Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Often times you will hear people say after they see a film that ‘the book was better’. One primary form of adaptation that I would like to take a look at this week is the use of the novel as premise for the content of a feature film.

Think of it as a house of bricks in a sense. You take the novel and all the bricks, then break it apart only to put it all back together again on screen. However, as is often the case not only do all the bricks have to be replaced to properly resemble the contents and theme of the novel, but so many more bricks (details) must be added to fill-in all the gaps that the novel does not address. This is not to say that the novel does not contain details (as novels are highly descriptive), but in order for the film to properly bring the book ‘to life’ specific imagery and cinematic elements must be utilized to the fullest effect.

The question remains however, should there be a real distinction between the novel and the film as they are completely different works of art? Thus, some directors remain unconcerned with the original source material (the novel in this case) while others consider accuracy as the primary target of the film.

Therefore, this week Cinema: Counterpoint will be examining the films of Stephen King who has had so many of his novels adapted into successful films – and some that have basically flopped.

Perhaps part of the problem is that so many of his films are so unsettled in terms of genre. The main questions remains: Do his films (adaptations) make you want to read the book or vice-versa? Thus, let’s take a look at a few of the highlights of Stephen King on screen over the past 30+ years.

CARRIE (1976): De Palma’s first real “success” film may actually might be a bit of a disappointment in my mind. Having re-visited it now on the average of once every ten (10) years, as a horror flick it simply does not work from start to finish. (C-)

THE SHINING (1980): Terrific casting, amazing sets and a storyline and narrative that simply outstanding in the suspense and terror genre. The addition of Kubrick to the film was also a major plus. (A-)

CUJO (1982): Frightening? In some ways. Disturbing? Yes. Still, the film is much too long and the suspense is limited. (D)

THE DEAD ZONE (1983): Perfect casting of Christopher Walken for the role – who can ever tell if he is in or out of a comatose state. Cronenberg directs this film, which may be one of best adaptations of the novel onto the screen. (B+)

CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984): This film belongs in somewhere in the back of the Dollar Tree in a basket with Monday Nitro Wrestling. (F)

FIRESTARTER (1984): Barrymore was a lousy actress then and even worse now. George C. Scott and Heather Locklear are the only bonuses when it comes to casting and only one of those is really nice to look at. The premise is fairly simple, but the score (Tangerine Dream) and the adaptation onto the big-screen were actually half-decent. (C+) 

CAT’S EYE (1985): Barrymore again unfortunately, but the overall casting is acceptable. Still, the three (3) stories really do not meet or connect with one another. The segment with James Woods is truly the best part of the film. (C-)
Pet Sematary
PET SEMATARY (1989): At this point, some of the adaptations are getting a bit, well “corny”. Ghosts and zombie cats dominated this film that is frankly, well – boring. Cannot recommend based on the story line as well as the poor adaption. D-  
MISERY (1990): What an impact this film and adaptation had on movie-going audiences at the turn of the decade. How fresh to see James Caan return for this and Kathy Bates is amazing in the role. Rob Reiner directs and what a plus that was in order to create the proper set design, mood, lighting and all the factors that create a film that was much like the novel – with tension and suspense. (B+)

NEEDFUL THINGS (1993): Nice to see Ed Harris makes an appearance in this one as well as the outstanding performance by Max Von Sydow. As a journey into the “supernatural” per se, the film was a bit of a disappointment. The adaptation is really not top-notch and the quality of the film really is limited to the performance of the cast – and nothing else. (C)

Enjoy the original 1993 trailer for NEEDFUL THINGS
 THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994): Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman bless us with their presence in one of the best films of the decade. The adaptation is excellent and the combination of narrative as well as mood and suspense are perfectly balanced. As a period piece it also works on a high level with a formidable emotional impact on the audience. It is the ultimate testament to human spirit – and a film that many will remember for a long, long time to come. (A)
THINNER (1996): Poor cast, poor premise and a film that gets way too much play even on cable late at night. To add, the performances are at a B-movie level. Pass. (C-)

THE GREEN MILE (1999): Not a Tom Hanks fan and never really have been, but his role works wonderfully in this period piece. The hues of the film are also amazing almost serving as a predecessor to what we saw in Pan’s Labyrinth in certain scenes – using colors and light to weave the real and fantasy world’s together until they are indistinguishable. David Morse and Michael Jeter are outstanding in their roles and this is to take nothing away from the rest of the cast. It’s not ‘Shawshank’, but the adaptation is first-rate and the film almost gets better with time. (A-)

