Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Under the Dome 1.01: "Pilot"

I have occasionally had people accuse me of being overly critical when it comes to movies and tv shows and books and whatnot.  I've never felt as if it was a fair accusation, nor an accurate one, and in my defense I would paraphrase something a friend of mine once said: "hey," he said, "I never sit down to watch a movie hoping it will suck..."  Me neither; I always want to see something good, especially when it's based on a book by my favorite writer.

Let's bear that thought in mind over the course of this review.





First of all, let me clarify: I am not saying that the first episode of Under the Dome sucked.  That was an unfair trick for me to play.

But while I certainly wouldn't say that it sucked, I'd be a stone-cold liar if I said I actually liked it.  I kinda didn't.  I'm feeling some ambivalence about it; there were some things I liked, some things I disliked, and some things that just made me shrug.  We'll cover all of that, so needless to say, there will be spoilers.  And don't assume your knowledge of the novel will prevent you from being spoiled; it will not.
  
Let's work our way down from the top:


Mike Vogel as Barbie

I was really hoping that the series would sidestep the whole "Barbie" thing.  I loathed that nickname in the novel, and I am bummed out to see that it survives intact into the series (where so many changes have been made and this could so easily have been one of them).  In fact, I think Barbie may be referred to only as Barbie in this episode.  He tells Julia his name; she shoots him a quizzical glance, and he says "It's a nickname," with no further explanation given or sought.  Mmm-kay, then...
 
Nickname issues aside, Vogel makes a good Barbie.  The series adds a major wrinkle to his character right up front: one of the very first things we see is Barbie burying a body in the woods.  Afterward -- before the dome descends -- he is on the phone talking to somebody about a deal of some sort having gone badly wrong.  We are clearly meant to think that Barbie has some sort of creepy agenda.
 
The (potential) problem with this is that Vogel is a fairly earnest, clean-cut presence, despite his lack of grooming and the cut above his eye.  He does not in any way project criminality, so I'm not sure how realistic it is that we are being asked to buy into Barbie in that way.  I'm willing to concede that this might be some of my bias from having read the novel creeping in; if this element of the show is handled well, it will be a nonissue, so let's hope that it's handled well.
 
Aside from that concern, Vogel is good in the role.  He seems competent, capable of taking charge, and charismatic, and it was probably these qualities that -- as you may or may not recall, depending on your level of Trekkiedom -- had him very close to being cast as James T. Kirk for Star Trek director J.J. Abrams.  I think Abrams made the right choice -- the actor he cast, Chris Pine, is a born movie star -- but it's clear that Vogel did not end up in contention for that role accidentally; he's got the goods.  Under the Dome will presumably be a good showcase for him going forward.
 
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned Barbie's real name.  It's no secret in the novel, but I've determined that to the extent I can possibly do so, I am going to treat the series on its own terms and leave the novel behind. That's not to say I won't occasionally go on a "why'd-they-do-this-instead-of-this?!?" rant; I reserve the right to do so.  But I'm going to try not to, and I'm also going to try not to spoil any future developments for the series; spoiling such potential developments simply because they are in the book seems like bad form, even on a King-centric blog like this one.  So, here's my resolution: I'm going to do my level best to pretend I'm watching this show with no knowledge of the source material.
 
I doubt I'll be 100% successful in that regard, but I can try.  And divulging Barbie's name is something I think I can manage to not do.


Rachelle Lefevre as Julia Shumway


With the possible exception of Vogel, I'd say the cast member who most stands to boost their profile thanks to this series is Rachelle Lefevre.  She plays reporter Julia Shumway, who is (amusingly, and not incorrectly) told by an old lady early in the episode that most people get their news from the Internet.  Sick burn, old lady.  Nevertheless, Julia is evidently the editor of a newspaper called the Independent.  When first we meet her, she is investigating some suspicious shipments of propane which have been rolling into the town (Chester's Mill) lately.
 
Will this plot point end up being important in any way?  Surely not, right...?
 
Lefevre is, obviously, an extremely attractive woman, and if there is any surer way of becoming a star than being an extremely attractive woman, I don't know what it is.  But Lefevre also projects a great deal of intelligence (a quality that, based on interviews with her I've seen recently, she possesses in ready quantity), and seems capable of subtlety; you don't always get these things from exceptionally attractive actors (male or female), so it's nice to see that she's got it all covered.
 
Lefevre is best known as the actress from the first two Twilight movies who was replaced for the third.  The story goes that her shooting schedule on an independent film overlapped -- by a whopping ten days -- with the shooting schedule for Twilight.  This apparently was enough to get her replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard, much to the consternation of Twihards around the globe.
 
In any case, that's what happened, and Lefevre has presumably been dealing with the fallout ever since.  If Under the Dome manages to become a hit, it will undoubtedly help to put that incident behind her, and based on this episode, if the series fails it will not be due to her performance.
 
