Monday, September 04, 2006

Stephen King's Desperation

Mick Garris seems like an incredibly nice guy. His efforts in support of genre filmmaking, including developing the wonderfully inconsistent and almost always compelling Masters of Horror anthology series - Seriously, why haven't you watched Jenifer yet? Get on it!) - however, his work as a film director has been spotty at best.

The opening half-hour or so of Desperation seemed on the verge of taking him to another level. Ron Perlman's crazy sheriff of Desperation, Nevada is unnerving. The development of the scenes is jarring, suspenseful and even shocking.

I'm not sure all the blame can be left on him, though.

I'm a big Stephen King fan. Let me say that up front. I was about 10 years old when I first read Night Shift and it terrified and fascinated me and I've been hooked most of the time ever since. Not all of the time. A few have slipped past me, including, as it happens, Desperation.

The thing that even we fans have to acknowledge, if only deep within, is that there is a big problem with his fantastic novels. The ending. They're goofy as hell. It is one of my favorite novels of all time, which is a compliment to just how amazingly rich and fascinating the bulk of the book is, because the ending is terrible and frankly ridiculous. The only fantastic novels I can think of, off the top of my head, that aren't saddled with this to some extent are Carrie, The Dead Zone and Pet Sematary.

As a fan, one forgives, even enjoy, the wonky endings. They're like the flaws in your best friend, lover or family member. At a certain point, many of their flaws become less a distraction and more a part of their charm. The richness of the characters and their interactions make the endings work in their own kind of mad way.

The problem lies in that Desperation, the movie, once its going, plays like a kind of Stephen King's Greatest Hits. Small town, strange possession, small boy with magic powers, etc. But, in this context, it's not even like a good hits album, but a re-recorded version where the artist has long past their prime or possibly even a studio album by a cover band, to extend a metaphor a little far. It definitely hits all the notes, but somehow never captures that something special that made you love the original record.

Somewhere around the halfway mark, any hope that the characters, as presented would become anything like rich enough to carry the ending. By this point, they all are locked into who they are and play out their roles with all the predictability they can muster and walk into the increasingly convoluted mechanisms of the ending.

Perhaps Mr. Garris needs to walk away from his obvious temptation to continue adapting King, who he has an obvious affection for.

Then again, I haven't gotten around to watching Riding the Bullet, but I'm sure I will at some point.

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