Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Under the Dome" On CBS: Looks Like a Prison, Might Actually Be a Watershed

Here it is 2012 -- December 2012! -- and do I have a flying car?

I do not.

Do I have a jetpack, or virtual reality, or interstellar exploration?  Not to any meaningful degree, no.  The future, to be blunt, is a bit of a disappointment.

And while we're on the subject of disappointing non-developments, where, pray tell, is that massive renaissance of movies based on Stephen King books?  It's been threatening to break out any moment now, and yet there is still only one -- ONE! -- new King movie that has actually gone before the cameras, despite the approximately 9019 of them that are in development.

Recent developments indicate that that all might be starting to come to an end, though.  There have been major announcements about Under the Dome and Mercy that indicate that those two projects are indeed moving forward, and who knows, maybe they augur that the dam is about to break wide open, and release a flood of King movies and television shows onto our screens.

No word on my flying car yet, though.

So let's talk about Under the Dome for a minute.  It's headed for CBS, and will be running on that network during the summer of 2013.  CBS greenlit the project straight to series, with a thirteen-episode order.  The idea seems to be that if it is successful, it can continue to a second season.

And there is where your worrying probably begins if you are a Stephen King fan.

Now, beware: there be spoilers ahead for those of you who have not read the novel.  If you want to skip ahead and remain blissfully ignorant about certain major aspects of the end of the novel, just scroll down until you find the next photo, and at that point you should be in safer waters.

We'll get to the spoilers momentarily, but first, let's deal with a few of the vital statistics pertaining to the upcoming series.  Firstly: it does not appear that King will be involved in any active sense.  Secondly: the series is being produced -- one suspects that this, too, will be with a minimum of active input -- by Steven Spielberg, who provided similar tutelage on the TNT summer series Falling Skies ... the quality of which I dearly hope will be significantly improved upon by Under the Dome.  Thirdly: the pilot episode was scripted by comics writer Brian K. Vaughan, pictured above.  Fourthly: the series will be overseen by Neal Baer, whose credits as a television producer include ER and Law & Order: SVU.  And fifthly (is that even a word?): the pilot episode will be directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who directed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that didn't star Daniel Craig.

Word is that Vaughan's screenplay retained the general conceit and many of the characters, but with tweaks.  Word also has it that the series will not necessarily be following the end of the novel, and while there are no details extant in terms of what, exactly, that means, I think we can do a bit of speculation.

First of all, let's address the origins of the dome.  Duck out now if you don't want to know.


It's aliens.  This revelation apparently divided readers quite severely.  One of my best friends is a reader of this blog, and is also a sometime reader of King, thanks to the Dark Tower books.  He liked the novel overall, but disliked the alien plotline rather intensely.  
I gather he is by no means alone in that regard, and I wonder if this is the aspect of the ending that CBS and company feel as if they can jettison.  I suspect it is not.  I'll be more specific about that, but let's briefly summarize what we're talking about.

Several of the characters find a piece of technology that they use -- mostly inadvertently -- to communicate with an alien intelligence, and they learn during the course of this that the dome is basically a science experiment being enacted upon the town by incredibly powerful alien children.  In a sense, it is the cosmic equivalent of burning ants with a magnifying glass.  Some readers found this cheesy, or hard to swallow.  Personally, I thought it was terrific.  At a certain point -- fairly early on, too -- in the novel, it became kind of apparent to me that alien technology was really the only possible explanation for the dome.  From that point, that was the explanation I had in my mind, although my expectation was that King was simply never going to provide an explanation at all, and allow the mystery to stay mysterious.

I suspect that this is the route the television series will take.  I suspect a lot of characters will mention aliens, and that that will be the operating theory put forth by most of the show's plausible characters.  However, I would guess that in order to keep things relatively grounded, we will never get those scenes involving the communication with the alien minds.

At a guess, I would imagine that the first season will instead find a way to forestall the worsening environmental conditions, and therefore permit the society inside the dome to continue to develop and either evolve or devolve, depending on what factions are able to control the situation.

