Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - The Tommyknockers


There's a lot in The Tommyknockers that we see in other King works - primarily a struggling alcoholic main character, aliens influencing humans, and a small town slowly going insane thanks to an outside source.  The problem is that these things are handled better elsewhere.  This was clearly King's attempt to write his own Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and while I can't compare it to the original work, I can say that this version doesn't really work for me.  The aliens being buried inside the ship for so long makes them uninteresting villains, and the townspeople, who become the true villains of  the piece under their influence, aren't particularly compelling either.  They want to uncover the ship and keep people out of their town.  That's pretty much it.  And our hero, Gard, spends so much time in the novel drunk and therefore not accomplishing anything that it makes it really hard to cheer him on.  I spent a good portion of the novel not knowing just how King was going to wrap this up, and given the long stretches where he meanders showing us what happens to outsiders trying to enter the town, I have a feeling he didn't know where he was going to end it at first either.

With the dramatic changes that occur to the townspeople as they become - losing all their teeth, their skin becoming translucent, their entire structure slowly stretching and changing - I knew changes were going to be required for a 1993 television mini-series adaptation, and I was right.  I found it particularly amusing that when our two main leads, Jimmy Smits and Marg Helgenberger lose teeth, it's always ones towards the back so they can stay "pretty" for most of the film.  The citizens start to take on a kind of gray pallor after a while, and that's a fairly decent way to show their changing while keeping the budget under control.

This version of Gard has a much better handle on his alcoholism, which keeps him a little more pro-active and more of a hero.  Bobbi also takes a little longer to get completely under the influence of the aliens, which makes far greater sense for the pacing of the narrative.  While things get shifted, this is pretty much an accurate adaptation.  Bobbi's domineering sister gets dropped along with a few other minor townspeople, but all the main events of the novel are present.

Unfortunately a good adaptation doesn't always equal an entertaining mini-series, and with such poor original material to work with it never shines above it.  Green growing light is not enough to produce scares, and more often than not just seems really silly.  Whether it's Bobbi rolling around on top of the ship in ecstasy or Traci Lords as mailwoman Nancy Voss shooting people with her modified lipstick, it's just ridiculous.  But none of that is as bad as when the aliens finally make their appearance.  With their squat heads and Creature from the  Black Lagoon arms, they're ridiculous.  When the first one put his hand out to grab Gard on the shoulder, I laughed.  It seems like no thought was put into the actor's choreography of movements, and they just seem really goofy.

While Gard still sacrifices himself to get rid of the ship at the end, Bobbi is allowed to survive in this version, as are most of the townspeople.  I don't really care for that, as these people, especially Bobbi, have gone so far beyond the pale that they don't truly deserve to survive.  King pulls a bait and switch on us, having us think at the beginning of the novel that she is our protagonist, when in actuality she becomes the villain.  She largely acts the same way in the mini-series, but yet she's allowed to come out okay.  I prefer the ending of the novel, where only the two young boys of the town survive, the one small amount of hope that someone will have learned from this experience.

Overall, I can't really recommend either version.  Needful Things and Under the Dome are better novels from King of a town going mad, and I'd read either of those before you bothered with this one.

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