Total Pageviews

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Long Walk

My last casting post ended with "next up: The Long Walk", so I guess I'd better cast this bitch.

To be honest, I didn't have a good time with this one. Not because it wasn't well-written. It was. But it was so...unpleasant. It affected me on too deep a level. When I was done, the feeling I think best describes how I felt was "Yuck." Out of all of King's books, most of which are very, very dark, it's weird that this is the one that gets that reaction from me. It's another Richard Bachman tale, and I can now see why people describe Richard Bachman as "Stephen King having a really bad day."

The story takes place in an alternate version of the 1980's, which means that King was probably trying to predict the future, seeing as he wrote this book in the early 70's, possibly even starting it in the late 60's. He wrote it pre-Carrie and this was his third, possibly fourth novel overall, so the idea that he wrote it in the 60's is not unfathomable.

There's hints that in fact it's not just "the future" but an entire alternate reality. For one thing, there's an April 31st in this world, and there was an air blitz from the Germans along the east coast of the US during their version of WWII, not to mention a reference to said war still going on in the 1950's, and a reference to the US having 52 states. I'm grateful for these references, because the idea that this could take place in our world is even more disheartening.

The titular "walk" is a grueling endurance contest that takes place every year on May 1st. It is restricted to teenage boys between the ages of 16-18. Contestants walk from the US/Canada border in Maine down US-1 until it merges with I-95. If necessary, it will continue through New Hampshire and Massachusetts until only one Walker remains.

Side note: as a fan of The Walking Dead I had to continually remind myself what a "Walker" was in the context of this story.

There are several rules:

  • Each contestant must maintain a walking speed of 4 mph at all times. They cannot stop even to sleep or...anything else.
  • No Walker may leave the road at any time.
  • No Walker may interfere with the progress of another Walker.
  • No onlooker may interfere with a Walker at all, either with help or hindrance, nor should a Walker accept such help.
  • Breaking any of these rules results in a warning. After 30 seconds, if you are still breaking the rules, you get a second warning. Another 30 seconds, a third warning. 30 seconds later and you get your ticket out of the walk. I'll explain what that means in a second. The exception to this is the second rule; you instantly get a ticket if you leave the road.
That ticket? Death.

The Walkers have a half-track rumbling along beside them full of soldiers, and their progress is monitored. Even after one kid trips and gets his legs run over by the half-track, there are no exceptions. Three warnings and then...they shoot you. And they aren't firing tranquilizer darts.

The Long Walk is somewhat like the Game of Thrones. You win...or you die.

Let me tell you; you feel every inch of that walk. Reading this book was physically exhausting, and harrowing. Any one of the characters could die at any second, and many come very close several times each. But the winner...oh, yes, the winner gets a pretty decent prize, I must say. Whatever you want for the rest of your life.

The story is told from the perspective of one Walker, Ray Garraty, who isn't entirely sure why he entered the Walk and, here's the funny thing, isn't sure he's going to win. In fact, none of the boys are with the exception of a couple. This is one of the problems I had with the story, which I'll get to in a bit.

Ray is a fairly average teenager, except more than once his innocence and naivety is commented on by the others. Ray even thinks to himself after watching the first Walker get his ticket that until that moment he hadn't allowed himself to believe that the soldiers really were going to shoot him dead. He had pictured white flags saying "bang" coming out of the guns.

During the walk he makes friends with many of the boys, dire enemies with one of them in particular, and comes to see the one who continually lags behind everyone as a mystery in great need of solving.

Running the entire thing is a mysterious character known only as "the Major", and it is here that we must bring up one of the most striking differences between this world and our own; apparently it is highly militarized and adults who get too vocally political are "Squaded", a term which is not explained except that it apparently does not mean death by firing squad, which was my first thought, or death of any kind. I think it means they're taken away and put on work "squads", or it could mean they're drafted into some sort of military detail that might also involve conditioning their minds akin to the sort of "breaking" that the government practices in George Orwell's 1984. I don't know, but the Major is clearly a man of power, and the boys on the walk alternate between being a bit scared of him to open hatred of him to a sort of hero worship.

These little glimpses into just what sort of world this takes place in are pretty fascinating, and I like that we're left with more questions than answers. I still had other questions; why is the Walk only open to teens? Why only boys?

But here's my biggest problem with the Walk itself. It's often compared to the Hunger Games, but one thing people forget about the Hunger Games is that participation is mandatory for those whose names are chosen. You can volunteer, but if no one does, someone's chosen anyway. Here, participation is 100% voluntary, and in fact, you have to write an essay about why you should be chosen, then if your essay is good enough, you're put through a physical, and if you pass that your name is put in a draw from which 200 names are chosen; 100 primes and 100 alternates. If you're chosen as a prime, you have 24 hours to opt out. If you're an alternate, you are only chosen when someone opts out, and even then, it's random.

