Let’s take a little trip into the far reaches of geekdom. For this week’s list, I want to start up a debate on a certified Americana novelist, Stephen King. Now, at the mere mention of his name, some of you may be turned off because of his reputation as a horror writer. Others of you may reflect on the nostalgia of watching It, The Shining or Misery. Whatever your experience with King is, I think it’s high time that we all (including Hollywood) take another look at what makes King a legendary writer.
In over 40 years as a professional author, King has written over 50 books, many of which are collections of short stories. The man does not stop writing. Granted, many of his books are throwaways or meant for cult readers, but if you look closer at his collection, there is something to enjoy in every book he’s written.
Amazingly, nearly every one of King’s books or stories has been adapted for TV and film. However, you could probably only count the good adaptations on one hand. With such a diverse and expansive backlog of stories, why isn’t there more excitement about these projects? I can’t say why exactly. My fear is that King allows anyone and everyone to buy the film rights to his books, whether they’re passionate or not, and they get made and are quickly forgotten. Look to the latest Carrie remake, for example. Nothing was changed from the original movie and it felt completely unnecessary.
Whether you think he’s a nut in real life or not, you can’t ignore the creative mind of America’s most iconic modern horror author. If his adaptations were charted in the right path, his movies would guarantee big money at the box office and his TV series would garner enormous ratings. I feel that Stephen King needs to pursue the following steps to make his adaptations feel credible again.
He Needs to be Selective About What Movies Are Remade
The Carrie remake came and failed. A Children of the Corn remake is in development hell. Due to the unending sequels (as many as Land Before Time) that no one ever noticed, the public’s expectations equate to apathy. I believe there are certain stories that need to be retouched and improved upon so that King can be reintroduced to a new audience.
Any ’90s kid will tell you of the nightmares they experienced when they first watched the “It” miniseries. Tim Curry’s Pennywise was the pulled from hell itself. Beep beep Richie! I don’t think kids these days feel the same dread of clowns and that makes them weak. With the right director, a rated R feature film adaptation of It would do wonders for horror movies. The book is so huge that the story would need a part 1 and 2, much like the miniseries. Also, just as scary as Pennywise was, the disappointment about the spider nearly spoiled the movies. In regards to the unsatisfying ending (a common occurence in many of King’s books), I feel that a talented screenwriter could rewrite the end and improve the experience. Nothing can be taken away from Curry’s performance. I’d even be okay if he played the role again. However, Pennywise in the book is surprisingly more malicious and is a great source of madness for the right actor to draw upon. Just imagine James Wan directing and writing It parts 1 & 2.
For the next paragraph, please forgive my blasphemy. I feel that it would be fine if the right crew remade The Shining (and I don’t mean a watered-down TV version). It’s no secret that King wasn’t satisfied with Kubrick’s complex masterpiece. As with any film adaptation, the movie omitted and changed several key sequences from the book. The only issue is that virtually no actor would want to touch the role that Jack Nicholson made famous. If only Heath Ledger were still around. I honestly think Christian Bale could take it on. The remake of The Shining would set up the new era of quality Stephen King adaptations and lead into the next point.
Adapt Books That Have Not Yet Made It to Film
Stephen King wrote The Shining in 1977. 36 years later, he wrote the follow-up to the story, Doctor Sleep. This novel follows Dan (formerly Danny) Torrance, decades after the horrific events in the Overlook Hotel. He works at a nursing home, giving comfort to the dying residents. His locked-away demons approach him once again as he meets a 12 year old girl with a strong pull to the shining. Danny must save this girl and himself from those on the other side who feed off of them. Somebody make this movie! This is not just a common summer sequel. This is the original author of the horror classic revisiting the most intriguing character from the story. Let’s hope for The Shining remake in 2017 and the sequel, Doctor Sleep in 2019.
Contrary to popular belief, Stephen King is not a pigeon-holed horror author. After spending much time with his bibliography, I’ve come to find that a good portion of his works are not horror-related at all. 11/22/63 (released in 2011) came out of nowhere and propelled itself quickly as my favorite King novel. This story follows a man who is shown a time-tunnel of sorts that always takes the traveler to the same date in 1958. After testing out ways that he can influence events in history and seeing their effect, he decides to stay in the past and wait till late 1963 so he can stop President Kennedy’s assassination from ever taking place. In that span of time he finds love, tragedy and the horrors that can be caused when you mess with time travel. This is seriously a great book from start to finish. Once again, the right actor and director could reinvent King as a storyteller.