Massive spoiler on the way, kids; to give you some breathing space in case you want to avoid it, here's a video of Rachelle Lefevre from some Fox sitcom:





Hmm.
 
Anyways, here comes the spoiler: we find out toward the end of the episode that Julia's husband -- a doctor who has been missing in action since the dome descended -- was the dead man Barbie was burying.  We find this out at the same time Barbie finds it out: when he sees a photo of the two of them together.
 
This will undoubtedly serve to complicate the dynamic between Barbie and Julia at some point down the line.  It's a good reveal, easily one of the best moments in the episode as far as I'm concerned.


Dean Norris as "Big Jim" Rennie


Dean Norris -- who is most famous as Hank on Breaking Bad, but is also notable 'round these parts for a bit role in The Lawnmower Man -- plays "Big Jim" Rennie, a used-car salesman who also appears to be a city councilman.  When the dome descends, he springs into action like a born leader, commandeering a local radio station to make an announcement urging people to pull their cars over immediately.  (Evidently everyone in Chester's Mill suffers from advanced iPod fatigue.)
 
Rennie also seems to be set up as a shady character of some sort.  He has a conversation with the sheriff in which he reveals that he is behind the stockpiling of petroleum; there can be no squeaky-clean explanation for that, can there?
 
Norris was one of the elements of the show I was most looking forward to here.  The jury is still out on whether The Truth Inside The Lie approves of his performance, though; he's more than a bit hammy in a couple of scenes, although he's also quite good in others.  It's a nuanced performance; I'm just not sure I like each one of the shades he brings.


Jeff Fahey as Duke


Jeff Fahey -- the Lawnmower Man himself -- plays Duke, the town Sheriff, who gets shot at the end of the episode.
 
Here's where I'm going to break my own oath almost immediately, and reveal some knowledge from the book.  In the book, he is not shot; he is standing by the dome, the energy from which causes his pacemaker to explode, killing him.
 
And in fact, I believe that is what we are supposed to think happens in the episode.  But the way the scene is filmed and edited, it looks an awful lot like Duke is shot from behind, and I'd be willing to bet you money that a lot of people who watched the show with no knowledge of the book took the scene that way, and assume one of the show's mysteries will be finding out who shot and/or killed the sheriff.  (It is not certain that he's dead on the show; time will tell.)  
  
This scene is one of several that simply aren't handled very well.  One of my major complaints about the episode is that it feels like television, by which I mean that it feels a little cheap, a little rushed, and a little restrained.  The best television no longer feels like that.  Right before watching this episode, I watched the season finale of Mad Men, which felt cinematic as hell (arthouse-cinematic, but cinematic nevertheless).  Any given episode of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or Hannibal or even The Walking Dead feels twice as expansive as this episode of Under the Dome.  That'd be one thing if Under the Dome were airing on Syfy.  It isn't.  It's airing on CBS, the most successful network of them all.  So why does this episode feel as if there probably weren't more than a couple of takes of any given scene?  Why are so may of the shots poorly-framed?
 
Qualities like that lead to scenes in which characters whose pacemakers are exploding out of their chests look, instead, as if they have been shot from behind by a firearm of some sort.  Scenes like that lead to confused viewers, and confused viewers lead to viewers who change the channel.  Count on it: there will be a scene next week in which someone divulges that the sheriff's pacemaker exploded, and X-thousand people watching will go, "Huh?!?  I thought he got shot!"  They'll be confused and/or annoyed, and they will change the channel to watch Duck fucking Dyansty or some other bullshit.
 
Clarity matters, folks.  Always.  [UPDATE:  A second viewing of the episode has me feeling better about this scene.  I think it will still confuse some, but in giving the ep a second look I think there was probably sufficient attention paid to Duke's "bum ticker" that most viewers will likely have figured out that his heart has just exploded.  In other words: you're wrong, past Bryant!  Wrong!]
 
Anyways, Jeff Fahey is good, because he's always good, and he appears to be getting short shrift, because he always gets short shrift.


Natalie Martinez and some dude


Natalie Martinez plays Linda, who is Jeff Fahey's deputy, or partner, or something.  She's a cop, and her fireman boyfriend is stuck on the other side of the dome.
 
Her character gets very little to do in this episode except stand by the wall of the dome looking concerned, but I have to say, Martinez does that extremely well.  She one of those actors who is capable of looking like she's thinking; consequently, even when the screenplay is giving her nothing to do except stand around looking worried, she manages to suggest an interior life for her character.  As a result, she seems like a real person, and not like an actor standing around waiting to eat a bagel.
 
I look forward to seeing more of Linda in the weeks to come.


