spacek.

Well, that wraps it up. It’s funny…at first, when diving into this task of going through Stephen King’s library on film I’d thought it’d be fun and easy, with me being able to write it all up in one post. As the pages grew in my Word document, I saw that I was going to have to make this into a multiple parted piece, going from post to post. As the posts grew from three to four to five, I was starting to regret it. But all around, I had a lot of fun reliving these films and actually wanting to watch all of them again.

As a side note in this last post, I’d never gotten around to watching Bag of Bones, It is on Netflix, but with all the negative reviews I’ve heard and read about, it makes me want to wait for a day where I’ll be wide awake and have nothing to do. I will get to it…it’ll just take some time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective of Mr. King’s composition of books to film and if you haven’t seen some of these movies, hopefully I’ve convinced you to take a look at some of them.

Once again, thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.