Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Dreamcatcher


Dreamcatcher is a Stephen King novel that I feel gets a bad wrap.  There are similarities here to both The Body and It, as a tight knit group of friends have an adventure as children, and once again come together in adulthood to defeat an evil.  But it's not a carbon copy of either of those stories by any means; it just so happens that those kind of strong friendships are one of the things that King does best.  I think the main reason a lot of people balk is because of the enemies he calls "shit weasels" and I suppose if the idea of an alien that gestates inside you before coming out along with some severe stinky farts and a lot of blood is something you can't get past, then it is what it is.  Personally, I enjoy the fear that creates, and I appreciate the comparisons King does to the creatures with cancer.

More than anything though, I really love this group of friends, and I like the way we see just enough of each of their respective personalities and history before diving into the conflict with the aliens.  And on the other side we have the military, represented on opposite sides of the coin with Owen, a man who wants to do the right thing, and Colonel Kurtz, who is just completely mad.  Kurtz is one of King's best psychotic villains and he's wonderfully unsettling to read.

The only place I feel the novel goes off the tracks is toward the end.  The internal struggle for Jonesy's mind between him and Mr. Gray is a great one, and I love all the creative touches King adds to it with the memory warehouse and the ever changing prison/safehouse Jonesy has created for himself.  I love the way Mr. Gray slowly becomes more and more human, at first scoffing at our ways before loving the feel of emotions and the simple pleasures in life like a bacon sandwich with mayo.  But then toward the end King tries to say that there is no Mr. Gray and I have a hard time following.  Add to that no real explanation for Duddits' powers and how he was able to give them to his friends except for a small hint in the epilogue that it may have been God's doing, and it just doesn't end strong.

The film is probably even more poorly regarded than the book, and here I can at least understand why.  But that doesn't mean there aren't things to like either.  Morgan Freeman is fantastic as Colonel Curtis, doing a good job at portraying the madness and evil inside him.  His name is changed because they didn't want to have an association with Apocalypse Now, but the thing is he's named that way in the book to exactly make that comparison, so I really don't understand why they changed it.  They also ignored the fact that his real name is Coonts in the book (something that I figure is either a reference to Stephen Coonts or Dean Koontz, take your pick) which would have been a decent enough replacement.

The rest of the cast is also top notch.  Jason Lee is absolutely perfect as Beaver, and Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant and Damion Lewis are also great as Henry, Pete, and Jonesy respectively.  I'm a little more bothered by Donnie Wahlberg as Duddits, mostly because the Duddits of the book has down syndrome, and I feel like this would have been a good opportunity for Chris Burke or perhaps another actor with the disability.  But given some of the changes they make, I guess it makes sense that they changed it so that Duddits just has an unspecified disability instead.

There are a lot of places in which this is a strict adaptation, with lines taken directly from the book, including Curtis' great speech before they slaughter the aliens.  Most of the characters are spot on, and while the shit weasels don't look as I pictured them, I think they look really good and appropriately gross and menacing.  Some situations are simplified, like skipping the part where Owen has a crisis of conscience about slaughtering the aliens, or having the army come in and save the civilians and relieve Curtis of duty sooner, but those make sense in terms of tightening up the narrative.

Where I think they went wrong is the struggle between Mr. Gray and Jonesy.  It ends up seriously simplified, and I don't like the way Damion Lewis switches between accents and turns his head to have conversations between the two.  It's not that he does a bad job with it, it just feels off.  I also think dropping the way Jonesy gets Mr. Gray to enjoy his human body was a huge mistake.  It makes Mr. Gray a far less interesting villain.

The most drastic change is of course the final scene, where Duddits is revealed to be another alien of a different race, and he and Mr. Gray are locked in a struggle that Duddits eventually wins.  There's something about it that feels tonally off, like they went a bridge too far with it.  I appreciate the attempt to try to explain what Duddits was and why he had those powers and gave them to his friends as well, but there's something about the execution of it that feels off to me.

It's worth mentioning that the film originally had a different ending that you can view in the DVD bonus features for the film.  In that one, Duddits waves his finger in the same way that he showed Pete to do, and a beam extends from his finger and kills the alien.  He then succumbs to the leukemia, and we see Henry and Jonesy at his gravesite, where they leave his Scooby Doo lunchbox and sing "Blue Bayou" to him one last time.  While still different to what happened in the book, I like this ending a little better as it puts the focus on their bond of friendship.

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