Colin Ford as Joe McAllister

Colin Ford plays Joe, a teenager who is in a cow pasture with Barbie when the dome descends.  They see an airplane crash into the dome, and the wreckage falls down in their vicinity.  In a particularly shoddy bit of directing, Joe just stands right there under the flaming wreckage as it descends toward him.  Presumably this is so Barbie can push him out of the way and save his life, therefore giving people a reason to think of Barbie as a hero.  Instead, it makes Joe look like a moron; not as big a moron as Charlize Theron at the end of Prometheus, failing to duck a spaceship that falls out of the sky and begins rolling toward her . . . but close.
 
That said, Ford is pretty good in the role.  He does a good job of seeming like he isn't strictly a nerdy hoodie-wearing teenager, which is basically all the screenplay calls on him to be.


Alexander Koch as Junior


One of the casting choices that did not work for me at all was Alexander Koch as Junior.  He feels as if he walked straight off the set of Gossip Girl or some other shitty CW show and onto this series.  Again, this might be my bias for the novel peeking through; Koch doesn't give a bad performance, he simply isn't what I had in mind.  To me, Junior needed to be played by someone a bit more in the Aaron Paul vein, who could be charming at one moment and terrifying at the next.  Koch does not immediately persuade me that he is either of those things, much less both.  It's only the first episode, though, so maybe things will improve.
 
Readers of the novel will be completely unsurprised to find out who Junior's father is, but it appears that the series itself is structured in such a way as to make it very surprising indeed when Big Jim is revealed to be the senior to Junior's junior.  The reveal had no impact on me, on account of how I already knew it; but I think most people will get a good solid jolt out of seeing these two unsavory characters connected in that way.  I think they will sense that there is a lot of potential in that relationship, and they are probably correct about that.
 
[UPDATE:  A second viewing also has me feeling much more kind toward Koch's performance.  He has a few moments of genuine menace, and if the story goes where it seems to be going -- i.e., where it goes in the books -- then he may end up making a fine Junior.  Maybe even better than that.  We'll see.]


Britt Robertson as Angie


Britt Robertson, who looks a bit like Jennifer Lawrence, plays Angie.  Angie is Joe's older sister, and she's also Junior's fuck-buddy.  She seems content to be merely a fuck-buddy, too, whereas Junior wants more out of the relationship.  And if he has to lock her in a disused fallout shelter to make that happen, well, so be it.
 
Angie is another of the characters I responded to in this episode.  Part of that is because she is being played by a sexy woman, but not all of it; Robertson has a wryness and a sort of weird intensity that I found to be kinda compelling.  I didn't particularly like the way Junior was portrayed, but Angie herself makes me interested in this plotline.  Junior claims to know what's really going on, and he claims that it has something to do with Angie.  I've read the novel, so I know what it has to say -- or not say -- on that subject; but I have no idea how the series will be handling that plot, and I'm curious to see where it goes.
 
Elsewhere in the episode:

  • Samantha Mathis and Aisha Hinds play a married couple who are passing through town with their daughter, Norrie (played by Mackenzie Lintz, who appeared in The Hunger Games).  Norrie has a seizure, and begins repeating the phrase "the pink stars are falling in lines."  Later in the episode, Joe also falls down, seizure-struck, and he also begins saying "the pink stars are falling in lines."  What does this mean?  I dunno, but it's pretty cool.  Speaking of cool, Samantha Mathis previously appeared in the remake of Salem's Lot (which was terrible but not because of her).  As for Aisha Hinds, she has been on several good/notable genre shows, such as the little-seen-but-excellent Invasion, the greatly-seen-but-terrible True Blood, and the little-seen-but-decent Dollhouse.  She played strong roles in each, and I like her.  She recently had a tiny role in Star Trek Into Darkness; she was the bald lady on the bridge who took over for Chekov.
  • Nicholas Strong and Jolene Purdy play Phil and Dodee, who work at the seemingly-thriving Chester's Mill radio station.  Phil is the DJ and Dodee is . . . an assistant of some sort, I guess.  Both characters annoyed me, although I think I might be responding less to them than to the idea that a small town like Chester's Mill would have a thriving radio station.  And let's be clear: I'm not saying such a thing is impossible.  But in 2013, the idea doesn't quite play.
  • The special effects are a mixed bag.  The dome itself is very cool; it is invisible, so the series is going to have to rely on "showing" it by showing things that were cut in half by it, some of which are now leaning against one side of it or the other.  There is also some strong use of sound design to indicate that neither side can hear what's on the other.  But back to the effects: there is a moment early on in which a cow is cut in half -- the long way, too -- by the dome when it descends.  The two halves then slump to the ground.  This is one of the worst effects I have seen in recent memory; it is, simply, awful.  No blood spurts anywhere, which surely would happen to a suddenly-bifurcated bovine.  I could theoretically chalk that up to cauterization (of the sort that would happen if you sliced a cow into two parts with, say, a lightsaber), but I don't that I can excuse the extent to which the two cow halves look like the inside of a sectioned raspberry donut.
  • The score is by television W.G. "Snuffy" Walden, who is probably best known as the composer for The West Wing and the television version of Friday Night Lights.  King fans may know him as the composer for The Stand.  His work here is solid, but unmemorable; not an unusual state of affairs for a television score.
  • The director, Niels Arden Oplev, directed the original version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Having never seen that, I have only this pilot episode to base his talent on, and I'm mostly unimpressed.  I could not shake the feeling that the framing of shots was perpetually a bit out of whack, almost as though filming was so rushed that Oplev had to content himself with merely plunking the camera down haphazardly.  And perhaps that is exactly the case; television can certainly be prone to being rushed from a filming standpoint.  But, again, in an era where Breaking Bad can pull off a convincing train heist episode, I don't know that there is a persuasive reason for me to pull my punches when an episode of a show feels rushed.  This isn't 1993; we don't make those kind of concessions anymore for television, at least not on this blog.

