Sunday, December 7, 2014

(A Partial) Movie Review: "Needful Things" [1993]

Today, we'll be looking at the 1993 feature-film adaptation of Needful Things, and rather than take the path of least resistance -- a straight-ahead review -- I'm going to opt for the "commentary track" approach.  Why I'm doing this, I do not know; it is extremely time-consuming, and runs the risk of annoying anyone who is resistant to plot summary.

But, that's what the muse (who, in my case, looks a bit like this) is commanding me to do, so who am I to ignore him?
My initial plan was to do a side-by-side comparison of the theatrical cut with the extended television cut.  I previously did a similar post about the aborted television series Golden Years, comparing its original episodic versions to the truncated home video release; and I enjoyed the way it turned out, so I wanted to follow the same format here.  However, the editing of the extended television cut of Needful Things shifts several scenes around, and also makes some major allowances to remove profanity, and those elements would make doing this as a side-by-side comparison much more difficult than it was with Golden Years.

So, instead, I'll cover the television version at the end of the post.
In any case, the write-up of the movie itself shall now proceed.  And lest you think we'll only be dealing in plot summary, rest assured that there will be plenty of the trenchant commentary you've come to expect from this blog.  Maybe even a little analysis.
I dig that poster.  I should try to locate one of those.
Before we get underway with the summarizin'/commentatin', a few words about the filmmakers seems in order:
The movie was scripted by W.D. Richter, who was a fairly prominent name during the eighties.  He'd written the remakes of both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dracula in the late seventies, and then moved on to big-star vehicles like Brubaker (Robert Redford) and All Night Long (Barbra Streisand and Gene Hackman) before taking a crack at directing with the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.  He also had a hand in writing Big Trouble in Little China, so he's okay in my book no matter what.
The director was Fraser C. Heston, son of Charlton.  He's only directed two further films in the intervening 21 years, which seems like a bit of a shame to me.  His work on Needful Things may not be Oscar-calibre or anything, but it's certainly competent, and that's more than can be said for some schmucks in that industry.
The producers were Jack Cummins, associate producer Gordon Mark, and executive producer Peter Yates.  Of them, I would only characterize Yates as being particularly notable; he's best known as the director of Bullitt (and, around my home, Krull), and his credit here may indicate that he was at one point attached to direct the film.
Most of the other key positions were filled out by people whose careers are sort of middling at best.  And hey, nothing wrong with that; they were/are Hollywood professionals, whereas I am a chump trying to keep his cat off his keyboard at 4:07 AM.  So when I sort of dismiss the idea of discussing them individually on grounds of non-noteworthiness, let's bear in mind the relative circumstances and remember that comparatively, I am a complete dork.
That said, the nearly-complete lack of big-time behind-the-scenes players is moderately surprising.  The movie was a Castle Rock property, by which I mean not the fictional town in which it is set, but the production company that made it.  The name had come from Rob Reiner's involvement in Stand By Me, which at that point in time was arguably the pinnacle of Stephen King on film.  Castle Rock, by 1993, had made films such as When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, and In the Line of Fire.  Their track record was by no means perfect, but they had major commercial and critical hits under their belts, and much of that reputation was thanks to Stand By Me (not one of their movies, but theoretically the origin point for the company) and Misery, two of the most successful of all King adaptations.