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS (2001): A solid period piece with vibrant, yet honest and poignant performances. Scott Hicks directs and although it may not fall into the ‘horror’ realm, there is a great deal of suspense in the undertones of the film. Simply put, ‘Atlantis’ is nostalgic and magical in some sense. Perhaps the book was better though as is often the case. The film was not popular with audiences and I am not sure exactly why. Was it too slow? This will always riddle me… (B+)

DREAMCATCHER (2003): Morgan Freeman proves here that he is not always a key to success. Too little is revealed too early in the film, and too much is revealed too late – thus our interest is never held. The cast is also questionable. It almost seemed like an episode of the X-files gone terrible wrong. Losing brain cells is also a natural result of re-visiting this film from time to time. Cannot recommend ~ (D+)

THE MIST (2007): The day following a bad storm, small town folks are under attack by monsters and creatures from who knows where. The film is basically unfocused, a bit dull and (no pun intended) – lost in the fog. There are some thrilling and suspenseful moments in the picture, but from start to finish it simply did not hold my interest. Still, the story and the book are good, so I would recommend visiting that channel for entertainment. (C+)

IT (2011): Interested in seeing how this film’s re-make will look at the movie house late this year. Let's hope the adaptation is no worse than what we saw in 'Pet Sematary' or 'Dreamcatcher'...

JER: This will come across more as an editorial since my partner- in- crime, JOHNNY CHAZZ, had been missing in action since his last known whereabouts was probably in some seedy karaoke bar in the wrong side of Sin City… drinking his umpteenth Mia- Tai and selecting to sing his next Steely Dan tune.

With that said, a minor voice conversation held on the telephone the other day with Mr. Chazz got me thinking about our proposed topic this week, which was going to focus on the screen adaptations of the works by the master of horror novelist, Mr. Stephen King! As you can tell from the comments above, Mr Chazz is alive and well and taking the A- Train to rehab central! LOL!

For me, the films of Stephen King peppered the 80’s in my most impressionable time of my hopeful projected film career. Figuratively speaking, most of the films made were of high quality with imaginative directors helming a ‘at- times’ controversial version based either heavily or loosely on a highly recognized novel.

(Informational assistance taken from Born Stephen Edwin King in Portland, Maine in 1947, his schooling would bring him to the University of Maine and earn a B. A. in English which opened the possibilities of becoming a teacher. Unable to immediately find work to support his newly married life with his newlywed wife, Tabitha, King began selling short stories to any publication that would by them. As stories developed, so did his love for macabre and the eerie… especially in the written form. Things would make a drastic shift for King in 1973 when a novel written under the title Jerusalem’s Lot would forever be changed and recognized as Salem’s Lot. Shortly thereafter, an endless spring of stories would flow out of the twisted mind of the man who would later be known as “The Master of Horror.”

As the writer wrote, Hollywood read…and saw dollar signs! This would began a very healthy and lucrative career for both Mr. Stephen King and for Hollywood… the following are just a few highlights of the more memorable and iconic films and characters created by “The Master!”

CARRIE (1976): Director Brian DePalma would be the first person to dive into the world of King adaptations. CARRIE was only a best selling book, it would become a top grossing film in the box office. With the strong acting introduction of a then unknown Sissy Spacek, she would bring the very reclusive and highly destructive Carrie White to very horrifying life! A strong supporting cast of young newbies including Amy Irving, Nancy Allen and John Travolta also proved to be a hit with critics and fans alike. As with any adaptation, there were the novelist fans who claimed to not stick to the original storyline as was brought forth in their favorite book. This would a lesson needing to be quickly accepted by the hardcore writer’s fans and by Mr. King himself..
Enjoy the combination of Pino Donaggio's haunting soundtrack as it accompanies this great sequence from CARRIE
THE SHINING (1980): Unless you have been living under a rock, you may automatically imagine a deranged Jack Nicholson sticking his face through an axed door sarcastically and tauntingly mouthing the words, “Here’s Johnny!” to a frightened Shelly Duvall! Director Stanley Kubrick would take great liberties with the original novel’s interpretation of King’s haunting story of a family hired to care for a five- star hotel during its snowed- out winter months. The creation of Jack Torrance alone read chillingly on paper and brought to an all- time creep level high by Nicholson’s bipolar portrayal of a man psychotically pushed over the edge of sanity. Due to the restraint in budget and the under developed technology of special effects at the time, the story was adapted by Kubrick to focus on the madness that faced the Torrance family rather than the physical haunting that occurred throughout the novel. Don’t get me wrong…some highlights throughout the film are based off said haunting! How can you forget the twin sisters standing in the hallway or the lady in Room 237?