The final element to be discussed, I guess, is the screenplay by Brian K. Vaughan.  I find that I don't have a whole heck of a lot to say about it.  My inclination is to simply compare/contrast it with the novel, but I've stated an intention to avoid doing that, so where does that leave us?
 
I guess what I'm assessing is whether Vaughan did a good job of setting the show's various pieces in motion within this pilot episode.  And I think I think that he did.  I'll have a better handle on that once the season is concluded, but by making a set of educated guesses, I think I see where Vaughan is planning to steer the show over these thirteen episodes.  He also tossed at least two genuine surprises into the mix, though, and as a result, what the episode leaves me with is a mix of confidence in where the story will go combined with a sense that I might be dead wrong . . . and wrong in potentially satisfying ways.
 
Normally, I would probably be crowing about how good a situation that is for a pilot.  So why am I not doing that?  I think it's because the production itself is a slight letdown.  Some of the casting doesn't work for me (although most does), and a lot of the staging doesn't work for me.  That is not unheard of for pilots, though, and if we find that subsequent episodes are more confidently directed, I think we might be on solid ground.
 
So, for now, I'm cautiously optimistic, but from a standpoint of not having been overly impressed by the first episode.
 
Tune in next week, and we'll see how -- or if -- the second episode improves.
 
Hopefully, I'll have reviews of both Ghost Brothers of Darkland County and Hard Listening for you before then.  Either way, see ya in a week!

29 comments:

  1. Well, it wasn't the Lost pilot, was it?

    I hear you on clarity. In the scene with Samantha Mathis and Aisha Hinds, it sounded to me like one of them admonished the daughter for "knocking someone up." I was watching live, so I couldn't rewind and am sure I misheard, but that took me out.

    (This couple is an invention of the series, right? I don't remember them. Are they compartmentalized characters? Maybe of Thurston Marshall and Carolyn Sturges?)

    It's difficult to tell whether having read the book and expecting it I just assumed his pacemaker exploded out of his chest - it was forecast enough - or if it was truly unclear.

    The changes from the book are substantial. I guess we'll see how it plays out whether or not they work for me or not. I think this could have been more of a grand slam than it was. As it is, I'd say it's either a single or a double, but it definitely got on base for me.

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    1. I believe the couple is indeed an invention of the series. My memory of the book is too slippery for me to be sure, though.

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    2. I just read it and I am pretty sure they are made up for the series.

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  2. I haven't read the book since 09 when it came out, so I don't remember much....but I, like bmcmolo, assumed it was the pacemaker exploding. They did lead up to it enough for you to know what's going on.
    And i just love Jeff Fahey. Funny thing is that I didn't realize he is The Lawnmower Man. I suppose I try to put that movie as far behind me as possible. Most awful thing that it is. I just think of him as the helicopter pilot from LOST.
    i enjoyed the 1st episode, but I have a good ability to separate book from tv/movie, and watch as is. :)

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    1. Fahey is great, isn't he? How is it that that guy never became a bigger star?

      He'd be a great choice to play Roland's father when and if those movies ever happen.

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    2. I agree about Fahey too! I always love when he pops up in a movie or a show. He just has this sexy look!

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    3. I was bummed he didn't get used more on "Lost." He was great on that show.

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  3. Well, my take on it is, as always, based on story first, last and always, and on that score, while also comparing it with the novel, my verdict is:

    Oh, THANK HEAVEN!

    True, it is a bit early to get enthusiastic about anything, yet for me, most of the changes I'm okay with, even the idea of how they introduce the character of DB, and I'm also pleased with the 180 they do with the character of Phil, who I hope the show will get more use out of (though I wouldn't be surprised if he winds up the same as a similar DJ character in The Stand).

