JUNE 19, 2008
It’s ironic that nearly all of the Stephen King books I have read have actually NOT been turned into films, when it seems like just about everything he has written has been adapted. Of the 20 (give or take) full length novels I have read, only five have been films: Shining, Green Mile, Dead Zone, It, and Dreamcatcher. I don’t know why it works out that way, but worth noting, I guess.
Anyway, Needful Things is one of those unread novels (I own them all I think), so I don’t know how close the film is to the book, but all I know for sure is: the film suffers greatly from not being able to decide whether it wants to be a pitch dark comedic tale, or a gory supernatural thriller. I am sure that the book doesn’t have this problem.
Then again, maybe the movie originally didn’t either. As I discovered afterwards, over an hour was hacked out of the film (it occasionally airs on cable in its long version, apparently), something the DVD’s only extra also gives away (the trailer, half of which is not in the film). It’s pretty evident in the film as well; most notably, a blond woman who keeps appearing in scenes without saying anything. She’s too noticeable to just assume she is an extra (and she’s sort of famous – it’s Lisa Blount, the hot broad from Prince of Darkness), but it’s not until the very end of the film where its casually mentioned that she is in fact the mother of the resident teenager character. Obviously her role was once far more significant.
And speaking of the kid – this story takes place in Maine and the kid is a Yankees fan? What the fuck kind of bullshit is that? Since King wrote it, any Yankee fan should be a horrible villain, not an innocent kid. I assume this was a boneheaded move on the scriptwriter’s part.
Another critical flaw is that Ed Harris, the film’s star, disappears for about a half hour. There are two problems with this. One, Ed Harris is one of the greatest actors of all time and thus should be in the film as much as possible, and two, after initially proposing to his girlfriend (Bonnie Bedelia, of “Whatever happened to Bonnie Bedelia?” fame), we never see them together again until the film’s 2nd act climax, in which they fight about whether or not Max Von Sydow is evil. Kind of hard to really get attached to the main character’s storyline when it’s presented almost as an afterthought.
The film’s lone bright spot is, of course, the late great JT Walsh. Apart from being the only one in the film who seems to get that this is supposed to be funny (in a dark twisted way), he’s simply a delight in every one of his scenes, and just makes me miss him even more. At the time it was one of his biggest roles to date, and probably helped get him the even meatier roles in films like Breakdown and Pleasantville (which were among his last films, as he passed shortly after completing work on Pleasantville). It’s not easy to stick out when you’re playing all your scenes with Ed Harris and Max Von Sydow, but he managed effortlessly.
Harris, of course, is playing Sheriff Pangborn, who also appeared in the same year’s Dark Half (where he was played by Michael Rooker). That has to be the only time in cinematic history where two actors played the same unique character (not counting generic characters like “The Devil” or “Dracula”) in a single year. It’s certainly the only time two great actors were completely wasted playing the same unique character in a single year*.
If memory serves, this film was the very first Hollywood feature to be edited digitally. Surprisingly, it doesn’t really show. One might think that the easy access to wipes and fades would result in a Lucas-esque flurry of moronic scene transitions, but nope. A few standard fades and I think one wipe. Nice restraint!
What say you?