What could a potential second season involve?  Impossible to say.  I've got a few ideas, but they all quickly devolve into fanfiction and are not worth getting into.  That's for professionals to do.  All I'll say is that I like the idea of never really quite resolving the matter of who or what is in control of the dome, and I also like the idea of ending the series on the note of the dome's disappearance.  A completely unexplained disappearance, one that is followed up by the coda of discovering that the entire country -- or, perhaps, the entire Earth -- is suddenly encased inside a much larger dome.

Just a thought.

I've seen from fellow King fans some fretting that it sounds as if the series will diverge from the novel too much, and my response to that is to be totally okay with it.  I like the novel.   I think it'd even be fair to say that I love it.  And yet, I do feel as if King muffed the ending a bit.  It can certainly be improved upon, and if Vaughan, Baer, and company are able to do so, then it won't bother me a bit.

Either way, I'm looking forward to it.  CBS is the most successful network in America, so if nothing else, it seems likely that Under the Dome will look great.

Shifting gears a bit, the other bit of recent King-movie news is that Mercy, the upcoming feature adaptation of the short story "Gramma," has landed its leads: Joel Courtney (who starred, as seen above, in Super 8) and Chandler Riggs, who co-stars as Carl on The Walking Dead.

I was skeptical when I heard that Mercy was going to have a pair of brothers as its characters.  "Gramma," after all, focuses on just one boy, and it is his isolation -- except for that horror of a grandmother -- that drives the story.

For a film, though, maybe it makes sense for there to be a pair of characters.  Otherwise, dialogue opportunities would probably be at a minimum.  I'm still suspicious that what is going to end up on the screen is going to be some prime SKINO (i.e., Stephen King In Name Only), but I have to admit, the casting works for me.  Courtney was excellent in Super 8, and Riggs has steadily been improving on The Walking Dead.  In fact, at some point this season it became evident that he was not only one of the show's consistent highlights, but that he was capable of holding his own in scenes against vastly more established stars like Andrew Lincoln and Scott Wilson.  That's no small feat; Riggs may be a big star in the making, and if The Dark Tower was going in front of cameras today, he'd probably be my first choice to play Jake Chambers.

No release date for Mercy yet, but with these two roles cast (plus Frances O'Connor as the boys' mother), the movie is obviously close to filming.  We'll see it sometimes in late 2013 would be my guess.  The movie will be directed by Peter Cornwell, who previously helmed The Haunting In Connecticut.


So, apart from Under the Dome and Mercy, what else in in the pipeline?

Well, obviously, we know about Kimberley Pierce's Carrie, which opens in March.  Let's run down the list, though, and take a look at other King projects that have been rumored to be in the works.

The Shining plus...

...prequel equals:

A prequel to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is said to be in the "we're considering it" phase at Warner Bros.  Allegedly, screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis was hired to come up with a treatment, which would presumably be about the early days of the Overlook and would not involve the Torrance family in any way.

It seems likely that Warner Bros. will encounter resistance on this from Stephen King, which is one thing; it also seems likely that Kubrick's estate will be nonplussed by the idea, which is another thing altogether.

My guess?  This project never gets made.

The Lawnmower Man plus...

...television series equals:

A proposed television series based on The Lawnmower Man -- the movie, as opposed to the short story -- was allegedly being developed, and was even pitched to potential investors at the Cannes Film Festival this past summer.  The lack of subsequent news probably tells you what you need to know about the odds of this ever seeing the light of day.

Who knows, though?  Speaking of prime SKINO, The Lawnmower Man went so far in that direction that King sued to have his name removed from the movie.  And yet, I don't think it's any more craven a cash-in on the King brand than is the current series Haven.  That, too, is prime SKINO.

