Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lost and the Road Not Taken

As someone who has watched Lost avidly since it first arrived on our screens six years ago, the latest and final season has been a bit lacklustre to say the least. I still enjoy it and I would never miss an episode, but it's almost as if the unveiling of the answers fans have craved for so long has let too much air out of the balloon and now it's just a matter of just seeing it through to the end. I'm hoping I'm wrong and that the finale will be as brilliant and as shocking and unpredictable as the writers have been promising all these years.

Anyway, the most interesting thing to come out of this season is the idea of the parallel reality seen in what the programme-makers are calling 'flash-sideways'. The detonation of the bomb back in 1977 created a different timeline for our main characters, an alternate reality running side by side with the events on the island. I'm not entirely sure where all that is going within the tv show but it got me thinking about alternate realities in our own lives, what Robert Frost called 'the road not taken'. Now I may be going out on a limb here but what the heck - I'm going to chuck the concept out there. For years now, in fact, as long as I can remember, I have had 'strange feelings' about particular places. I remember driving through Salisbury when I was about eleven with my brothers and my dad and feeling this strange sense of 'I've been here, I know this place'. That's the only way I can describe it. Now I'm not talking about 'I've been here before' in the Shirley MacLaine sense. I mean, it felt as if some part of me had lived a life in that place - or should be living a life in that place. This odd feeling has recurred quite regularly in my adult life, especially when I travel to new places. My recent trip to Canada was the weirdest experience of them all, especially as I know for a fact that my parents planned to emigrate there before they had any of us kids. I have never felt more 'at home' than I did during my two weeks in that beautiful country. The sensation I'm talking about is like deja vu only times a hundred. Times a thousand. And I wonder sometimes, could it be that I'm feeling the echoes of a life lived there in some alternate version of my timeline? What if my parents had decided to move to, for example, Salisbury instead of Devon back in 1972? What if they'd emigrated to Canada back in '68? What if?

Food for thought. Or maybe I'm just as mad as a fish and need to see 'somebody'.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stephen King at the Movies

I love Stephen King.

I love his novels. I love his short stories. Hell, I love pretty much everything he's ever written. Of all the writers I've encountered, his his work has had the greatest influence on me. He's been called "a master storyteller", amongst many things, and I agree with this up to a point. I see him as the closest thing we have to a modern Mark Twain in his ability to capture the essence of small town America in populist fiction while spinning a great yarn.

So why on earth do almost all movie adaptations of his work suck?

Wait, let me just explain myself here.

I'm not saying all, I'm saying "almost all". There are exceptions. I would say (and yes, this is just my humble opinion) that the better movie adaptations are, in no particular order, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Misery, Stand By Me, The Dead Zone and a few others. There are many other movies/tv mini-series such as the original Salem's Lot, which have been "okay", but beyond that it's a pretty poor show for one of the most successful novelists working today. The reason for this post is that I recently bought a boxset of King movies which contained three purported "classics" which for some reason or other I had never seen before: Maximum Overdrive, Silver Bullet and Cat's Eye. Well, I'd seen Cat's Eye on tv many years ago and my memory of it was pretty positive. Of the three movies in this particular collection, it was definitely the best. The other two offerings, however, were woeful to say the least.

First up was Maximum Overdrive. I was incredibly naive in my anticipation: A King movie directed and scripted by the man himself with an AC-DC soundtrack and a pretty funky idea about motor vehicles coming to life. What's not to like? It's often been documented that King was unhappy with many of the film adaptations of his work and so here he had the chance to set the record straight, to show them all how it was done.

Well, all I can say is, what the hell happened?!

I can say, without reservation, that this is one of the worst films I have ever seen. It's not even good in a "so bad it's good" sense. It just didn't work on any level that mattered. It was like a Cannonball Run movie without the laughs with some poorly-executed gore thrown in. What a wasted opportunity. And it started so well.

Silver Bullet was only marginally better. Taking the material a mite more seriously, the film is still horribly dated. The werewolf scenes (with creature design by Carlo Rambaldi no less) were just poor, especially as this film was made after such revolutionary SFX films as American Werewolf in London and The Howling. In Silver Bullet, the poor old lycanthrope was nothing more than a big hairy oaf. So disappointing. And the story itself just limped along to its trite and predictable conclusion. Possibly the longest 90 minutes of my life.

So why does this happen? The examples I've just given have their own reasons for being bad and they are exceptional in their badness. What I'm wondering is why the vast majority of his adaptations just don't make successful movies. I think part of the reason is down to King's plotting. King has said that he likes to create a unique situation, throw in some interesting characters and then let them work it out on the page. This works well for readers, but when it comes to transferring these things to the screen, it's problematic. Horror movies have a certain dynamic, and often adhere to a rigid template, something that King's fiction doesn't always fit into. I believe this often leads to big changes being made to try and shoehorn King's sprawling plots into a form horror movie fans would expect, when really King's books are not just straightforward horrors. That, I think, is where the aforementioned problems occur.

Famously, Frank Darabont has been most successful at adapting King's work for the screen: Shawshank, The Green Mile and The Mist are good, in my opinion, because they respect the source material and don't try to turn them into something they're not. (My only exception here with regard to Darabont's adaptations would be the 'shock' ending he added to The Mist which is a bone of contention for many. The original story had no ending and worked fine without it. For me, Darabont's ending, whilst shocking and disturbing, doesn't follow on from what's gone before. These people risked everything to try and survive...I won't say any more for spoiler reasons.) Anyhow, I would love to see someone like Darabont adapt all of King's work for the screen, because there is so much more to his novels than mere 'horror'. Come on moviemakers! It's been far too long since we had a damn fine King movie in the multiplexes.

Having said all that, there is no excuse for Maximum Overdrive.