Stephen King fandom was moderately rattled this week by the news that the first Dark Tower movie is going to include a lead female role for a character named Tirana. What followed -- including from yours truly -- were a rather loud chorus of "huh"s and "WTF"s and "they're ruining my Dark Tower"s.
Meanwhile, Hulu released the second episode of 11.22.63 into the world on Monday. "The Kill Floor," it's called, and it deviates from King's novel in several significant ways.
So why am I not as angry about this as I am about The Dark Tower?
I'm not entirely sure, so let's try to find out. I've lined up an interviewee who will help me try and figure it out: Bryant Burnette, author of the blog The Truth Inside The Lie (which I hear is both a hoot AND a holler).
Q: Bryant, when was the last time one of us interviewed the other?
A: I dunno, Bryant. It's been a while, How you been?
Q: As always, I'll ask the questions.
A: Right. Forgot.
Q: So, you liked the first episode of 11.22.63?
A: I did. I assume you did, too.
Q: Nicely phrased to avoid that being a question. I'll answer anyways: yeah, I liked it a lot. Did you like this one?
A: Yessir, I did. If anything, I liked it more.
Q: Does it bother you that Bridget Carpenter and J.J. Abrams and whoever are making rather large changes to the novel?
A: Well, no, not exactly. I mean, it kind of does from a philosophical standpoint. Just the other day, I was arguing in relation to the Dark Tower movie that if an adaptor doesn't begin from a standpoint of wanting to -- and trying to -- actually adapt the source material in front of her, then she's doing the material and its audience a disservice.
Q: I agree, but there's often a need to make changes, isn't there?
A: More often than not, yeah, I'd say so. You might need to condense plotlines, or combine supporting characters in the course of that condensation. In the case of a television series, you might need to lengthen some plotlines in order to flesh out the runtime, or you might need to eliminate other plotlines in order to avoid the budgetary implications of multiple shooting locations. Practical considerations like that come into play.
Q: Of course. So where is the line drawn?
A: What line is that?
Q: The line of demarcation between "too far" and "it's fine."
A: Man, it's hard to say for sure. Every project is different; every adaptation has different needs. What I'll say about The Dark Tower is that so far, I'm simply not seeing any evidence that the people making it actually care about the books. They almost certainly care about the movie(s) they are ostensibly making, but the end result of that may be that the books serve merely as fodder. That isn't always a disaster: I'd argue that that is all Stanley Kubrick felt for the novel The Shining. I think he saw it as raw material to be run through a blender. That turned out okay, so maybe The Dark Tower will, too.
Q: There's no Stanley Kubrick on that project, though, is there?
A: Not so far as I can tell. Maybe Nikolaj Arcel is, and we just don't know it yet. Either way, every time rumors about the movie come out, they indicate to me that the novels are just material to be processed. I've never felt that about this adaptation of 11/22/63; ever since it was announced, it's felt like a thing everyone involved cared about deeply.
Q: Do you think that care is evident in the final product?
A: Absolutely. So far, I do. I guess there's still six hours in which it could all go to shit, but after two episodes, I feel as if the filmmakers are doing a strong job of trying to stay within the bounds of King's story.
Q: I'm not sure I can agree, given that they've relocated the action of this episode from Derry, Maine to Holden, Kentucky. The entire subplot involving Beverly Marsh and Richie Tozier is gone! That's a major element of that novel.
A: Very true, but my guess is that rights issues prevented that. If not, I'd guess that Bridget Carpenter decided that having a quasi-sequel to It in the middle of an episode might confuse some people.
Q: Would it have?
A: I doubt it, to be honest. If you played your cards right, they could just seem like helpful kids. The hints of Pennywise's lingering presence might have been trickier, but even that could be dealt with subtly. Just have Jake somehow address the idea that the town seems fundamentally wrong. It doesn't seem to have confused readers of the novel, and given how well that book sold, I'm sure it crossed over to a lot of people who were not devoted King readers. So personally, I think it could have worked. Maybe it was an issue of time constraints, but like I said, I figure it was a rights problem.
Q: That's logical.
A: So, that being (potentially) the case, the question becomes one of whether or not the series adequately filled the hole created by Derry's absence. I think they did. They filled it with several strong guest stars, but I think they also filled it by making the focus of this episode revolve around the idea that it is difficult to kill.
|Annette O'Toole as Edna Price|
Q: Let's talk about those guest stars a bit. First up, Annette O'Toole, playing the Jesus-loving woman who rents Jake a room. Don't you just love Annette O'Toole?