CUJO (1983)
1983 proved to be a triple- header for King enthusiasts! The releases of CUJO, CHRISTINE and THE DEAD ZONE proved that Hollywood is only just beginning to tap the resources available and provide entertainment that the fans were craving for! CUJO would star Dee Wallace Stone (Elliott’s mom in E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL) as a mother struggling to survive within a Pinto as a rabid Saint Bernard terrorizes both her and her five year old son, Tad. Directed by Lewis Teague (CAT’S EYE) CUJO would similarly play on the emotions of the audience by the portrayal of a mother’s protection over her asthmatic child while fighting off the elements of heat, exhaustion, lack of food and water and a Saint Bernard big enough to band and ding the vulnerable vehicle used for shelter. Famed horror director John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN) would ‘change gears’ from his normal human- causing- carnage to a 1957 Plymouth Fury that has more under the hood than a cherry engine! Taunting and suspenseful, Carpenter has always had a great eye for cinematography and the capturing of dark images and low lighting to execute peril. Carpenter would also provide a pulse- driven synthesizer- heavy foreboding soundtrack!

Christopher Walken in THE DEAD ZONE
Finally, director David Cronenberg (THE FLY) would interpret King’s THE DEAD ZONE. Starring Christopher Walken as school teacher Johnny Smith, it would seem as if he has everything lined- up in his life with a rewarding career, a girlfriend and a bright future ahead of him. A freak car accident would have Johnny awakening into a different world after being in a coma for five years. His job, girlfriend and damaged use of his legs have crippled Johnny emotionally…however, something else has changed. A gift of foreseeing into the future of people he touches becomes a mental window into the unknown…but is it a gift or is it a curse? THE DEAD ZONE is yet another brilliantly executed film that is very true to its original novel roots. Helmed with a strong supporting cast (Tom Skerritt, Hebert Lom and Martin Sheen) this film would come highly recommended!

CHILDREN OF THE CORN and FIRESTARTER (starring an 8 year old Drew Barrymore) both films would fare well in the box office but were considered loosely based on its more entertaining and fruitful origins. Both films were released theatrically in 1984.

1985 would see the short story of CAT’S EYE and the ‘novella’ Cycle of the Werewolf comes to life as SILVER BULLET. CAT’S EYE was written with FIRESTARTER’s Dew Barrymore in mind as a marginally frightening “old wife’s tale” of felines’ abilities to take an infant’s breath away causing immediate death. SILVER BULLET starred the well- casted duo of Gary Busey and the late Corey Haim as a well- developed relationship between a reckless Uncle and his paralyzed nephew. Did I mention the sudden werewolf attacks in this sleepy little town?

Based on King’s short story entitled Trucks, it was probably considered inevitable for Stephen King to try his hand in directing one of his own stories… that one- time opportunity was MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. Released in 1986, the movie’s storyline focused on the events that occurred after a comet passes very closely by the Earth’s atmosphere, causing machines to come to life for 3 days. A play on honkey- tonk rednecks and every other southern derogatory categorization befalls this poor and bloody clunker. King would never direct again.
Enjoy this 1986 classic trailer starring writer/ director Stephen King!

The novella known as The Body would be greatly directed by Rob Reiner (WHEN HARRY MET SALLY) and would change the name of the story and become better known as 1986’s STAND BY ME. Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, the rich storyline would introduce us to four friends; Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O’Connell). The friends hear of the death of a boy their own age whose body had not been recovered. Together, the boys go on a quest to find the missing body and learn something about themselves and the friendship amongst them.

The sci- fi adventure novel (written under the pen name of Richard Bachman) of THE RUNNING MAN would prove to be a great fit for action star Arnold Schwarzenegger! Directed by TV star Paul Michael Glaser (“Starskey and Hutch”), Schwarzenegger would play the ‘wrongfully accused’ police officer Ben Richards of a crime he didn’t commit. In the near future, television would play off of more gruesome and action- filled reality shows including one entitled “The Running Man.” Hosted by Damon Killian (“Family Feud” TV host Richard Dawson) the show would present an opportunity for convicts to “run” for their potential freedom and life while being chased down and hunted by “over the top” WWF- looking opponents!

1989 would draw an end to a very successful decade with another book- turned- film. Directed by famed 80’s music video director Mary Lambert, the dark and sinister PET SEMATARY would crawl its way out of the grave to great box office receipts. Weaving an urban legend tale of an old Indian burial ground, people would say that anything… or anyone, buried in its cursed soil would have them raised from the dead! The only catch is… they don’t really come back as their old selves again!

Moving into the 1990’s wouldn’t prove to be as memorable for Stephen King stories as the prior decade would. The likes of the short- storied GRAVEYARD SHIFT and made- for television mini- series “IT” would kick things off in 1990. Oh, there was one other little film that opened the same year… STAND BY ME’s director Ron Reiner would helm another King novel into film… as the very memorable and pulse- pounding thriller, MISERY.

