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Friday, January 29, 2016

The Club

Remember back when I said I might not skip over an adaptation of The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands? Well, I'm glad I said that, because I won't be.

That story, written a bit after the one I just finished reading, but published first, introduced a concept by King that I find fascinating, and I wonder why he never revisited it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. As I said in a previous post, I have been reading Different Seasons, a collection of novellas, three of which have already been adapted to film.

The Body, adapted into film in 1986 as Stand By Me, as well as Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, adapted as The Shawshank Redemption in 1994, have become modern classics of cinema, so much so that many refuse to believe King wrote them. After all, doesn't he only write horror? Well, no, and Different Seasons was a blatant attempt to prove that.

Apt Pupil, adapted to film and keeping its own name in 1998, isn't really thought of as a classic, or really, even a good film, but to be honest, that story is so dark that I don't see a successful film version ever being made. I'll talk more about all these in a future "skipped stories" post. Suffice it to say that the first three novellas in this collection don't need another film version.

But then there's that last story: The Breathing Method. Efforts have been made to film this in the past. I believe the rights still belong to a studio and that somewhere there's a studio suit swearing this will become a film some day. But it's very hard to film, and for several reasons.

First, it's fairly short. The shortest, in fact, of the four novellas in Different Seasons (Apt Pupil and The Body are almost long enough to be considered full novels). Second, probably half its length isn't focused on the actual story that the title refers to. Instead, a large bulk of The Breathing Method is set at a stately "gentlemen's club", back when that title wasn't a lofty euphemism for "strip joint". This is the same club used in the setup for The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands.

Now, I know that I've stated that I won't be doing anthology films on this blog, no matter how fascinating or needing to be filmed a short tale is. But in this case, I feel that the framing device for both stories is more engrossing than the stories themselves. See, this club with no name is very mysterious. Membership seems to be little more than being invited to attend an evening. Each Thursday, someone is chosen to tell a story, a true story, and he begins by dumping a bag of phosphorescent powder on the fire, causing it to briefly reflect a kaleidoscope of color, announcing that the tale has begun.

That's right. Stephen King invented the Midnight Society.

Each Christmas, a tale is told of the supernatural or the macabre. Again, these are all supposedly true. There's one such tale that the narrator decides to spare us, but he says to this day he wakes up in the middle of the night shouting "His head! It still speaks in the earth!" Chills literally up and down the spine, folks.

But we're not done. Stevens, the indefatigable butler who seemingly operates the club single-handedly, strikes our narrator as having the sort of eyes that have seen more than a mortal man is supposed to. Even in The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands, another club member remarks that Stevens has been there "since he can remember", in other words, back to the twenties, and while Stevens insists that was his grandfather, and later his father, that club member insists the resemblance is too close to perfect for that to be believable.

Also, professionally published books can be found in the club's library that, according to any source outside the club, don't actually exist.

Also one night, our narrator, the one who narrates scenes from within the club itself, is a bit late to leave one night and hears a liquidy thump from upstairs. He has never been upstairs, and isn't sure any of the other club members have, either. He asks Stevens about it, and Stevens tells him that he isn't sure he really wants the answer to that. He does allude to the fact that all floors have entrances...and exits. Possibly into Other Worlds Than These.

King has, completely without meaning to, I am sure, made it so this club might very well be located at one of the "thin places" in each world, and might be very similar to other buildings in the Dark Tower series that have doors that open onto other worlds. Why this couldn't be incorporated into the Dark Tower movie series is beyond me. In fact, I'd insist on it, if the SKCU ever became a reality.

And it is because of this that I say, let's not make a movie simply of The Breathing Method. Let's make a movie called The Club, and include both sub-stories, The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands and The Breathing Method, but ultimately, its focus will be on the club itself.