To be honest, I can theoretically envision a quality television series being made from The Lawnmower Man.  The Flowers For Algernon ripoff elements could make for a good actor's showcase for a lead; the virtual reality elements could make for good cyberpunk sci-fi; the government-conspiracy elements could make for good procedural television.  As with all stories, the success hinges on how well the writers develop the characters and situations.  The Lawnmower Man is indeed a bad film, but its elements are fundamentally sound.  I see no reason why a good series could not theoretically result from a remake of it.

Do I expect that to happen?

I do not.

The Stand plus...

...Ben Affleck equals:

Something I very much would love to see happen, The Stand is famously in development at Warner Bros. for writer/director (and, presumably, star) Ben Affleck.  Thanks to movies like The Town and Argo, Affleck has recently become one of the top behind-the-camera talents in Hollywood.  You see his name pop up on virtually any list of big-ticket directors when a new tentpole film is put into the works at one of the major studios, and there's obviously a good reason for that: Affleck is, simply put, a gifted director.  He knows what works on film and what doesn't, and he has an impeccable sense of how to create realism onscreen without sacrificing the audience's ability to enjoy the movie he is giving them.

He's also a very good screenwriter, and remains a thoroughly solid actor whether he's in a lead role or a character role.

In sort, I think Affleck is a terrific choice to adapt The Stand.  He was recently quoted as saying that he was having a difficult time adapting the material, but that he likes the idea of making a Lord of the Rings type story set in America.  I like the idea that Affleck likes the idea, and that he is seemingly content to not push it through before it is ready; if he's willing to work the material for a while until it is just right for the screen, then the end result could well be a genuinely terrific piece of work.

Let's all keep out fingers crossed for that to happen.

It was reported in December of 2010 that a remake of Firestarter was in the planning stages, with an eye toward building a franchise out of the property.  Urgh...

As far as I can tell, there has been zero movement since then, which probably means that the project died on the vine.  However, Firestarter seems like one of the most remake-able of King's works, so it'll happen eventually.  Bet on it.

The Dark Tower plus...

...Ron Howard equals:

A still-gestating Dark Tower movie/television hybrid still seems to be at least a theoretical possibility as long as long as Ron Howard's interest holds up.  The last I heard, Javier Bardem had exited the project, possibly due to studio/investor concerns that he was too unfamiliar a name to hang a massive project like this on.  Supposedly, Russell Crowe had been approached to potentially take his place.

Since then, Bardem has gotten rave reviews in a little movie called Skyfall, which is currently on pace to gross a billion dollars worldwide, and which is -- even with inflation taken into account -- one of the three or four most successful James Bond movies in history.  That, my friends, is a very big hit indeed, so it is simple mathematics to state that way more people know who Javier Bardem is in December 2012 than was the case in December 2011.  I suspect that financing a big movie with him in the starring role is perhaps a bit easier now than it once would have been, and personally, I'd still love to see him play Roland Deschain.

Frank Darabont still owns the film rights to The Long Walk, so that might happen someday.

Producer Jason Blum -- who is also behind Mercy -- and director Scott Derrickson will be teaming up on an adaptation of The Breathing Method.  That novella is one of my favorite things King has ever written, and while its story is going to almost certainly be difficult to adapt well for the screen, I wish everyone involved well; I'd love to see it work.

No word yet on a release date; I suspect things won't ramp up on it until Mercy has finished production, but that's just me guessing.

Paramount has been mulling a remake of Pet Sematary for the better part of a decade now.  Way back in 2006, it was rumored that George Clooney was interested in the project.  That seems to have never borne fruit, nor did the rumor in summer 2011 that Alexandre Aja was climbing on board as director.  (Aja, by the way, is currently filming the movie version of Horns, a novel by Stephen King's son Joe Hill.)

One thing is for sure: this is a remake that will happen eventually.  I'm encouraged that Paramount hasn't rushed it into production; I'd rather they take their time and produce a quality movie, which could easily rank as one of the most disturbing movies ever released by a major studio, provided they capture enough of the tone of the novel.