So, what we have here is a voluntary contest wherein people sign up willingly to die. They know going in that only one person can win, and most of them are not even sure they'll win. So they're willingly signing up to die. Moreover, people are watching from home as though it's any other sporting event or reality competition.

And unlike a sport like mountain climbing (which it's compared to at one point), death here does not come from negligence or accident. There's not just a chance of death, but a 99% certainty of it. It comes purposefully, delivered by military snipers who aren't even competing. That's another difference from the Hunger Games. In that game, it's you against your opponents, and while they will kill you, or accident or negligence will, it's part of the game. Here, it's punishment. Permanent punishment.

Call me naive, but I don't think we're gonna get to a point as a society where people willingly sign up to be shot by soldiers after putting their bodies through torturous strain. And I don't think anyone's going to want to watch it. We may accept violence in movies as par for the course, but we know that violence isn't real. When we hear on the news that real people are being shot, it definitely affects us.

That being said, this could still work as a movie, as long as it's put up as a sort of satire on the concept of reality shows. A sort of picture of how things might go as long as the public is willing to watch.

Apparently, the Man Frank Darabont owns the rights to this story and fully plans on turning it into a movie. Okay, I'm all for that. If anyone can turn this into a good movie, it's Darabont. So I'm proceeding as if this is Darabont's take on it, and unlike last time, I'm going to include a few of his usual suspects.

The Competitors
For starters, there's our central character, Ray Garraty. Unlike the story, I don't think the entire movie can focus on just him and what he experiences, but he'll be our Katniss throughout this ordeal. Much is made of his innocence, as I already said, and I think Ansel Elgort has that innocent look.
Garraty's closest "friend", if such a word applies to any of the Walkers, is a boy named Pete McVries, who is more philosophical but also bigger and in better physical shape. Noah Gray-Cabey, the kid from Heroes has grown up to be a rather handsome, and very physically fit, young man, and as his acting has always been more cerebral, I think he'd make a good McVries.

What would a story be without an antagonist? In this case, a kid named Gary Barkovitch is our boo-hiss "villain", a boy who seems to be on this walk just so he can, as he puts it, dance on people's graves. If anything, his persistent douchebaggery keeps several of our main characters going just to spite him. Ryan Potter is capable of a cold, hateful stare that seems pretty perfect for Barkovitch.
One of the more tragic Walkers is Hank Olson, who starts the walk rather boastful, sure that he's going to win, but within a short while, he realizes that he seriously failed to consider what he was up against. His spirit is consequentially shattered. He's relatively nondescript but I like Tony Revolori as an actor and I think he can bring the necessary sympathy one should feel for Olson.
Stebbins (no first name given) is the most mysterious out of the Walkers. He's a skinny, almost effeminate kid who for the most part remains consistently in last place, seemingly unconcerned about the entire ordeal. Of all the Walkers, he's the one that shows the least strain and mental/physical breakdown. This layered character is sure to be difficult to play successfully, so I'm going with Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is already a favorite on the arthouse acting circuit.

Art Baker is a hayseed with a lot of down-home sense. He's one of the more prominent characters, despite not really doing much or being described much. Somehow the tired eyes of Austin MacDonald made me choose him for this role.
That's the major players, but there are two others who should probably be cast. The others all sorta blur together in your head. Scramm, a very fit Walker who is actually, despite his young age, married and with a kid on the way, entered the competition sure he could win, willing to bet his wife's companionship and child's growing up with a father on his physical skill. I think a handsome, muscular young actor who looks really sure of himself would do pretty good here, such as Luke Benward.
Abraham is one of the longer-lasting Walkers, a guy who essentially entered the Walk because he felt he had nothing to lose. I'm casting him because of a funny scene where he tells the other Walkers what he wrote on his essay. I chose Robbie Kay, because he came closest to my mental image of what Abraham looks like.
That's it for the Walkers, though of course there are plenty others. Now let's move on to the other characters.

The book doesn't stray from the Walk. Literally all the action happens on the road. We see stuff off to the side, and the Major is unquestionably watching progress from somewhere, but we don't see that aspect because we never leave Garraty's point of view. This is where the movie could expand somewhat. We get to see what the Major is actually up to. We get to see what Garraty's family is going through, dropping him off, driving back to their city where they're going to be waiting as spectators. Maybe even glimpse inside the halftrack a few times, though personally I like the idea of leaving them faceless, a spectre of death for the Walkers.

My thought is that portions of the movie could take place within a studio, with a regular host, or hosts, almost like a sporting event today. It would be a way to "remind the viewing audience" what the rules are and really focus on each walker. There could be interviews with the Major, a previous winner, a parent of one of the losers, etc.

Meanwhile, I also like the idea of the Major screwing with the game; the various by-standers who actually do try to interfere being put in place by the Major himself. I can just see him now, in some control room somewhere; "Okay, deploy the wagon offering free watermelon." "Pick one of the boys' mothers and tell her she can come get her son. Don't tell the boys in the halftrack."

