Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Word Processor of the Gods & Sorry, Right Number


Because TV episodes are shorter in length than features, I've combined two into one update this time around.



"Word Processor of the Gods" was an episode in the first season of the Tales from the Darkside television series. It starred Bruce Davison, who would later appear in King's adaptation of Kingdom Hospital.  The story was originally published in Playboy and can now be found in Skeleton Crew.  It's the story of a man, Richard, being gifted by his talented nephew with a word processor he made from scratch, and as Richard begins to use it, he realizes that the things he writes - and deletes - come true in the real world.

It's a very close adaptation with only some minor changes, the main one being that the word processor in the TV episode only starts steaming in the final scene, rather than right away like it does in the story.  I think the fact that the word processor seems ready to explode almost as soon as Richard turns it on creates a little more tension, whereas on the episode it's used to build the climax. 

I also think the fact that King mentions his son saying mean and nasty things about Richard provides him with a proper motivation for deleting him out of existence.  In the episode it feels a bit more harsh. But I am glad that they played down King's rather offensive descriptions of Richard's wife and how obese she becomes after their son is gone. They're in rather poor taste and not really necessary. It's one thing to get rid of someone who treats you badly, but another to remove someone just because you don't like their eating habits.

I think the interesting thing about the story is that it's one of the few where a man uses a magical macguffin to make his world perfect and there are no repercussions to speak of - just the fact that the machine only lasts so long.  Usually stories about items that grant wishes are all about teaching the user a lesson, rather than rewarding them. Of course Richard's life starts out pretty crummy so it's nice for him to achieve his happy ending.  This is a well executed adaptation, so I recommend checking it out.



"Sorry, Right Number" appeared in season four of the Tales from the Darkside series, and it's not an adaptation strictly speaking.  King wrote the script for the episode and you can read the original script in Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  The episode stars Deborah Harmon, who I recognized as playing the mother on Just the Ten of Us.  She plays Katie Weiderman who is chatting on the phone with one of her sisters at night when she gets a call on the other line.  A tearful voice gets out "Please.. Please take-" before the line is severed.  Katie is at first convinced it is her daughter who is away at college, but when a call to her proves she's fine, she makes her way through her other female relatives, absolutely positive that it wasn't a wrong number but actually someone she knew.

While I largely saw the twist of this episode coming pretty early on, the execution makes it worth it.  Deborah Harmon's performance brought me to tears at the end, and I highly recommend this one.



There is also a second version of it out there.  I'm not sure if it was a dollar baby or not, but it was made in 2005.  It makes a few minor changes but is largely the same story.  However the performances this time around just don't hold up.  You're much better off watching the original episode.

4 comments:

  1. It's a very close adaptation with only some minor changes, the main one being that the word processor in the TV episode only starts steaming in the final scene, rather than right away like it does in the story. I think the fact that the word processor seems ready to explode almost as soon as Richard turns it on creates a little more tension, whereas on the episode it's used to build the climax.

    See, if a word processor I got as a gift started steaming, my first instinct would be to back away, not keep typing. So, to me, the change makes sense.

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    1. The detail I forgot to mention is that his nephew is recently deceased, and he loved him very much, and knew he was a bit of a technological marvel, so it makes enough sense in the story that he knew it wasn't going to blow up on his immediately, or at least why he'd be willing to take the risk.

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  2. +JMJ+

    I kept waiting for the sting in the tail of The Word Processor of the Gods and was surprised that it had such a happy ending. Not so happy for the original wife and son, of course, but getting rid of them doesn't seem to have any repercussions for Richard. On the contrary, he is rewarded for it.

    What I find especially interesting is his nightmarish hallucination of his original wife all but accusing him of cowardice where Belinda was concerned. And Richard does seem like someone who doesn't stand up for himself and lets everyone else walk all over him. So his "deletion" of his original family in order to have his dream family is actually a case of him growing some you-know-what! =P If he had done that in the first place, he probably would have married Belinda and had a son like Jonathan. Perhaps we could say that he didn't "delete" them as much as he rewrote his own life story where it counted!

    Does anyone else see similarities between The Word Processor of the Gods and Back to the Future? =)

    The first story makes an interesting contrast to Sorry, Right Number, where an attempt to change the past fails.

    Unlike you, I didn't see the twist coming, and then I found the revelatory scene a little difficult to swallow. Can a wave of grief by disorientating enough for someone's first instinct to be picking up the phone, dialing her former phone number, and trying to talk to herself? I'm also really frustrated that she botched up the warning--though, of course, if she hadn't, she wouldn't have received the call in the first place, would she? The irony is really sad.

    Did you pair these two episodes together, Angie, because they both have writers for major characters?

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    1. I can see similarities between Word.. and Back to the Future, though Marty does at least learn more than Richard does!

      They are paired because they're the only two episodes of the Tales from the Darkside TV series to feature King's writing. Writers being major characters is just a near constant in King's writing in general. :)

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