I can't say this with any certainty, but I think Steven Spielberg still owns the rights to the King/Straub novel The Talisman.  I'd wager that the odds of Spielberg directing it himself evaporated twenty years ago or more, but that doesn't mean he couldn't still produce it someday.  Given how popular the notion of young-adult fantasy is right now, it amazes me somewhat that a two-picture adaptation hasn't already been put into production.

I'm not a big fan of the novel, though, so if it never happens, it won't break my heart.

In April of this year, SyFy announced plans to turn The Eyes of the Dragon into a movie, or a miniseries, or something.

Since then, nothing much seems to have happened.  Remember a few years back, circa 2003, when there was talk that an animated adaptation was being developed?  Nothing ever came of that one, either.  I'm no bigger a fan of this book than I am of The Talisman, so really, I'm not terribly bothered by the fate of this one.

"The Monkey" plus...

..."The Reaper's Image" plus...

... "N." plus...

... Mark Pavia equals:

The Reaper's Image, an anthology-style adaptation of the three above King stories.  I am a fan of Mark Pavia's King adaptation The Night Flier, and I definitely hope to see his anthology movie get off the ground.  The screenplay is apparently finished, and the project is being shopped to investors.

Speaking of anthology films, it seemed a few years back that Creepshow was going to be subjected to the remake treatment.  It was not clear whether this meant it would literally be remade, or if it instead -- as seems more likely -- meant that Warner Bros. was simply going to take the title and concept and run with it without worrying much about King and Romero and the EC connection.

As long as the result was better than the abysmal SKINOrific mess that is Creepshow III -- as SKINO as SKINO gets -- then I'd consider it a win.

Either way, nothing much seems to have happened with this one lately.

"The Reach" was being shopped to directors and investors at Cannes this past summer by a couple of producers who apparently hold the rights to it.  Nothing much seems to have come of that, not so far as has been made public, at least.

Director Cary Fukunaga was announced as the helmer for an ambitious two-part feature adaptation of It this past June.  It is my favorite King novel; I'd love to see a great big-budget version of that book on cinema screens, and the idea of turning it into a pair of features has a lot of potential.

I can't help but feel as though it would be better-suited to HBO or Showtime or AMC, though.  It couldn't be an open-ended series, but I guarantee you that HBO could get twenty episodes or so out of it.

I think that's be my preferred method of adaptation, but if Fukunaga can make it work on the big screen, that'd be fine by me, too.

Director Tom Holland is putting together a movie version of "The Ten O'Clock People" from the above collection, which is supposedly going to star Rachel Nichols and (possibly) Justin Long.  I like Nichols; I like Long; I like the story; I like Holland's film Fright Night.

I loathe Holland's two King movies, Thinner and The Langoliers.

I'd just as soon this one never happen, since the odds of it being good are about one in ten.

A bit over a year ago, Variety reported that a movie version of Rose Madder had received financing and would be going into production within eighteen months.

Clock is ticking, folks.

This novel is one of my least-favorite King works.  I'll be happy to watch a movie version, but if I never get the opportunity, I'll shed no tears over it.

Back in October, it was announced that John Cusack would star in the movie version of Cell.  No director is attached, but the screenplay was apparently co-written by King himself.

With all the zombie love out there, does this one not seem like it would be a slam dunk?

"A Good Marriage" was also, apparently, scripted by King himself, this time for director Peter Askin and star Joan Allen.  This news broke in September, but has seemingly progressed no further since, leading this blogger to wonder what is going on.  Might there be a specific male star they are waiting to become available?  Is there financing trouble?  Does it have something to do with the upcoming Mayan doomsday?

Beats me, but this one needs to happen.  I know nothing of Peter Askin, but Joan Allen would absolutely crush this role.

And, finally, there's Jonathan Demme's 11/22/63, which seems to be going nowhere.  Fine by me; it's too big a novel to adapt as a single movie without cutting out enormous chunks of it.  Hand that sucker over to television, folks; you'll get better results, guaranteed.