    I have always felt the story in the Dome was flawed, feeling both rushed and ready to pour on the deaths left and right like a giddy kid setting off fire crackers without knowing where he's going.

    The tv series, by comparison, somehow manages to be more even yet fast paced at the same time, and bear in mind it's just the first episode, so we'll have to see how it all plays out, but so far things are more or less in working order with the show for me; I also think they got the character of Junior pretty much as I saw him in the novel.

    As to the big reveal of this episode, the nature and purpose behind the dome.

    Well, from what I can tell so far, they're saying "the gov'ment done it!" I don't know for certain if that's what's implied, by the sherrif's final lines seem to imply good ol' Uncle Sucker might know a thing or two about this.

    How can we be sure that guy who was told to call FAA ever got through, maybe the feds just showed up on their own after some sort of prearranged signal.

    Still, time will tell on all this.

    As for the visuals, I wrote what wound up a four part comment on this link from Talk Stephen King that goes a fair way to explaining my thoughts on the limits of visuals in storytelling (you may have to scroll down a bit in order to get the comments):

    http://talkstephenking.blogspot.com/2013/06/doctor-sleep-trailer.html

    For all that, the jury is still, of necessity, out on the whole in regards to the series, I mean can I say this may all turn out right, no, not really. I just think it works for the most part, however whether it winds up that way still remains to be seen.

    ChrisC

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    1. I assumed Barbie told the guy to call the FAA so that they could immediately establish a no-fly zone around the town and keep any other planes from smacking themselves into pieces against the dome. I didn't get a sense that the show was trying to set up an implication that the government was complicit in the events. I could be wrong, though.

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  4. One of the (many) things that bothered me about the show:

    Barbie is no longer the classic King everyman. Instead, he's some sort of...what? Hitman? I don't see the point in sacrificing this element of the novel just to create a little more dramatic tension among the characters. A dome just descended on the town! You don't have to add any more drama to that.

    One (potentially) interesting thing about the show:

    The residents are completely cut off from the outside world. In the book, communication (by cell phone, I believe) was still possible. So far, it appears the characters are truly on their own. This adds a new dimension to the power struggle that will surely play out over the season.

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    1. I think the show wants you to think Barbie killed the man he is burying...but I wouldn't necessarily assume that's what happened. I'm very curious to see how that story plays out.

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  5. We are of a mind on this except the death of Duke. I saw blood on the front of his shirt, but not his back. Maybe I missed something, but I took his death to be just as it was in the book.

    I didn't like the fact that they made Duke complicit in what is to be revealed.

    I thought Junior was horribly cast.

    There is room for it to get better and for those who did not read the novel, it's all probably very interesting.

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    1. If you notice there is no blood on the back of his shirt, you might put two and two together pretty easily. I think the problem -- if it even IS a problem -- is that the effect looks as if it was created with the same sort of squib fx men have been using for gunshots for decades. So maybe that triggered the thought in my mind. I feel certain it will have done the same in other minds, too.

      Like you say, I still think there is a lot of potential here. I like the novel, but I had some major problems with it, and if the series is able to nullify most or all of those, it could end up being great.

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    2. By the way, I watched the episode a second time, and I think in retrospect that I probably overreacted to the pacemaker explosion scene. I think it probably WAS set up well enough to avoid confusing almost everyone.

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  6. It's taken me just about either today or yesterday to even think to ask this question: where do you supposed the series fits in to the overall King Canon?

    My own way of thinking at it is a bit involved, and has to do with several criteria.

    First off is the fact that, by and large unconsciously, though sometimes deliberate, King has gone the Tolkien route and created a whole entire world, one modeled more on EC comics rather than Norse and Anglo-Saxon myths; and also that he places a fictional version of himself in that world, and that there seem to be other worlds within that main fictional world.

    The second criterion is literary quality, pure and simple, drawn from his best work as illustrative of the standards he holds himself to and to which he ought to be held, standards that I think help connect him to all the great writers of the past, many of them not just horror or fantasy writers.

    There is a third criterion, narrative consistency. Tolkien was a stickler for it, as witnessed to his appendices, indexes and even bloody lexicons! While some may argue it as overkill, I think if some level of consistency is established, the author owes to his craft as much as the audience to figure out whether or not he's established rules for his newly created world, and what they are. This criterion is actually Tolkien's now I think of it.

    To begin with the first criterion, the fact that King has a make believe of himself in his fiction offers an interesting limited level of flexibility regarding the nature of his other works.

    For instance, most of his books are connected to one another because Tolkien-esque world building. He has however written a few short stories and novels with little or no connection whatever. Also, in the orginal Dome novel, King makes mention of the Darabont film of The Mist, indicating some connection with himself as an author in some way.