MISERY would star James Caan and Kathy Bates (who won an Academy Award for this film). Caan played famed novelist Paul Sheldon, a writer of a series of romance novels better known as the “Misery” series, named after its heroine, Misery Chastain. Sheldon decides to follow tradition of renting an isolated cabin in a snowy terrain, free of distractions and pen the last of his “Misery” books before deciding to try his hand in another genre. He is caught in the white, blinding blanket of snow, causing his vehicle to overturn after hitting a bank. His rescuer would come in the form of a husky former nurse named Annie (Bates). Lucky that Annie happened to had witnessed the accident and save Sheldon from the accident and risk disappearing under the heavy falling snow and lucky for Sheldon that Annie is an avid fan of the novel series he had just completed. Bed ridden with multiple broken bones and abrasions, including broken legs, Sheldon is conformed to Annie’s babbling of incoherent conversations and rants! Things take a quick dive into the worst when Annie reads the manuscript to his new novel…in which he kills off Misery! In Annie’s shock, she demands a re- write to bring Misery back, to which Sheldon refuses…this is where the trouble starts. Without a nearby telephone or any sign of neighbors in this isolated farmhouse, Sheldon is left to his own devices when he begins to fear for his life as Annie’s tantrums become more and more violent and directed towards him! This film offers a great character study that allows two great actors to really do what they do best!
Actor Gary Senise and Jer circa 1994- 95
I will hop- skip a couple of titles to get to, what was considered for its time, a major television event in 1994. A four- part mini- series directed by Mick Garris and adapted as a teleplay by King himself… I am talking about THE STAND. After an accidental chemical spill lets loose a deadly virus, the nation’s population is reduced to a handful of survivors that must do what it takes to survive… while also dealing with having dreams of two figures: one is of an older woman with mysterious powers and another is of a scary man. THE STAND boasted a large cast that included my 'friend' Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Ruby Dee, Rob Lowe, Ray Waltson and Stephen King!

Probably the more notable and highly respected works of King’s novels to films were held by the responsibility of one renowned director: Frank Darabont. His films: THE GREEN MILE, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE MIST.

1994 would debut the first of the King trilogy with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, the film would be bestowed a total of seven Academy Awards. Set in the 1940’s, the story revolves around two prisoners who befriend each other and create a special bond over the years of imprisonment… just be careful about what posters you hang where in your cell. The film would be a stellar success for everyone involved as it was considered a box office hit and a highly respected piece of film making.

Released in 1999, THE GREEN MILE was a milestone collaboration of fine actors (Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, James Cromwell, Harry Dean Stanton and Sam Rockwell) and excellent screenplay adaptation done by Darabont himself and complimented with fine cinematography. The story takes place in a Death Row facility in the 1930’s in which one of the convicts is discovered to have healing powers, causing a major moral dilemma.

Finally rounding off the list would be 2007’s THE MIST, as in the previous two films, Darabont would adapt King’s novel into a screenplay personally. This time telling the tale of a rather freakish lightning storm that unleashes a very mysterious fog bank that envelops a sleepy town community. Is it panic or is there really something lingering within the mist?

Another notation that is highly recognized by fans of King's works is the fact that a large majority of his stories occur in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine! The town almost serves as a nucleus for the paranormal, the bizarre and the abnormal. King has enjoyed the use of the town's reputation so much, that director Rob Reiner co- founded and named his production company: CASTLE ROCK ENTERTAINMENT after King's creation.

COMMENTS, INQUIRIES and RECOMMENDATIONS are always welcomed by you! Please let us know how you are enjoying our site and what improvements or topics we can touch upon! Tune in next week when it is JER's turn to bring forth another interesting topic for discussion...until then, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!



  1. I always liked three movies in particular from Steven King. 1. The Shining 2. The Dead Zone 3. the Mist. I agree with both of you that Dreamcatcher was a total dissappointment. Sandra, Houston - Texas.

  2. The movies of author Stephen King cannot ever be compared the the novels he has written. Hollywood needs to begin to cast better and involve more descriptive elements in the film. (Chris, Utah)

  3. Hi Sandra...I will agree with you on THE SHINING, THE DEAD ZONE and THE I thoroughly enjoyed those films as wll. DREAMCATCHR was a dissappointment and so was FIRESTARTER and THINNER!

    Hi Chris...always great hearing from you! Novels have problems translating well to films because of the author's detail to character and story development...still, there are always hit and misses! Thanks again!

  4. I would say that my top 3 movies from Steven King are: Shawshank; The Shining; Dead Zone.

    Thanks -

    Randy, Murrieta CA

  5. what you think about independence day and the movie glory?

    personally I liked them; if they're not in your list they must have been so close.!!