I’ve been reading Stephen King books since I was in high school. I enjoyed the pacing and the plots, and I liked the way he scared me. But while I consistently enjoyed his novels and his short stories, I was less than impressed by most of the television and film adaptations of his work. Take Pet Sematary, for example. While it wasn’t a perfect book, it was genuinely scary and it had a FANTASTIC ending. Then compare that with the movie, which took those scary elements and tweaked them to make them more bloody, stripped away any layers of nuance the characters had, and took that fantastic ending and dumbed it down to a slack-jawed troglodyte level. And how about It? That was one of my favorite Stephen King books when I was growing up. That book had a great cast of characters, and I loved following them back and forth in their past and present timelines. The psychological level of terror was strong, but the terrifying moments were spaced throughout the book. You had to EARN those moments. You spent so much time getting to know those characters that when scary things happened to them and a monster preyed on their fears you CARED about them. And then I made the mistake of watching that TV movie starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown. And the movie was all BOO! CLOWN! BLOOD! BOO! CLOWN! BLOOD! BOO! CLOWN! BLOOD!
This is not to say that ALL movies and TV shows based on Stephen King stories are awful. I’m a big fan of The Shining, The Mist, Misery, and 1408. And then of course King has a much better track record with his non-horror stories that were adapted into films, like The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Stand by Me. I don’t know what’s to become of the Dark Tower series, which I have loved to pieces for many years and which was supposed to be adapted into a movie/TV project that fell through.
But enough talk of Stephen King’s successful film and TV adaptations. Let’s talk about the Bag of Bones miniseries instead.
Oh, and for the purposes of full disclosure I should tell you that I didn’t actually read the novel Bag of Bones. So I won’t be able to judge if the ridiculous aspects of the TV miniseries were based on the original source material or were part of the adaptation process. So now, on with the show …
Pierce Brosnan plays the kind of character who stars in a lot of Stephen King stories. That is, he plays a character who is a lot like Stephen King, i.e. a famous author who suffers from writer’s block. Brosnan is Mike Noonan, a man who loses his wife Jo when she is hit by a car, and her death begins the process of his mental unravelling. Not only has Mike lost his wife, but he’s lost his muse, the person who inspired him to write. Since he misses his wife and he finds himself unable to write, he decides to go to the family lakehouse where she had been spending a lot of her time (near the ominously-named Dark Score Lake, I might add). He hopes that going there will bring him closer to her, but he has no idea just HOW close they will be.
Dum – Dum – DUUUUUUUM!!!
So anyway, Mike starts seeing things, hearing things, and dreaming things that indicate that Jo isn’t really gone, after all. Some of these things are created very effectively and are quite unnerving. The whole thing with the letters on the refrigerator door, for example? REALLY creepy!!! Mike seems to be one of those people who is very open to the idea of ghosts. He talks out loud to his dead wife, and after asking her a question he says “… once for yes, twice for no.” When *spoiler alert* she starts using this system to answer him, he doesn’t really seem surprised and he spends a lot of time communicating with her this way. And when he learns that *spoiler alert* she’s not the only spirit hanging around, he doesn’t seem too surprised by that, either.
Highlights of the show include Pierce Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan, and Pierce Brosnan. Okay, this is not his best acting work, but come on! He’s PIERCE FRIGGING BROSNAN!
Other highlights include Caitlin Carmichael as a little girl whose life is in danger and Anika Noni Rose as a singer who mysteriously vanished in the 1930′s. Rose is already a seasoned singer in the movies, as she previously appeared in Dreamgirls (Yay!) and From Justin to Kelly (Hoo-Boy!) She is also an award-winning Broadway actress, which doesn’t erase From Justin to Kelly from her resume, but I’m sure it helps.
Highlights in terms of the plot are that there are quite a few genuinely scary and creepy moments, the setting is very atmospheric, and that Pierce Brosnan’s character gets to develop as a human being … while looking hot and making out with chicks.
Okay, but let’s get to those What the Ever-Loving Hell??? moments. Because there were quite a few of those.
There are WAY too many instances of people reacting half-way normally to things that would make any right-minded person run screaming out of the room. Phonograph I didn’t know existed suddenly starts playing all by itself? I’ll sit here and listen to it! My dead wife is trying to talk to me? I’ll talk back to her!
Characters seem to be strong or weak depending on when the script calls for it. Ditto with perceptive vs. blind, or smart vs. dumber than a bag of hammers.
There is a scary and suspenseful moment in this story that I would have liked a lot more … if I didn’t already experience something almost exactly like it in The Shining! Gah!!!
There was another point close to the end that made me laugh out loud and start yelling at the screen. Okay, without giving too much away, I’ll say this much … Person A does something to person B. Person C doesn’t go to punish Person A for this action right away. In fact, Person B and Person C end up having a conversation that is connected to what just happened. Then Person C goes to look for (and punish) Person A … WHO IS STILL STANDING RIGHT THERE. AS THOUGH WAITING FOR THE CONVERSATION TO BE OVER, RATHER THAN, YOU KNOW, RUNNING AWAY OR SOMETHING!
And then there are these two:
Okay, I know that our handsome hero needs evildoers to rail against. But these two characters were so rigidly, ridiculously, and one-dimensionally evil that I kept waiting for them to grow moustaches so that they could twirl them in tandem. I’m sorry, but Max Devore and his assistant Rogette make Boris and Natasha look like deeply nuanced characters.
Overall I would recommend the novel Bag of Bones before I would recommend the miniseries, and yes I’m saying that even though I didn’t read the book. But based on my experiences of reading Stephen King books and watching adaptations of his work, I’m going to make an educated guess that the book is better. However, the miniseries is worth watching for the scary bits, and also for Caitlin Carmichael, Anika Noni Rose, and Pierce “Shnoogums” Brosnan.