    This sort of leads me to the second criterion of quality.

    To be continued.

    ChrisC

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    1. As to quality, I've made no secret I regard Dome as one of his clunkers for various reasons, character flatness and lack of development, too many sub-plots that go nowhere, a cop out ending etc.

      The second criterion leads neatly into the third of consistency. I don't know what many will think of this, yet to me, it seems more like King violated the rules set down so far by the majority of his fiction which, loosely stated, is that the horrors always remain hidden and under the radar of the great majority of the fictional people in the King-verse, only showing themselves to a few at a time, and that mainly because a few happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      The more I think this element over, the more I it might actually be older than King, that it might be an old folklore motif, i.e. the one about the Elves never showing themselves except on certain occasions or to a chosen few. It's a motif T.A. Shippey says Tolkien was familiar with from his book Author of the Century, and one he drew on for his Middle Earth Elves.

      A similar principle seems to be at work with King's ghosts and monsters. If so, then he is working within the bounds of the folklore tradition, and unfortunately by bringing it all out in the open with the Dome, he's spoiling what Tolkien might call the "Enchantment" of the whole thing.

      As it turns out, there's a book by Heidi Stregnall called "Dissecting Stephen King" featuring a chapter called "Myths and Fairy Tales in King's work" where she neatly outlines just how King works in the same tradition as Tolkien.

      It all neatly lends credence to the second criterion of quality, and how King's best work is part of a larger tradition of other authors.

      All of which neatly leads back to the first criterion, the nature of his fictional universe and UTD's place in it.

      To be continued.

      ChrisC

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    2. The nature of King's world is a topic I've brought up elsewhere, however a very recent real big help in clarifying all this for me has been Joe Hill.

      N0s402 is well written, if slightly flawed, great read (biggest flaw: Needs more Christmasland). In that book, Hill uses a phrase that I've since found helpful in terms of places like Mid-world or Booya Moon: the phrase is Inscape.

      While technically it's phrase belonging to poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hill uses it in his book to denote the idea of imaginary worlds brought to life, and even lists Mid-world in that same category in N0s402 along with a brief mention of Derry Maine, thereby effectively solving a whole load of continuity issues.

      All of which should draw attention to the fictional version of King and the character's relation to the real authors more unconnected stories, and his referencing them in his connected stories.

      My way of looking at Under the Dome is simple. While the book and author are both very real, in terms of his fictional world, I prefer to look at it as a book in that fictional world, rather than as the story of an event happening in that fictional world. In other words, I choose to treat a real book as if it were written by a fictional version of the author in that same fictional world.

      Everything was kind of making sense until that last paragraph, wasn't it?

      To be fair, it all is just an imaginative game, I know the book is real and so is it's writer, yet I'm also convinced it's a game the real author himself made possible by having a fictional version of himself and some of his own books in his imaginary world.

      By doing this, King seems to be playing an interesting sort of literary game with his readers, one that maybe started out as just a reference joke that seems to have grown into a kind of meta-fictional meditation on art and real life and how the two are thought of, a game Hill seems to continue in his books.

      I think it's also a game their readers can play, if you've a mind to engage any text of literature directly.

      That's really all it is, just a slightly amusing literary mind game, the kind writers like Borgias and Carroll might have enjoyed during a slow day at the keyboard/writing desk, one pretty darn similar to the games little kid play, now I think of it.

      All of which is by way of explaining I prefer to treat a failed novel like it was a knock-off of the same fictional version of the author found in the Tower books, and maybe extend the same imaginat In terms of his real canon, I'd call it (say sorry, yet it's true) a failure, and that pretend game seemed like the only way of salvaging it in terms of canon.

      As for Doctor Sleep?

      I don't really consider that part of King's or anyone's canon, to tell the truth.

      Those last two sentences were the only ones that made sense, weren't they? Oh dear.

      ChrisC

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    3. "the horrors always remain hidden and under the radar of the great majority of the fictional people in the King-verse, only showing themselves to a few at a time, and that mainly because a few happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time"

      An interesting point, but I don't entirely agree with it. For one thing, it presupposes that Under the Dome is a horror novel. It isn't. It's a science fiction novel, and so it stands to reason that some of the storytelling rules would be different. You can go back as far as Carrie and find another example of the same sort of thing in King's work; that, too, is a sci-fi novel (albeit one, like Under the Dome, with major horror elements), and it too involves an isolated incident that comes to have national import.

      I would also point out that while Tolkien may have believed in believed in preserving the elves for special moments, that didn't stop him from having Legolas be one of the trilogy's major characters. Which is fine, because the story could bear it. Similarly, I would argue that Under the Dome can bear the sci-fi elements that King inserts. I'm one of the (seemingly) few readers who will be disappointed if the series doesn't go in that direction.

