Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dome Wreckers

In and of itself, the pilot episode of CBS's new drama Under the Dome  offered an entertaining hour of television (and some cool visuals--Dome-bisected cow, chest-bursting pacemaker).  But anyone who has read the bestselling Stephen King novel of the same title can't help but notice how much of the narrative has been changed, and not necessarily for the better:

The first glimpse we get of protagonist Dale "Barbie" Barbara is of him burying a dead body, which instantly sullies the good-guy image that the novel thoroughly establishes.  Even if all is not as it first seems in this opening scene, the fact that Barbie is played by actor Mike Vogel (last seen menacing Norman and Norma in Bates Motel) also makes it difficult to view his character in a heroic light.

How about this for a curveball: the character who arguably forms the novel's secondary protagonist, Rusty Everett, is trapped outside the Dome in the TV version.

Actor Dean Norris proved on Breaking Bad that he possesses both charm and the capacity to strong-arm, two qualities integral to Dome arch-villain Jim Rennie.  But at the same time, Norris lacks the stature of King's Big Jim character, the overbearing presence and obviously overweight physique.

It's also readily apparent from the first episode that the novel's most offbeat character, Phil Bushey (a.k.a The Chef) has been reworked.  By thrusting Phil onstage from the get-go, the TV show also undercuts the mystique with which the novel carefully surrounds the figure.

Even more disconcerting, Sheriff Perkins is well aware of Rennie's shady business involving propane, and has turned a blind eye toward such endeavors.  This alone is guaranteed to skew the plot development of King's novel in dramatically different directions.

Julia Shumway is now a vivacious (yet apparently cheated-on) bride; Angie Mitchell is Joe McClatchey's sister (and Junior Rennie's captive rather than murder victim; Carolyn is part of a lesbian couple, with a drug-addict, teenage daughter who is a far cry from the endearing skater girl Norrie in the novel.  The drastic recasting of King's characters is as disorienting is as disorienting as it is disappointing (if it wasn't broke...).  I can understand the necessity of streamlining when translating a book into a movie, but the producers had the space of an ongoing TV series to work with here, making the radical alterations quite questionable.  One episode in, I'm already wondering if Under the Dome has been doomed by those up above.


Belinda Frisch said...

Your review might be the thing that has me reading the book, though I tend to find King overly verbose. Great comparison!

Joe Nazare said...

Thanks, Belinda. I definitely encourage you to tackle the novel. King's books in the latter half of his career do show signs of bloat, but _Under the Dome_ is a worthy epic.