Keep the Big Epics on the Small Screen
This is where the fanbase will begin and thrive. In the ’90s, King had a few solid years with sketchy-to-good TV miniseries in It, Tommyknockers and Langoliers. It’s true that most of King’s stories need 2 or 3 parts to fully tell a story, but I don’t see a future in miniseries. There is no reason that King’s best works couldn’t follow the quality examples of Game of Thrones and to a lesser extent, The Walking Dead. If you asked fans what King’s most well-developed books are, the answers would be The Stand and The Dark Tower series.
The Stand got a miniseries in the mid-’90s to mediocre success. It took everything from the post-apocalyptic battle of good and evil and neutered it. I don’t think anyone would have an issue with a reboot of this property. CBS (Under the Dome) and SyFy (Haven) have infected their shows with all of their blandness. To be taken seriously as a watchable show, The Stand would need to debut on HBO, AMC or FX. Call me crazy, but the showrunners should be Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse of Lost fame. With an already set story, they could create a compelling Stand adaptation that should only last three seasons. Well, maybe 3 seasons and a movie.
The Dark Tower is seen as Stephen King’s Lord of the Rings. The series, which he started back in the ’70s, spans seven long books. It follows the gunslinger Roland as he travels through an alternate dimension, Mid-World, in search of revenge and to ultimately reach his goal of reaching the looming Dark Tower. Along the way, he picks up a scattered fellowship, all of whom help him strive for his end of his journey. You may remember that this series was picked up by Ron Howard and Co. They had the plans to release three movies and a subsequent TV series interspersed with each other. Beyond confusing the public, this fact showed that they had no idea what to do with the franchise. This project even made it as far as casting Javier Bardem as Roland, before the adaptation fell apart.
The Dark Tower could work, but only if it is on HBO. Honestly, it wouldn’t work anywhere else. And it’s not for the content. The Dark Tower is relatively more clean than King’s other works, but HBO takes their shows seriously and let creators do their own thing as long as it’s successful. Each season could follow each novel. There’s no question that Viggo Mortensen should play the grizzled Gunslinger. Aaron Paul is the clear choice for drug-addled companion (sorry typecasting) Eddie. If the series picked up steam, the only movie from the series should be from the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, a prequel to the series. Also, the best book of the series.
Create an Anthology Series
As I’ve discussed, Stephen King is so much more than a horror novelist. The more of his novels I read, the more I start to see his big picture. He has crafted a mini-universe where nearly every character is connected. It’s almost Marvel-esque if you think about it. Finding these easter eggs hidden in novels makes fans get excited, but what if the same thing was done in a series?
My plan to really capture the essence of King’s best works and short stories is to have someone develop an anthology show, ala Twilight Zone. This 12 episode-per-season series would cover a short story per episode or give 3 or 4-parters to the stories that need more fleshing out. Different horror and fan directors could take one adaptation and make it their own. Just imagine JJ Abrams adapting The Talisman or Danny Boyle’s work on N. Anthology series need a comeback and there is no better way than through King’s bizarre and connected tales. There are too many unnoticed stories and so many talented directors that could/should make this happen. The potential is endless with directing choices like Eli Roth, Guillermo Del Toro, and Matt Reeves, among others. As an intro to each episode, each director could explain why they chose to adapt their specific King story.
In Darabont We Trust
I would argue that there is no filmmaker that truly understands Stephen King, with the exception of Frank Darabont. When I think of the great King adaptations of the past 20 years, I think of Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist. Not surprisingly, all of these were directed by Darabont. Whether it’s movies or running a successful TV show, Darabont knows how to build quality. You may remember Darabont as the showrunner of the first season of The Walking Dead (aka, the only good season). In the forthcoming empire of adapted Stephen King stories, Darabont would be the godfather of it all overseeing each project just to assure quality, much like Joss Whedon does for Marvel. My main wish is for Darabont to direct the feature version of 11/22/63. Also, as evidenced by the shocking ending to The Mist, he is not afraid to take a mediocre King ending and make it memorable and better than the book.