Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Castle Rock Companion - Needful Things
Needful Things was subtitled The Last Castle Rock Story, but of course in time that has proven to not be the case. King has in fact revisited the town since then. But there is still a finality to the story, and the town is certainly a disaster area by the end of the book. Perhaps the biggest thing is that it does feature characters that have appeared in previous Castle Rock set stories, and I'd personally recommend reading at least The Body, Cujo, and The Dark Half before you get to this one. It's not required, but I think you'll appreciate it a little more having built a history with some of these people, particularly Alan Pangborn, our hero.
King always excels when taking a look at the secrets which hide inside small town America, and that is essentially what this book is all about. A demon comes to town posing as shop keeper Leland Gaunt who sells antiques. His items are extremely unique and most seem like useless junk to everyone else but the person who covets it the most. The price is surprisingly affordable, monetarily, but also requires you to perform a prank on someone else. Gaunt slowly but surely pits the entire town against one another until the whole thing reaches an explosive and violent end.
The book is one of King's longer tomes, clocking in at 731 pages. While not as long as some of his epics like The Stand or Under the Dome, there's still a lot going on here, and a very large cast of characters. Trying to cram them all into a two hour movie would be impossible. It's logical that some of characters would be eliminated or minimized, and that some of the storylines would have to be condensed. This adaptation made some pretty good choices as far as who to keep and who to throw away, with the exception of Ace Merrill. But adaptations being what they are, Ace was probably still owned by Columbia Pictures, just as The Dark Half film was being produced by Orion and therefore movie Alan makes no mention of the things that happened in that story. But that's not the worst part of Alan's past that they tossed aside.
A major part of the book is related to how Alan lost his wife and son in a car accident and how difficult a time he had getting over that. In the film, his past is changed to a throw away mention that he once got in trouble for losing his temper and beating someone up. That completely changes his character and makes him less sympathetic. It also makes no real sense and has no real bearing on the story, so they could have just left it out. His storyline with Polly is there to give him a character arc, and that's really all he needs.
Though of course, Polly's back story is also eliminated. Polly's guilt over the death of her own child, and her refusal to tell her nosy small town neighbors what happened, was the main source of her pride. The pain in her hands thanks to arthritis was just a weakness. So when Gaunt says in this movie "I've always loved a woman with pride" it doesn't really make sense without that history.
There are also lots of other bizarre nonsensical changes littered throughout the film. Some changes suggest they either had a very limited budget, or just got lazy. Polly and Nettie work at the diner instead of a sewing shop, and a lot of the items that people purchase are changed. Then there are stupid changes, like having Gaunt essentially stalk Polly in a way that any normal woman would know he's trouble and avoid him (well, unless her name was Bella Swan, I guess), or the fact that Danforth confides in Alan about his embezzling when Alan is one of the people he dislikes the most. Or the fact that instead of Gaunt being a general demon, he has to be the devil, responsible for Hitler and the bombings of Japan and all other major disasters of our time. Multiple lines of the film are torn directly from the book, but outside of their proper context they don't mean the same thing anymore.
There is one reason to watch this movie, and that reason is J. T. Walsh's performance as Danforth Keaton. He handles the slide from paranoia to full on psychosis perfectly, and seeing him attempt to bring down Gaunt at the end was a great idea, even if it is a different fate from the one he suffered in the book.
Needful Things is a great book with a wonderful slow build to it. As such, this should have at least been a mini-series, if not a full blown television show. I've seen strong parallels between things that happen here and events on Under the Dome season one, and it just proves to me all the more that's the kind of adaptation this book deserved. Picture it, if you will: A now appropriately aged Keifer Sutherland reprises his role as a washed up Ace Merrill. His father, Donald, plays Leland Gaunt. Polly is portrayed by Mary McDonnell and Michael Rooker returns to the role of Alan Pangborn. Unlikely, I know, but I can dream.