Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Picking the Bones


How could such a masterful novel be turned into such an abysmal miniseries?

The two-night, four-hour television event on A&E is billed as Stephen King's Bag of Bones, but this is really (screenwriter) Matt Venne's Bag of Bones.  Granted, abridgement and alteration is inevitable when trying to translate a 700+ page novel (written in the first-person) into a movie, but King's text has been adapted nearly beyond recognition.  The miniseries lacks the emotional punch of the book; even more damning, this ghost story isn't even remotely frightful.

Where did the miniseries go wrong?  Let my try and count some of the ways:

*Casting Pierce Brosnan as protagonist Mike Noonan.  In the novel, Mike is a Maine man, born and raised.  He's steeped in the local customs and speaks like a resident naturally would; by contrast, Brosnan with his Irish accent seems like an outsider who has been parachuted in.

*The lavish lake house (dubbed Sara Laughs in the novel) proves no haunting abode.  It's architectural features are more admirable than menacing, and the air of dread is further thinned by the fact that most of the scenes set in the house take place during brightly sunny days.

*The sense of an American Gothic community rife with secrets and conspiracies is severely undercut.  One of King's greatest talents is his ability to portray the grotesquerie of everyday people, but the miniseries does little to establish the "Martians" (as Mike sarcastically calls the natives of TR-90 in the novel). 

*The various, interlocking mysteries that drive King's narrative are streamlined and dumbed-down, hampering the pacing of the miniseries.  In particular, the scenes involving the refrigerator-magnet messages just fall flat.  Also, too much key information is given as mere exposition rather than forming the reward of investigative struggle.

*The characters of Maddie and her daughter Kyra receive precious little screen time, and thus the complexity of Mike's relationship to the two (so central to the novel) is never really established.  Kyra, so adorably precocious yet vulnerable in the book, is reduced to a crying-child cipher.

*The special effects are laughable.  Brosnan getting slapped around by the tree-branch limbs of the Green Lady in the climax plays out like an unintentional bit of slapstick.

Ultimately, watching the miniseries is like experiencing a Cliff Notes version of the book.  Elaborate scenes from the novel (Kyra in the "crossmock,"  Mike's stoning, Maddie's shooting) are glossed over and leeched of their dramatic effect.  All the best meat of King's story has been stripped away, leaving nothing but a disjointed skeleton.  Given the high quality of the source material, this just might be the worst adaptation of a Stephen King work ever made.

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