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    4. Well, as for genre, I always thought Dome was a straight up horror novel.

      I suppose you could make the argument of it's being sci-fi, and to be fair a lot of the Hard SF critics don't and ultimately can't obey their own rules with contradiction sooner or later.

      However, too many of the elements in UTD the novel placed it firmly in the horror camp for me, such as the behavior of Junior Rennie and some of the New Hired Cops.

      Thanks for bringing up that fact about Tolkien though, it's something I should have factored in and just never saw the need for, which may or may not say something for personal short-sightedness.

      What I should have kept in mind when talking of Tolkien or King "working in a tradition" was the different types of tradition both author's respectively worked in.

      It's true Tolkien does have elements of the typical Fairy Tale, however I should have remembered the main tradition LOTR works in is Myth, what Tolkien sometimes referred to as "Romance" in the Olde English sense of that word. This tradition has more in common with the Norse Myths like The Kalevalla, or the Legend of Siegfried.

      King, on the other hand, write more in the tradition of another legend Tolkien admired, Beowulf. Beowulf is different from the Norse Myths in that it's origin isn't Norse, but Anglo Saxon. Also, unlike Tolkien and the Kalevalla, Beowulf adheres more to the Fairy Tale tradition in that the monsters are by and large kept out of sight and away from civilization, like in King.

      In fact, Michael Collings wrote an essay comparing King's Mist to Beowulf. The result being my mentally setting the Mist in early Viking times and pretending Beowulf was the main character and he had a little kid and they'd sailed into this village along with others for supplies.

      The Collings essay can be found at his website here:

      http://www.starshineandshadows.com/essays/2008-04-29.html

      To be concluded.

      ChrisC

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    5. Nonetheless, Tolkien literally was a stickler for keeping within whatever given tradition he was inspired to write, and while he's working in Norse Myth rather than brothers Grimm, Shippey says he does keep one element from folklore in Rings, namely the mistrust of humans for Elves as well as other fantastic creatures, a common element in fairy tales.

      It's there, but it's not easy to notice, and Tolkien does good at keeping it hidden. Shippey talk about this element in chapter 6, "Shorter Works": doubts, fears, and autobiographies.

      I'll admit, reading Shippey was the first time I'd ever heard of that theme in Tolkien's novel, and it blew my mind because it cast such a different and (to me) interesting take on the Elves and even Frodo.

      There was this other novelist that Tolkien admired, G.K. Chesterton, so naturally, Tolkien geek that I am, I look up some of his stuff, and in one of his books I find this passage, he's talking about the Middle Ages:

      "We may compare the man of that time, therefore, to one who has left free cities and even free fields behind him, and is forced to advance towards a forest. And the forest is the fittest metaphor, not only because it was really that wild European growth cloven here and there by the Roman roads, but also because there has always been associated with forests another idea which increased as the Roman order decayed. The idea of the forests was the idea of enchantment. There was a notion of things being double or different from themselves, of beasts behaving like men and not merely, as modern wits would say, of men behaving like beasts. But it is precisely here that it is most necessary to remember that an age of reason had proceeded the age of magic. The central pillar which has sustained the storied house of our imagination ever since has been the idea of the civilized knight amid the savage enchantments; the adventures of a man still sane in a world gone mad… The next thing to note in the matter is this: that in this barbaric time none of the heroes are barbaric. They are only heroes if they are anti-barbaric. Men real or mythical, or more probably both, became omnipresent like gods among the people, and forced themselves into the faintest memory and the shortest record, exactly in proportion as they had mastered the heathen madness of the time."

      It was all just too perfect. Here you have a description both Hobbits, Elves and Orcs in one paragraph, and it all fit in exactly with Shippey's book.

      To be concluded

      ChrisC

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    6. To be fair, it could be argued that all this is simply reading Shippey into Tolkien, and maybe that is true, or maybe I misread Shippey. Maybe.

      However to come across lines like the ones in the last post, and from an author who wrote a poem I know Tolkien read (it's called Ballad of the White Horse) I just can't help wondering what else from this guy might have read.
      Besides, for me at least, for two authors removed from one another by decades to nonetheless make the same point, and one of whom influenced the guy who wrote LOTR?! For me, I just can't help think I might be onto something.

      I also can't help but think that Chesterton quote above lays out enough of the ideas and motifs King has more or less always worked with in his fiction, which is why I think it's a mistake to bring the fantastic elements to the attention of the whole world in his story, as it sort of goes against the narrative rules more or less established for his fictional universe.

      The earlier Chesterton quote, by the way, comes from a book named "A short History of England, in a chapter called "The Age of Legends".

