Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Castle Rock Companion - Bag of Bones
I'm coming very close to catching up on the backlog of existing adaptations. It's safe to say Hollywood will keep choosing to make adaptations (and remake former adaptations) of King's work for some time to come. Even still, Bag of Bones nearly made me walk away, or at least want to finish with an incomplete. I knew very little about the book going in, which meant that as we spend a lot of time along with Mike Noonan dealing with the loss of his wife, I found myself asking "Ok, sure, but what's the point?" King said in an interview that the moment young Kyra Devore showed up walking down the middle of the road in the story is the moment the whole story clicked home for him. For me, it was the first point when anything even remotely interesting happened. Kyra is an adorable little girl and her mother Mattie is a sweet young woman, but even as Mike becomes involved in the custody battle between Mattie and her father-in-law Max, you're still questioning what the point is. Yes, there are small moments peppered in the middle of ghosts making themselves known at Mike's summer home - banging on steps, a child crying, a bell ringing - but none of it is truly scary and since Mike is in no danger you don't feel any sense of tension at all.
I have to be honest. I was so damn bored by the story's staunch refusal to go nowhere that I ended up going to Wikipedia to read the summary. Spoiling myself on the ending was the only way I could find to convince myself to keep going; that yes, there would eventually be some action happening that would give this slowly trawling along novel a purpose. As such, it's possible that knowing the "shock" moments ahead of time made them have less of an emotional effect on me; but it's also true that if I hadn't been reading this for the purpose of this project I would never have made it to those moments because I would have given up on the book.
As I sat down to watch the mini-series, I was hopeful they might improve it but that hope was short lived. For one thing, we see images of the big reveal right in the opening credits sequence. For another, this is Mick Garris directing and the screenplay was written by Matt Venne, not Stephen King. Do you remember how the one main issue with The Shining mini-series, a story set in a haunted hotel, was that it wasn't scary at all? Well, big surprise, this ghost story isn't remotely scary either. In fact, the main thing this mini-series has in common with its original work is that I desperately didn't want to be watching it.
The cast is decent, even if Pierce Brosnan as Mike sometimes comes off a little too overdramatic at points. Matt Frewer as his brother is downright mild in comparison. Anika Noni Rose certainly has the voice to play Sara Tidwell, and I think she does good with her one dramatic moment as well. The problem is the source material. It's just weak, and while they make a lot of changes to the details, none of them end up for the better.
They are primarily those little odd changes that barely have to do with anything - Mike's brother and his wife's brother get merged into one character for convenience, Sara's son becomes her daughter, Mike's wife is hit by a car rather than dying of an aneurism, and the rape scene is made less severe. Of course this was made for television, so that last one is to be expected. It's also changed that the original events happen in the 1930s rather than at the turn of the century, making Max Devore the one major bad guy of the story rather than his ancestor. They also change it so that Kyra's father died because he was trying to kill her and Mattie had to shoot him to stop him.
I was really hoping that Garris would at least manage to cover the one strength of the book well - that being the growing relationship between Mike and Mattie and Mike's bond with Kyra. Between The Stand and The Shining I know he's capable of such things. But both are downplayed severely, along with the custody battle, to make them barely involved in the conflict at all. I wonder if they were worried that Mike's relationship with Kyra would come off as creepy, even though in the book it was clearly a fatherly relationship he had with her. As it is, with him only spending a couple moments with her, it seems rather odd that she would come to live with him in the end.
I feel a little bad being so harsh on both versions of this story, and I feel like there is something I should mention. The first King book I ever put down and walked away from was Insomnia. I was young and the troubles of an old man that King described in that book bored me, and I felt like it was going nowhere so I just had to stop. However years later, when I was reading The Dark Tower books (which it ties heavily into) I tried again and enjoyed the whole thing, start to finish. My point is that just because I hate this now doesn't mean I'll feel that way forever. You never know when a situation can change the way you look at a story.
With the two year anniversary of this series two days away, it seems a good time to make an announcement - this series will not end with the adaptations. It will go on, first with King's original screenplays that were made into mini-series, television shows, and one film, and then even further into the television series based on King's work of which he has had little or no involvement. And I won't be handling them alone.