Last night I watched Dreamcatcher again. It is, by far, one of the worst film adaptations of Stephen King’s work. Not the worst. That honor probably has to go to The Langoliers. Or Maximum Overdrive. Actually, no. It’s Lawnmower Man. That one was so badly done that King sued to have his name taken out of the credits. Anyway, Dreamcatcher is awful. It will forever be known as “the shit weasel movie” because the evil aliens are these giant toothy worm things that jump up people’s butts and use their bodies to incubate eggs. It works fine in the book, but almost nothing in that story translates well to film – telepathy, precognition, insanity, one guy hiding inside his mind in a library built of memories while an alien has taken over his body and runs around killing people. What is intriguing and engaging (if completely ridiculous) on the page comes across as gross, disjointed slapstick and bad CGI gore on the screen. But I love cheesy scifi and horror, so I watched it anyway.
King’s other movie adaptations fall more or less into three basic categories. The mediocre ones that I could take or leave: Thinner, Pet Sematary, The Dark Half, Dolores Claiborne, Christine, The Dead Zone, Firestarter. The okay-to-horrible but I inexplicably love them: Sometimes They Come Back, Children of the Corn, Riding the Bullet, 1408, Creepshow. And the extraordinary, which are either extremely well done or, if not, at least deeply loved and iconic: It, Shawshank Redemption, Cujo, Stand by Me, The Green Mile, Misery, The Shining, Carrie.
I’ve been thinking about King a bit lately because production has finally started on The Dark Tower movie. Rumors about this project have been floating around for years, since well before the last books in the series were even published. I remember hearing chatter about The Gunslinger being made into a film when Wizard and Glass came out, and then I read Wizard and Glass and thought it was unfilmable, far too weird. Then the last three books were even more fucked up. Part of what makes that story, that universe so great is that the outrageous so easily becomes the mundane. People crossing dimensions and space and time through phantom doorways that appear and disappear seemingly (but not really) at random? Sure. Psychotic artificial intelligences taking over the operations of a post-apocalyptic society peopled with mutants who, bonus, also have paranormal abilities and maybe even magic? Why the hell not? Every single other story that King has ever written being so artfully and seamlessly integrated into this one universe that he can write himself (in three timelines!) into the story and it comes off as logical? Fuck yes. It’s a goddamn masterpiece, and one so smooth, so bloody tricksy, that it turns his entire body of work into a giant, sprawling magnum opus, incorporating some stuff almost forty years after he was finished with it! Genius.
So, yeah. I really love those books. I can’t decide whether or not I should be excited about the movie, though. Obviously, it’s not going to be exactly what anyone wants it to be, except the director, and even then the editor kind of has more power. All hail the editor. I have only once had a movie exceed my expectations and be mostly what I imagined when I read the book. Exactly once. I’m willing to give this movie a shit ton of leeway because the material is so strange and because there’s so much of it (seven fat novels, eight if you count The Wind Through the Keyhole, nine if you count Eyes of the Dragon). I have no idea how it’s going to go, but I’m optimistic. I’m interested to see exactly how they’re going to pull this off, almost as much as I’m excited to see the shit come to life, finally. For now I just have to wait and put my faith in Elba and McConaughey. And get a big, beautiful Dark Tower tattoo before anything catastrophic happens to destroy the pictures I have in my head. Just to be safe. That’s some superstitious nonsense, but whatever. It’s way past time for a new tattoo anyway. We love what we love. Someone fucking with our personal vision of a thing shouldn’t take away from our preexisting love of the thing, you know? I can still dig the books even if the movie sucks.
Similarly, the upcoming remake of It won’t diminish how I feel about the original. Putting aside the fact that the miniseries was three hours long and still left out some key stuff from the book and I could talk about all of that for quite a while, I expect this new one to be shorter, more action and gore and less atmosphere and thoughtful examination of what fucks us up as children. No one wants to pay eleven bucks to watch that movie anymore, my friends. Sad but true. They want the stabby stab and the ragamuffin kids saving the day and the creepy clown. Of course, Tim Curry is inimitable, so this new guy will either have to really bring it or do something entirely different and novel (see also: Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad). I’m a little bit concerned about the timeline aspects of the It remake. One the one hand, stuff like Mad Men has spoiled us for twentieth century period pieces so the part with the kids in the 50s had better be spot on. On the other hand, if they update the story so that the adult part is modern, that would put their childhood squarely in the 1980s, which would change the story considerably. I might find it hard to suspend disbelief about a bunch of teenagers from the Nintendo/MTV generation running around in the woods playing cowboys and Indians and talking about their existential crises. But, again, you never know. We shall see.
I talked about this a little last year when the remake of The Craft was announced (sidenote/update: it has since been downgraded to a measly sequel and I remain less than hopeful). Why are people making so many remakes of both great and horrible movies, when there are plenty of stories just begging to be put on film? I have a list, Hollywood, call me. (But, while I have the attention of the class: Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins and This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong are my first two picks. Discuss. Ruminate. Write a screenplay.) Because no one seems to be making new versions of Casablanca, Annie Hall, The Graduate, Citizen Kane, Singing in the Rain, Gone With the Wind, etc, etc. I think an updated Harold and Maude would go over well. Picture someone like Helen Mirren opposite Paul Dano. Or Judy Dench and Wes Bentley. No, wait! Kathy Bates and Chandler Riggs. Yes, yes, yes. They would both be amazing, fucked-up, banjo-playing, death-obsessed weirdos.
(The Husband would like me to point out at this juncture that those types of stories need only be remodeled and repackaged, rather than remade. He says “Casablanca’s been done a hundred times and that’s why you can’t remake Casablanca.” A fair point.)
Anyway. Why aren’t we clamoring to remake those lush, lovely old films? Is it a generational thing? We need to improve on our childhoods specifically? Is that why it seems like remakes are new?
Or, perhaps, it’s about genre. It’s easy to redo scifi and horror and get away with it, blame technological advancement and better CGI for providing a better vehicle for one’s cinematographical vision (I’m looking at you, George Lucas). The only really old remakes I can think of in this arena (that aren’t one of the endless iterations of the classic monsters) are The Fly, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (also the only remake ever to have the same actor reprising his original role – fun fact). Point is, scifi and horror are so visual, they lend themselves easily to this sort of pandering, money-grubbing makeover. Do we need to update the dramas and love stories and comedies that are, essentially, just people talking for two hours? What would be the point? Further, so many of those old classics are firmly rooted in their time that to remake them would take away from their original charm. And given those “it was a different time” times, many movies would be difficult to remake now because they would be politically or socially problematic. For example, Coming to America, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 9 to 5, and Scanners all came out in 1980. Besides being great films, these deal with some heavy social issues told slantways for better absorption (class and racism and xenophobia, drugs and abortion and teens being a disenfranchised social group, gender politics and the glass ceiling, and mind control and the military-industrial complex, respectively). The only one I could see 2016 America swallowing would be Scanners, exploding heads and all. Maybe especially because of the exploding heads. Of course, the new Ghostbusters is catching a lot of shit not for being remade in the first place (completely unnecessary, that movie is damn near perfect), but for being recast with a bunch of female badasses. That’s just people being shitty about entirely the wrong issue. I can’t explain or fix that, make it sound all smart and academic. Some people are idiots. End of story.
So. I suppose we’ll have to revisit this issue once the movie comes out in February. Meanwhile, if you have room in your life for a million-word epic fantasy series, I highly recommend you pick up The Dark Tower. It’s my favorite. Lots of weird shit in there, friends. Please read it so I can talk about it with someone and not sound like an absolute crazy person. Thanks. Much obliged.