A: I sure do. Among other things, I like that she's decided not to try and keep herself permanently thirty years old. She's in her mid-sixties now, and she looks like exactly what she is: a gorgeous woman in her mid-sixties. There might some interesting echoes of that later on in the story, which is one reason I like this casting; the fact that she's a very good actor is another. But also, she played Beverly Marsh in the It miniseries. Very cool! I'm equally glad, by the way, that they didn't go for an extra layer to the stunt by having her husband be played by Harry Anderson or someone else from the miniseries. (Although, now that I think of it, having both Beverly AND Richie's film versions on hand would have been kind of cool.)
Q: Who's the guy who played her husband?
|Michael O'Neill as Arliss Price|
A: That's Michael O'Neill, a great character actor who's been getting a lot of work for a while now. You'd be hard-pressed to have missed him if you've watching television much for the past decade and a half. I always think of him as the first head of CTU during the first season of 24, even though he got killed off after just a couple of episodes; but he's shown up in everything from The West Wing to Rectify to Bates Motel, and he's had film roles in stuff like Traffic and Transformers. Also, he's got a role in the miniseries version of The Shining, and his second-ever role was in the Peter Straub adaptation Ghost Story. Good actor, and here, he gets a GREAT scene in which he tells Jake exactly what the Bronze Star he won in WWII is worth. I'm an Alabamian, and O'Neill is from Montgomery, so that's kid of cool. He's an Auburn graduate, which is less cool for a Crimson Tide fan like myself, but I don't hold it agin him none. He's one of those guys I'm always pleased to see, and I was pleased to see him here.
Q: How did you like Joanna Douglas as Doris?
A: I thought she was good. I've kind of got a thing for slightly beleaguered-looking housewives, so Doris was right up my alley.
Q: Let's...not dwell on that.
A: That's probably for the best.
Q: Okay, so how about Josh Duhamel?
A: I thought he was fantastic. I've never been a fan of his. Not that he's been bad; I've just never seen anything from him that I thought indicated star quality. Here, though, it's in full force. However, I've got a problem with your question.
Q: Oh, really? Do tell.
A: He's not a guest star. Duhamel is listed in the opening credits with all the other series regulars.
Q: He is?
A: Uh huh.
Q: Do you think that means he'll be in the other episodes? Surely they didn't make him a series regular -- and pay him accordingly -- just for him to be in one episode. But Frank's role seems to be fairly limited based on this episode.
A: I agree on all points. I'm curious to see what that all means, if anything. Regardless, yeah, I thought he was great. Absolutely reeking of menace. The second he walked into the screen -- even going back to the end of the first episode, but particularly in this one -- he exuded danger. To me, it felt as if this was a guy that Jake was never going to be able to defeat. So much so that the fact that Jake actually did defeat him felt oddly anti-climactic and unsatisfying. A very strange way to feel about it, but it's true. And all of a sudden I'm wondering why not THIS guy to play Roland in The Dark Tower! He'd be great!
Q: I can't argue with that, assuming he got good direction, like he clearly got here. Who directed this episode?
A: Frederick E.O. Toye, who has done a lot of episodes of J.J. Abrams shows like Alias and Lost and Fringe. He does good work here.
Q: Agreed. Did you notice anything different in the opening credits?
A: I did. There was a jack-o'lantern on the porch of Al's Diner.
Q: Heh. Yeah.
A: I'd read somewhere that the opening credits would vary slightly from week to week. I'm not obsessive enough to pick through them for differences every week, but that one stood out to me.
Q: What else seems worth mentioning?
A: Well, the Derry sequence is gone, but another thematic carryover is that disturbing opening sequence in which young Harry is set upon by a trio of bullies. That had a very Henry Bowers sort of feel to it. The kids in that sequence were all pretty good, which makes all the difference in the world.
Q: I hadn't thought of that as an It reference, but it kind of is, isn't it?
A: I'd say so. Kind of an odd way to open the episode, but it works so well just as a piece of filmmaking that I have no problems with it at all.
Q: We haven't mentioned the fact that the episode ends with Bill Turcotte finding out that Jake is from the future. How'd that go down for you?
A: That's an interesting development, to say the least. I can't judge it until I see where it's headed, and I honestly don't know where that would be. I can think of several different directions it could go, but I'd rather not speculate.
Q: Well, if that's how you feel about it, okay.
Q: Okay. Well, how about the scene at the bar where Jake quotes James Agee for a bunch of blue-collar drunks?
A: That's an interesting scene. It sort of shows Jake's flair for teaching, but it also demonstrates how essentially clueless the guy is. He's sitting in a bar in small-town Kentucky some fifty years or more before his own time, and he thinks the way to accomplish his mission is to quote Let Us Now Praise Famous Men at them? It gets worse when he drunkenly pays them a backhanded compliment by comparing them to the sort of "little people" digging in the dirt that Agee wrote about. This was already a bad situation by virtue of Jake's having name-dropped Frank to the bartender, an act that could only provoke suspicion in a small town. This scene shows Jake to be a rather colossal idiot.
