Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Hearts in Atlantis

Hearts in Atlantis is a fairly unique volume for King.  While he's had plenty of short story collections and novella collections published before, this is the first collection where all the stories inside are connected through the characters that appear in them.  He has said this volume was meant to be a commentary on the Baby Boomer generation, on the ideals they had and how they never quite managed to accomplish what they wanted. The first novella also has really strong ties to his Dark Tower series, using a lot of its language and concepts.  One of the main characters, Ted Brautigan, shows up in that series after the events of this story.  While it definitely has supernatural elements, this is not a horror story, and has a lot in common with The Body, as the events of the story are a major turning point in the lives of the young characters and bring them from youth into adulthood.

The bond between a young boy and an older man could easily slip into uncomfortable territory, but I think King does a good job of showing that Ted is the father figure young Bobby Garfield never had.  The way the two of them connect over books is something any avid reader can understand, and I think most of us who do love to read can remember experiencing something akin to what Bobby goes through after reading Lord of the Flies - that first book that really made you think and see things in a different light.  Add to this the Dark Tower implications, and I really enjoy Low Men in Yellow Coats.  I don't think prior knowledge of the series is required to enjoy the volume - there's enough here about the pains of growing up to make it a great read, and King explains enough about the mythos that you're not going to feel lost - but for those of us who are fans of the series it's icing on the cake.

Given the way that the collection jumps around in time and covers many different characters, I can understand why the filmmakers chose to only adapt the first novella, adding in moments from the final short story "Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling" as it's not much more than the epilogue.  I can also suppose that maybe they felt that leaving in the Dark Tower elements might be too confusing.  I disagree with them on that, but I can see how they would come to that conclusion.  The problem is that the more and more you strip out of this story and take it out of its context, you're not left with much else.  It is still a story about growing up and losing your innocence, but it's just too brief to truly feel the depth of it as you do in the original story.

The bond between Bobby and Ted is greatly simplified.  We seem to be told that they're close more than we ever truly see it.  While Bobby was excited to get his adult library card as a birthday gift from his mother in the story, here it is Ted that convinces him it is a good thing.  But beyond that and a brief mention of a science fiction novel, the two of them barely ever speak of books.  There's no mention of Lord of the Flies at all, which is disappointing.  The themes of that book tie heavily into the story itself, both with the bullies who pester young Bobby and his friend Carol, and the cruel men who rape Bobby's mother later on.  It is truly a problem to reference a work within a film?  You don't need to read passages from it or adapt sequences, just discuss it.  Surely that falls within the realm of fair use.  Ted does still take Bobby to see the film version of Village of the Damned, and while I can understand not showing us the film itself, once again the events of that story tie into this one, as Bobby must learn to shield his mind from the low men.  Of course, the low men of the film don't seem to have psychic powers at all here, so it's irrelevant.

Instead of supernatural servants of the Crimson King come to return Ted home, the low men seem to be government agents who want to use Ted's psychic abilities in the FBI.  I suppose that's an alright idea, but it lacks a lot of the danger that the original story has.  It also means Bobby doesn't get to truly do anything at the climax of the film.  He runs to warn Ted just to see him quickly taken away.  The story is much more suspenseful, having the low men torture Ted and threaten to take Bobby with them, forcing Bobby to make a choice and give up Ted to the low men.  It's a choice that he carries with him for the rest of his life and tortures him.  While there might not have been time to show the implications of that choice in the film,  I still think it could have been presented in a way that would work and help give the film more depth.  Bobby isn't just a grown up because he's lost a friend and seen his mother horribly treated, he's an adult because he was forced to make an adult choice.  In the film, that simply doesn't apply.

I think it's pretty clear that I think the film fails as an adaptation.  They remove too much to make this truly the same story; it's really more than an empty shell of an imitation.  As a stand alone film, it's okay.  Anton Yelchin shows a maturity above his years and plays Bobby really well - I'm not surprised to see him having such an established career now.  Anthony Hopkins is as great as Ted as he is in most of his other roles, and his voice is so soothing.  The rest of the cast is also pretty strong, and the setting means we get a great soundtrack of good tunes.  I'm a little disappointed in their choice to make bully Harry Doolin a closeted transvestite as the reason for his behavior, but otherwise this is a simple enough story of a boy overcoming the problems in his life thanks to finally gaining a father figure.  Without any prior knowledge of the story it was based on you could probably enjoy the film easily.  For me, I can't help but be disappointed.

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