Thursday, October 21, 2004

Stephen King mini-series

I saw the two recent Stephen King mini-series in the last week.

First of all, Kingdom Hospital is nearly unrelentingly brilliant.

Mind you, I've never seen Lars von Trier's The Kingdom, so I can only judge it on its own merits.

It was a bold experiment in television drama - well, not really, but American television is so obscenely behind the rest of the world in terms of creative and dramatic usage - that tells a 15 hour single story. It moves between drama, comedy and horror effortlessly, in that kind of grand American Gothic tradition that Stephen King has mastered over the years.

The cast is absolutely note perfect, and the first twelve hours tells wonderful little movies that slowly add up to a larger picture, making the viewer thirst for the next like a great page-turner novel. The final episodes are more focused on the larger story, and the finale should have been re-edited for DVD, but this is merely a quibble when you've gotten to see such a perfect cast play such rich material.

Salem's Lot, on the other hand, had a great cast that was mostly underused, especially the great Rutger Hauer, almost left to do nothing.

It certainly compels and entertains, but it seems to add up to very little. It's a movie content to re-create. Unlike Tobe Hooper's earlier mini-series, which is less true to the source material, it never seems to come to life. I want to recommend it, and I do. It does capture the Our Town texture of King's novel, but holds back whenever it starts to hit the Dracula notes.

If somehow one could watch the best of both mini-series, there could be something special. I understand that television could be used to capture some magical version of that story, but so far it has eluded filmmakers. I'd give this one a spin, though, just for fun. Check it out.

Watch "Kingdom Hospital" first, though.

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