[UPDATE:  A couple of days after I published this post, the word broke that Jonathan Demme had allowed his option on 11/22/63 to lapse due to not being able to see eye-to-eye with King over what to cut from the story and what to keep.  I'm telling you: television.  This can't be done as a single movie, unless you go the three-hour route; and even then, it might be tricky.]


Which of these projects seems most likely to actually end up getting made?  Which seem destined to fall into the same pile as George Romero's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and never get made at all?

Impossible to say what the future holds.  But I'm sure we're not done seeing King movies and television productions, and the good news is that a lot of these projects have at least hypothetical pedigree.  Some do not, of course, but that's always been a part of the King universe, and probably always will be.

I say bring it all on.  The wheat and the chaff will sort themselves, and if I've got to tolerate a bit of chaff in order to get to the wheat, I'm okay with that.


  1. Actually, I kind of like the idea of The Stand as a TV series, maybe starring Gary Sinise as Flagg this time.

    In a way it is doable. The book has like three or four sections, that means three or four workable seasons for each section of the book.

    It could start ou with a two hour premiere In which we introduce maybe Stu, Campion, Project Blue and it's personnel along with a few ominous hints of Flagg.

    We could introduce the other characters during the premiere, yet I wonder if the the first episode should maybe be devoted to Stu and the collapse of the town of Arnette, Texas and introduce the other characters by giving them their own episodes centered around themselves, episode two, Frannie, ep. 3, Larry, 4, Nick with maybe a hint of Mother Abigail, 5 Poke and Loyd etc, 6 back to Stu.

    The season one finale could be the intercut stories of all the characters that chronicles the end of the pre-plague world and ends with like the miniseries with Stu escaping Project Blue and the start of the post plague world.

    Just a thought.

    My only wish would be that some kind of Dark Tower reference be thrown in somewhere, something that would connect or let the die hard fans know, or have an implication that The Stand world is really Mid-World.

    I still say that theory makes more sense than any other.


    1. "The Stand" could definitely work as a television series. I'd love to see that.

      As long as Mick Garris is nowhere around when it happens...

  2. Cell is such a no-brainer. I can't believe that hasn't been made and re-made twice by now. I look forward to that.

    All of these would be fun to see. I really hope The Long Walk materializes.

    I don't think that Shining prequel will ever happen, either, but I didn't have the immediate-resistance to the idea that most had. It's understandable to groan at the news, don't get me wrong, but a haunted-hotel anthology type of series COULD be fun for about ten episodes or so. Maybe even sensational. Who knows? It'd probably come across as a second-rate American Horror Story, or, worse, like the mini-series, with ghosts in bad make-up moving furniture around, but there's potential there.

    Although, if it ever does materialize, it'd likely take up room on the SKINO shelf next to Children of the Corn: Urban Harvest or Haven or whatever.

    Looking forward to the Reaper's Image, as well. Did you read Bev Vincent's interview with Pavia in the latest Screem? I've got it but haven't looked at it yet. (The format for that magazine is kinda low-rent; I sympathize but it's never a must-read for me. The best-looking sections are always the ads in the middle.)

    1. I bought one issue of Screem, because it allegedly had an interview with King in it. The interview was the tritest thing I have ever read.

      The magazine itself is indeed extremely low-rent. It feels more like a high-rent fanzine to me. I considered buying the issue you refer to, but there is just too much competition for my dollars right now.

  3. I'm currently on #16 of your suggested Dark Tower reading order, and while Rose Madder wasn't great, I always thought it make a good movie for some reason. By the way, thanks for that list, after 11/22/63 I decided to get back into King by going into the Dark Tower series for the first time, i stumbled upon your blog before I started, and have been going non-stop ever since. Good Work!

    1. Thanks a lot, Jeremy! That means a lot to me.

      I'm not a fan of "Rose Madder," but it could definitely make for a good movie, if it was adapted well.