I pictured Kevin Spacey as the Major.
Your host, Curtis Vance, will be the man in the studio checking in with the Walkers. He'll be played by Darabont Regular Amin Joseph.
Garraty's girlfriend, Jan, I see as having a larger role in this. We'll actually see the conversation where she begs him not to compete, even offering to sleep with him if he opts out. Then we'll get her side of the events when they reach the crowd in Freeport and she almost gets to speak to him from the sidelines. I chose a random up-and-coming young actress, Madison McLaughlin.
Finally there's Garraty's mother and her man, Dr. Patterson. I again picked some Darabont Regulars to play them, but I wonder if Dr. Patterson shouldn't be changed to Garraty's grandfather. Honestly, there'd be no difference to the character's purpose, and it allows me to use the most frequent of Darabont's cast.

Melissa McBride plays Mom and Jeffrey DeMunn plays Patterson/Grandpa.
Melissa McBride

Jeffrey DeMunn
It's funny, but I honestly think this will make a more enjoyable movie than it was a book. Don't get me wrong; this book is very strong, and the idea that we might some day reach this level of inhumanity is scary (again, it kinda loses me because I just can't quite see us getting there, but I might be the minority opinion here). I think one of the biggest differences between King and Bachman is that King usually seems just as horrified at what's going on as the readers are, but Bachman is cold and clinical in his description of atrocities. Charlie Decker just killed someone (who remains inside the classroom, bleeding on the floor for the entire duration of the book) but meh, she's just collateral damage. Here, deaths pile up, but hey, they knew what they signed up for.

Presently I'm nearly halfway through The Dead Zone, and moving straight into The Mist after that. I don't think either one is getting a blog post, because both have been adapted to film before, and are generally (I said generally) considered to be among the better adaptations. I doubt either one needs to be adapted again. The Dead Zone already was, as a TV series back in the early 2000's, which I have not seen barring an episode or two here and there, but understand it started off strong and became utterly stupid fairly quickly. This doesn't surprise me, really. Strong book, strong movie, not the sort of stuff ongoing TV series are made from.

However, after that, there's a few stories after those that I think might work very well as movies, one of which already got one, but there's definite room for improvement. I'm refraining from putting a "next up" at the end of this post, because I'm going to read the stories before I decide if a movie version would work, or is needed.


  1. I kinda hope Elgort is going to be too busy playing Han Solo to be in this, but otherwise, he'd be a good pick. Most of the other people, I don't know who they are. But Spacey? Yes sir, that'll do. McBride, too.

    Quick sidebar on the subject of "The Dead Zone" -- the tv series does indeed head downhill rapidly, but the first season is rather good, and persuasively repurposed the story so that it could serve as an ongoing series. But the main producer passed away, and his heirs simply weren't up to the task.

    I could stand to see a movie remake, personally. Maybe not for a few more years, though.

    1. I didn't realize the whole "young Han Solo" thing was a for-sure deal. I kinda got the impression that it was still in the "pitch" stage. I had to google it to even realize that they were at casting stage already.

      Elgort is an oddly fitting choice for a young Harrison Ford.

    2. He's the only idea I've heard so far that appeals to me even a little bit. Apparently they've been screen-testing everyone with a SAG card.

  2. Lone thing about The Dead Zone is that it seems so tied to the politics of the era. I wonder how it would work if moved to, say, 2000, or perhaps 2008...

    I did picture new actors this time around, though. Specifically Matt Smith as Johnny and Michael Shannon as Stillson.

    As for the actors you're not familiar with, watch Big Hero Six (Ryan Potter is Hiro's voice) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Tony Revolori is the second lead).

    1. I've actually seen both of those, and thought they were both great. I thought Revolori looked a little familiar; now I know why!

      Matt Smith and Michael Shannon = MAKE THAT SHIT HAPPEN RIGHT NOW.

    2. Okay, well, mayhap I should reconsider skipping that one.

      I also think that The Dead Zone is one of those stories where the race of the lead character truly is incidental. I thought maybe Michael B. Jordan could play Johnny, Sonequa Martin-Green could play Sarah, while Terry Crews and Taraji P. Henson could play the elder Smiths. The only thing stopping me from just doing a post with those actors is that Matt Smith seems born to play that role.

    3. Also, Kodi Smit-McPhee is the kid from The Road and Let Me In. He will also be playing Nightcrawler in X-Men: Apocalypse.

  3. I've yet to read The Long Walk, but yes to Kevin Spacey, but only if he rocks the same 'stache in your picture. And yes to the Lobby Boy, but I think there's a law that only rednecks are named Hank.

    1. LOL, in movies, that's true. In fact, that's what made me decided to go a different route.

  4. I so want to see this made into a movie so badly. Especially since Darabont has the rights. He would kill this!

    1. He would. I can't understand why he wasn't the first person called to handle The Dark Tower. He just seems to get King in a way that I'm not even sure King himself does anymore.