      ChrisC

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    7. I love Tolkien. He had a staggeringly vast imagination. However, that's the only thing he and King have in common, as far as I can tell. Their writing styles are not in any way similar, their backgrounds and experiences are not in any way similar, and their career pursuits/obsessions are likewise not in any way similar. Tolkien constructed a mythos, meticulously and exactingly; King arrived at one in a more or less haphazard fashion, and while it is an impressive achievement, I don't think it holds a candle to Tolkien's in some aspects.

      With that in mind, I really don't see the relevance of comparing the two. Especially since every time someone begins talkig about Tolkien, it tempts me to sit down and reread LotR, which I've been wanting/needing to do for a decade now. ;)

      Now, moving back to the topic of what genre "Under the Dome" belongs to. Clearly, it can be categorized as both sci-fi AND horror, although I would argue that its horror elements are couched inside sci-fi trappings, and that makes it primarily a work of sci-fi.

      Not merely because of certain revelations, either, but also because the moment the dome descends, people begin applying scientific approaches to trying to figure it out. These are people who have the intellectual tools -- and the philosophical disposition -- to at least attempt an understanding of their situation (a process that results in success, I'd add).

      It's also worth pointing out that people aren't particularly scared of the dome in the story. They are scared of the situation, but that quickly gives way to a more immediate fear: the fear of each other. This is, as much as anything else, a work of sociology, which is itself a science of sorts. That places "Under the Dome" in a group with other socio-sci-fi works like "1984" and "Lord of the Flies."

      An argument can certainly be had as to whether "Under the Dome" is GOOD sci-fi or not; but either way, I think it IS sci-fi, and from the first page to the last.

      Will the tv show follow suit? That remains to be seen.

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    8. (This also reminds me that I need to get a copy of the newly-released Tolkien book "The Fall of Arthur." I'm fallin' behind!)

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    9. Tolkien was a scholar of the English language. King is a blue collar writer. I love Tolkien and almost everything about Middle Earth except the Simarillion. While Tolkien's writing is accessible to the masses -- unlike other "scholars" such as James Joyce -- his patois was grand and beautiful.

      I don't think I'd call King's writing beautiful although the man can turn an elegant phrase. But his writing is not elegant. It is purely blue collar with profanity and slang found not only in the dialogue, but in the narrative as well. King writes for the masses. One need only have a high school education to grasp King. The effete snobs of academia will always sneer at King's works. But they are a tiny, unimportant minority.

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    10. King certainly has moments when his writing is beautiful. Of course, he's also got plenty of moments when it isn't; not sure how the balance between the two lies. But for me, writing is about more than the actual prose. What lies between the words is even more important: the emotions caused by the words. And for me, I find that King often achieves quite a lot of beauty in that regard; some it is a very dark brand of beauty, but beauty nevertheless.

      As you say, though, the snobs will probably always be on the other side of this particular divide. And that's fine by me, especially since I'm nowhere near smart enough to ever go and join 'em. If I was, maybe I could change a few of their minds about King. Ah, well...

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  7. I totally agree about the name Barbie. I don't know any man who would like that name. When I was first reading the book I wondered if maybe Junior and his friends called him that to be mean. Then I realized it was really what he was called. I am looking forward to you breaking down the episodes and since I am a new follower of your blog.. I am hoping you do this for Haven too! It is going to be so hard to not keep comparing this show to the book (especially since I just got around to reading it). I hear that the ended is changed in the show. I am very curious about this.. is the end going to be completely different??? I don't really know how I feel about this.....

    Angela's Anxious Life

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    1. The whole "Barbie" thing is just weird to me. I think King just thought it was a funny idea, and so he rolled with it. Boy, did he.

      It didn't bother me as much as I thought it would in the first episode, mainly because it wasn't used very often, whereas in the book it got said once or twice a page, it seemed.

      Regarding "Haven": I started doing episode recaps back in season two, but I gave up quickly because I disliked the episodes I reviewed so much that I kinda felt bad to be slagging the show that much. However, when I finally got around to watch the third season, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I still had problems with it, but I was actively looking forward to each new episode, whereas before I was actively dreading them. So, in short: yes, I plan to review each episode of the fourth season as soon as I can.

      Regarding the ending for "Under the Dome": I'm going to avoid talking about the specifics for the benefit of anyone who might come here who hasn't read the book. I've been assuming based on what the producers and King have said in interviews that the ending will be massively changed. However, based on some of the premiere episode, I'm not sure how honest they're being about that. Time will tell. I'm one of the few people who seems to have really liked that element of the book, so my thought is that if they don't come up with something really good as a replacement, the series is in trouble.

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  8. Just read the letter King wrote about the changes and extracted this wee gem:

    " Other story modifications are slotting into place because the writers have completely re-imagined the source of the Dome. "

    So... a-ha.

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    1. I hope they came up with something good. Otherwise, I think I'm going to have a major problem with it.

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