Within The Club and Present Day
First, we'd have to establish the club, and its members. The action begins with a New York lawyer, David Adley, being invited to an evening at the club by the senior partner in his firm. As one evening becomes two, three, and then years of attendance, he realizes all the aspects of the club that make it strange. He's not even sure the interior of the club is in the same dimension that he lives in. This is very interesting, because this might mean it's possible that several members of the club come from alternate realities. Stevens is always the one to open the door and close it again. He might choose for them where they're being picked up from and dropped off too.

Stephens is described as "white-haired", meaning he's probably an old man, and with a Brooklyn accent, though honestly he could be from anywhere. I finally centered on James Cromwell, whose great height would aid in making the character seem slightly otherworldly.
As for our "narrator", which I put in quotes because he only narrates the club scenes, David Adley is a role that could stand some beefing up. He does little but come to the club, meet the other members, drink, read and listen to the stories being told. His curiosity as to what the club really is should probably drive the story's main narrative and it will help having a good, dependable, classic actor to play him. I chose William Hurt.
Then there are the three men who tell the tales. The first, an 85-year-old man named George Gregson, talks about witnessing "a murder" in this very room. For both narrators I wanted an old character actor with a strong speaking voice. For Gregson I chose Christopher Plummer.
The second tale-teller, this being the man who tells us the story of The Breathing Method, is an 80-year-old retired doctor names Emlyn McCarron. He is described as being "cadaverous", and somehow the doleful, somehow alarming eyes of Donald Sutherland were communicated to me.
The final tale-teller, whose story Adley doesn't relay to the reader because it's so horrifying, is told by a man named Peter Andrews, described as a big man with a ruddy beard. Strangely enough, while Andrews is present to listen to McCarron's tale, he actually is a character in Gregson's. A big man with a ruddy beard has got to be Brendan Gleeson.
Another George, this one George Waterhouse, is the senior partner at Adley's firm who first invites him to the club but never loses his stiff formality. Somehow, this made me think of David Straithairn.
Finally, Adley discusses some of his findings about the club with his wife Ellen. Not a huge role, but I pictured her being played by Wendy Malick.
But now, for the stories themselves:

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands
Though in the books, I think this tale is told after The Breathing Method, I thought it should go first in a film, as it's the simplest of the two and the least heart-wrenching.

This story concerns an early period in the club's history, somewhere in the mid twenties, when a young George Gregson and Peter Andrews are joined for a hand of cards by an enthusiastic young man named Jason Davidson and a somewhat odd gentleman named Henry Brower, who recoils whenever someone offers to shake his hand or even if it seems that someone might accidentally touch him. The men play their hand, Brower wins, and Davidson enthusiastically pumps his hand before Brower can withdraw it. Brower reacts with utter horror and bolts from the club. Gregson follows him outside where Brower is waiting for a cab. He reluctantly tells Gregson where his winnings can be sent, but talks in great terms of the woe he feels at being forever an outcast. He touches a stray dog, which keels over dead shortly after.

You can tell what the twist is.

For Brower, I was trying to think of an actor who can do the wide-eyed shocked face of pure terror, and after a while I realized I was thinking of Simon Pegg's face when he would look terrified in A Fantastic Fear of Everything. I don't think he'd have a problem playing Brower.
For young Gregson, I chose an actor who, like Christopher Plummer, is tall, deep-voiced and handsome. He's actually Gregory Peck's grandson, Ethan Peck, and while Plummer and Peck will never be mistaken for each other, the fact that they're both classic actors will probably help here.
The younger version of Andrews should probably naturally be played by Brendan Gleeson's son. No, Domhnall Gleeson looks very little like his father, but I was speaking of the other one, Brian Gleeson.
As for Davidson, well, the story doesn't give us much to go on, but I like Fran Kranz for the role because he's the right age, able to portray enthusiastic very well, and has a jawline that says 1920's to me, for some reason.

The Breathing Method

I'm going to spoil things here. It's kinda unavoidable.

