Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Desperation

I've never been one for hardcover editions of books, because I've always been more interested in the stories inside than I am in the quality of the book itself.  It's probably why I've switched to e-book format lately.  But Desperation was the first hardcover edition of a King book I got, because it was gifted to me by a friend who knew I loved King's books. The fact that it was a gift has always made it a little special to me, but it helps that I also really enjoyed the story inside.

The opening of the book is one of King's strongest.  He takes that apprehension and fear we all have when we're pulled over by a policeman and brings it all to a new level of creepy and frightening.  We're forced to relinquish control in those situations, but what if the cop was a complete lunatic?  It makes it so much worse.  I'll admit, there's a part of me that wishes this story really was just about a cop gone insane and terrorizing his small town, but I can also see how King had to take it to another level to move the story forward.  The ancient evil buried deep in the ground, disturbed by human greed that dug too far is not a new idea, but he executes it well.

As always with King's work, the cast of characters goes a long way to make the story work, and we've got a pretty strong crew here.  My favorite is probably the carefree and punk haired Cynthia, making a return here from playing a small part in Rose Madder.  But young David is also a great lead, with his recently discovered faith and his confusion on the nature of God.  Our requisite former alcoholic writer Johnny can be a little more annoying at times, but his stubbornness is a necessary part of the journey he takes toward renewing his faith.

The book does rely very heavily on God, in a way that I don't think King has done since The Stand.  There are parallels there, where God is using the people as an instrument to do his bidding and rid the world of this evil.  But while God seemed pretty benevolent (if slightly demanding) then, there's a lot more focus on his cruelty in this story.  Most of the time this struggle with faith and God's purpose feels fairly natural and not overly preachy, but it's hard not to see this as a novel with a spiritual message. The only part that really got my eyes rolling was when David hands out sardines and crackers and they multiply like when Jesus handed out the loaves of bread and fish.  It's just overly silly.

The TV movie is another written by King directed by Garris production, and as such is pretty faithful to the novel.  A few back stories are omitted, and one character, Audrey Wyler, is taken out completely.  She was largely a way for King to show the influence the entity Tak was having on some of the townspeople besides the one it would possess, and that is quickly dealt with in messages given to David instead.  The voice of God David hears is portrayed by the ghost of his dead sister, I suppose making it easier to understand rather than a miscellaneous voice over.

The main major change is related to Johnny's return to faith.  While in the book David passes out and ends up talking to a younger Johnny who is "dead" because of what happened to him in Vietnam, here we see what actually happened there, and that Tak was somehow responsible for it.  It makes Johnny's decision to sacrifice himself to stop Tak and save the others make more sense.

The cast for the movie is pretty great.  We not only have Steven Weber and Matt Frewer returning once again to a King adaptation, but Tom Skerrit makes a great Johnny and Shane Haboucha does a good job as David.  The absolute best choice they made is without a doubt casting Ron Pearlman as police officer Collie Entragian.  I don't remember exactly what I pictured Entragian looking like when I first read the book, but Pearlman has to be pretty close.  He has the perfect large imposing frame and plays him with the right amount of creepiness.

The main problem I have with the film is that I don't think the set pieces and special effects live up to King's descriptions in the book.  Everything looks like it's made out of plastic and foam and therefore isn't very creepy or scary.  A higher budget would have gone a long way in making this film more impressive.  But being made for television, you can't really expect too much.

While the beginning of the novel is much stronger than its later half,  I still recommend it.  While maybe not high enough caliber to be called classic King, there's enough of his strengths here to make it enjoyable.  The movie isn't bad either, and since it can be found for pretty cheap, you don't have much to lose in picking it up.

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