Q: I think that's a bit of a change from the novel, too, isn't it?
A: Arguably. I'm curious to see if the plot is going to actually deal with it. Thus far, it kind of hasn't, at least not explicitly. But I think Franco is doing a good job of playing a guy who is deeply out of his element, so whether it's the explicitly, I think it's there implicitly.
Q: Did you notice the little moment where Frank or one of his cronies flings a beer bottle out the window of Frank's car?
A: Yes! It bounced once on the ground, flipped, and then shattered! Assuming that wasn't CGI, and I don't think it was, that's one of those lovely little random things that you must just love if you are a director or editor.
Q: Indeed. What about the actual kill-floor sequence?
A: Man, that was brutal. I'm very happy they elected not to show the poor calf getting its brains bashed in. Poor calf!
Q: You're not one of those hippy vegetarian types, are you?
A: God, no. I ate a steak earlier today, in fact. I'd happily eat another one tomorrow. But I also love animals, and it breaks my heart to see an animal lined up for a slaughter like that. I'm very hypocritical on this subject, and I know it. It's a problem. I don't have any kids, though, so I reconcile myself to this hypocrisy by saying that I've made up for it by not creating any further meat-eaters.
Q: Well, whatever helps you sleep at night. That really was a great scene, though.
A: Yeah. You can sort of count it as a Carrie reference, too, I guess. And actually, the whole thing with Frank -- his having a hammer/mallet, his being an alcoholic -- is thematically resonant with The Shining, too. That all works for me. Frank is the kind of guy King must be afraid of, and who can blame him? My only fear is that Frank is such a strong villain that the remaining episodes are going to suffer in comparison.
Q: What else worked for you here?
A: I thought Jake's improvised answer to what unit he'd served in during Korea -- M*A*S*H unit, 4077th -- was very funny. But again, it's Jake being an idiot. Why not just lie about having a medical deferral of some sort? You don't want an actual veteran to start grilling you about your time in the service; pick your lies carefully, man!
Q: Are you advocating lying?
A: No sir, but if you're going to lie, at least have a gameplan. I also liked Frank's little speech about rules being necessary. "It's rules that hold the universe together, am I right?" he asks Jake rhetorically. Might want to remember that idea.
Q: Heh. Yeah.
A: Two other references that seem worth mentioning: one to Donnie Darko and the other to The Shawshank Redemption. Let's look at the relevant screencaps:
Q: Why Donnie Darko? That's not a King story.
A: True, but it's a sort of time-travel story. Plus, King's novel It is seen in the hands of one of the characters! I got a kick out of this.
Q: What about Shawshank?
A: That one worked for me, too. Jake, having gone through a bunch of metaphorical shit, stands in the rain, looking up, trying to cleanse himself. It's not an empty reference; it's not a snarky Family Guy style "we've both seen this" thing, it's got actual thematic relevance. So does the Donnie Darko one, for that matter: that movie is set at Halloween and revolves around the repercussions of a murder. Plus, the way these references are being layered in, they won't distract people who aren't familiar with their sources. This is how you do it, folks. I'm beginning to worry that there are too many of them, but as long as they work this well, hey, why not?
Q: Did you enjoy the Elvis song that ended the episode?
A: I almost always enjoy Elvis. And if you toss "It's Now Or Never" at me, you can't miss. That song had spent five weeks at #1 during August and September of 1960, by the way, so it's well-placed from that point of view.
Q: Any complaints?
A: I'm not sold on George MacKay as Bill. His Southern accent is iffy at best, which is no surprise, since MacKay is British. Other than that, he was fine; again, we'll have to see where he goes. beyond that, I've got nothing. Bring on episode #3!
And so next week shall.
See you then. Here are a few stray screencaps for you:
|That's just filthy. You actually see the spit hitting the face of young Harry, too. I hope it was really great CGI, and fear it was not.|
|Harry's defense against the bullies is to just lie still and silent. This was a haunting addition, and I expected it to go somewhere, but it kind of doesn't. It works on its own merits, though.|
|It's a nice moment when Jake, sitting in a(nother) diner, spies young Harry, who comes walking in sans pants. Jake can't know what's up with this, but it must strengthen his determination to help Harry out.|
|The set design and art direction have been fantastic thus far. This is a VERY convincing trip to 1960.|
|Has anything good ever happened at a meat packing plant in a movie?|
|This lady who sells Jake the gun seemed like she must be somebody. IMDb doesn't list who the actress is, though. Anybody know?|
|Ron Wealsey! What are YOU doing here?!? (Note: not actually Ron Weasley / Rupert Grint.)|
See you in seven!