Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Camera Obscura
    by John Joseph Adams
July 2006

TNT "know[s] drama," but do they know horror?

Hollywood adaptations tend to be a mixed bag, and Nightmares & Dreamscapes illustrates that with its first two episodes.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King
"Battleground"
TNT
Director: Brian Henson
Writers: Richard Christian Matheson, based on the story by Stephen King
Starring: William Hurt, Bruce Spence
Air Date: July 12 at 9 PM ET on TNT
Rated TV14-DLV / 60 minutes / 2006
(out of four)

Although the title of this series would seem to indicate that all of the episodes would be based upon stories from King's collection of the same name, that's not the case; while most of the stories are taken from the Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection, one is taken from Night Shift, and two are from King's latest collection, Everything's Eventual.

Stephen King's works have been adapted into films and television movies and miniseries over the years, with the mixed results one might expect: some are good, some are very good (or practically brilliant), while others are not so good, and some are flat out awful. The Nightmares & Dreamscapes miniseries gets off to a decent and unusual start with "Battleground," which will be presented uninterrupted and commercial-free.

Jason Renshaw (Hurt) is a hitman hired to take out Hans Morris (Spence) the CEO of an international toy company. For Renshaw, a highly-skilled professional, this job is not much of a challenge. He uses trickery and covert skills to incapacitate the guards (non-lethally) of the toy company's headquarters, then easily neutralizes his target, who was at the office working late, obviously a man who loved toys and devoted his life to bringing them to life.

After the hit, Renshaw returns home to his luxurious, big-city penthouse apartment. Soon after his return, a package arrives for him. It's mysterious and wrapped in brown paper, so Renshaw opens it carefully, only to discover it seems only to be a box of toy soldiers. But these are no run-of-the-mill dime-store throwaways; the box itself is an realistic footlocker, which opens to reveal the dozens of exquisitely-crafted and life-like green army men inside, along with some artillery, helicopters, and ground vehicles. But the footlocker also promises some surprises inside, and Renshaw quickly finds quite a large surprise indeed.

As you might have guessed, there's nothing ordinary about these toys, and it's more than them just being well-crafted: they're not actually toys, but they are soldiers. At this point, you're probably thinking that this sounds a lot like the premise of the insipid 1998 flick Small Soldiers, and with good reason, though King's story was published in 1972, so if anyone ripped someone off here, King is the victim not the guilty party. In any case, "Battleground" makes the concept work much better. The soldiers wage a war against their giant enemy and prove to be an implacable foe.

Although the episode is entertaining and contains much to praise, the most noteworthy thing about it is that the entire short film is without dialogue. There is sound, and Renshaw emits some animalistic grunts and cries of pain, but no words are actually spoken. There is some mumbled airport announcements, and there is communication via written messages, email, and close captioning on a television, but that is all. This was an interesting creative choice, though ultimately it seems just a bit odd since there seems to be no actual reason for it. Renshaw doesn't appear to be disabled in any way; it's possible he's mute, but he can clearly hear, and if he suffers from some other malady (other than his cold-blooded ability to kill for money), the viewer remains in the dark as to its nature.

Hurt does a fine job with the role, which was likely a hard one to pull off considering the constraints a silent role imposes. He's really the only actor of note in the whole film; Spence's character dies so early on and has so little to do, not much can be said about his performance. The army men appear to be entirely composed of special effects, and while not "acting" per se, their movements are life-like and fluid, realistic without seeming to be CGI intruding on a real world landscape.

Overall, a well-executed and enjoyable adaptation. There are enough explosions and action to placate even the most bloodthirsty viewer, with enough sophistication offsetting the gunplay to keep those of a more moderate temperament entertained throughout.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King
"Crouch End"
TNT
Director: Mark Haber
Writers: Kim LeMasters, based on the story by Stephen King
Starring: Claire Forlani, Eion Bailey, Linal Haft
Air Date: July 12 at 10 PM on TNT
Rated TV14-DLV / 60 minutes / 2006
(out of four)

Doris (Forlani) and Lonnie (Bailey) Freeman are visiting Britain on their honeymoon, but the all-business Lonnie can't turn off his cell phone and enjoy the trip. Although the two are obviously very much in love, Doris wants him all to herself (mainly to repeatedly consummate their marriage, it seems), while Lonnie is intent on not waiting until after the honeymoon to continue advancing his career.

Lonnie accepts a dinner invitation by a local businessman who he had worked with previously on a business deal. The plan is to meet at the gentleman's house in the town of Crouch End, which seems all fine and good, until a cab driver gets spooked by the mention of the town and advises Doris and Lonnie not to go there, saying that it's a not a place for strangers.

Undeterred, despite Doris's superstitious streak, Lonnie and Doris find a cabbie named Archibald (Haft) who agrees to take them there, though he too is wary of the town, informing the two honeymooners that it is a place located on a sort of dimensional rift—a place where the border between this dimension and the next is thin, and where bad things sometimes slip through. Despite these grim warnings, and Doris's growing unease, they continue on, but since Lonnie seems to have misplaced the directions, they need to stop at a call box so that they can call and find out how to get there. But while Lonnie is on the phone and Doris wanders around a bit (and in the process sees a freaky cat with a half-demonic face), the cabbie drives off, leaving them stranded.

Doris and Lonnie start walking toward their destination, hoping to find a cab, but are out of luck, for Crouch End appears deserted. Not only is there no car traffic or pedestrians, but the police station Lonnie enters to ask for help finding the place is also empty. But the farther they go into Crouch End the more strange things start happening. And once Lonnie pushes his way through some brush to investigate the sound of someone in trouble, their journey into the other dimension truly begins.

Stephen King has said "I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries," which is to say that he's kind of an everyman writer: nothing too fancy, just something good and satisfying. Although he may think that, I don't think it's true, and if you examine the failed films that have been adapted from his stories, I think you can see why. The reason is that King's ideas often aren't revolutionary in of themselves; instead, he uses his craft to spin those ideas into something truly special. And so when you strip away his prose, and adapt the work into film, you are left with nothing but the idea—an idea that's been filtered through the creative process of an entire cast and crew. This filtering sometimes results in a product that seems watered down and devoid of spirit, and that's the case with "Crouch End."

Neither Forlani nor Bailey seem up to the task of carrying this film, and just such an actor may have been what "Crouch End" most desperately needed. There is a distinct lack of personality in their roles, and neither actor seemed to provide enough of his or her own charisma to fill the void. Forlani's character is only defined by her lust for her husband and her incredible superstition (she mildly freaks out when someone in an elevator almost pushes the floor button twice, since that's supposed to be bad luck). And Bailey's Lonnie is equally bland, but having no interesting traits or quirks to define him is even more of blank page.

The pace of the film plods along and doesn't truly get interesting until Doris and Lonnie finally make it through the dimensional rift and see what's on the other side. Once that happens, the director throws some cool special effects onscreen, and that's fun, but even the revealing of Crouch End's secret isn't quite enough to make up for the forty lackluster minutes that preceded.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes premieres on Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 9 PM on TNT. The miniseries will run for four weeks, with two episodes airing each night and encore presentations airing on Thursdays at 11 PM and Friday at 12 AM.


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