The final story for this film will be the bittersweet tale of young Sheila Stevens, who arrives by herself in Dr. Emlyn McCarron's office, unwed and pregnant. McCarron is struck by how self-possessed she is, how determined to see this through, and how well she's bearing up despite being an unwed mother in a time when such women were always and only objects of scorn.

McCarron teaches her a method of pain control during delivery that she takes to like a fish to water. It will of course later be termed Lamaze method, but as Lamaze was several years away (this story takes place in 1935), it's simply called the breathing method. Gradually McCarron comes to admire the young lady, even fancy her, though he denies he ever fell in love with her.

Then, the night of her delivery, during a freak snowstorm, her cab hits some black ice and collides with an ambulance. In the ensuing accident, Sheila is decapitated, but by some miracle of will, her body keeps the breathing method going until the baby is delivered.

It's actually far more touching than it sounds.

For young McCarron, many might think the obvious choice would be one of Donald Sutherland's sons. After all, both are actors. However, Keifer is too old to play a 35-year-old man, and Rossif simply isn't well-known enough (nor, in my opinion, a good enough actor) to carry an entire act of a movie. So I went with Scoot McNairy, who has a slight resemblance to a young Sutherland.
For Sheila, the choice was easy. When it describes her youth, delicate beauty and perfect poise and self-possession, I picked Saoirse Ronan.
There's only one other role in this story worth casting; McCarron's nurse, Ella Davidson. Yeah...Ella, Ellen. Davidson again. And heck, the title character in The Body is named Brower. Not sure what this means other than King likes to reuse names. Anyway, she's stern and disapproving at first, but once she gets to know Sheila, she turns motherly. I pictured her as Michelle Fairley.
I do plan on another skipped stories post where I'll talk more about the other stories from Different Seasons. I'm about to read the short stories The Raft and Word Processor of the Gods, and after that it's Christine. I've read that one once, and I do think it could stand to be remade.

Next Up: Christine!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Reader Poll!

I have once again put up a reader poll asking which of the actors I put forth in my Dark Tower post you think fits the role of Roland the best. Naturally I also included an option not to pick any, and if there's someone else you prefer, I encourage you to leave a comment on this post.

Before you vote, however, or comment, please keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. Roland is actually much older than he looks, and he does not look young. Many actors suggested for Roland that I've seen elsewhere are in their 20's and 30's. Others might be in their late 30's or early 40's but look at least a decade younger. Roland's got to look haggard and weather-beaten, and while make-up can help with some of that, the actor's got to have some natural creases and lines to work with.
  2. Clint Eastwood was the inspiration for Roland's look but he does not look just like Clint. I don't even think Clint has the acting talent to play him. I keep hearing Scott Eastwood brought up as a potential Roland when not only is Scott Eastwood far too young, but he has none of his father's hardness or natural badassitude, and I think the only reason people want him is because they're under the impression that we're looking for a Clint clone.
  3. Some "fan favorites" for Roland have been "fan favorites" for so long that they're now verging on too old. If the actor is 60+ now, he'll be closing in on 70 (or past it) when the series concludes. Not many actors can stay vital that long. For this reason, I rejected Viggo Mortensen, Liam Neeson, Hugh Laurie and, of course, Clint Eastwood, from consideration.
  4. I really want to try and stay away from "Marquee names". Remember when you saw the first X-Men movie and Wolverine felt like Wolverine, rather than an actor just playing Wolverine? I want that feeling. I think deep down inside, you do as well. It is for that reason (among others) that I eliminated names like Javier Bardem, Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Daniel Craig and, ironically enough, Hugh Jackman from consideration.
  5. And, of course, I'd like to see you all get creative! Let's not just hear the same names we keep hearing.
Of course, I can't stop you from ignoring the above, but I'd like to see some real thoughts from you behind your choice, rather than just "I liked this guy in this Roland-like role", etc. So if your favorite choice for Roland is one of the names above, let me know why.

All that aside, please vote and comment away!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

EDIT: Much has happened since I wrote this post. The Dark Tower movie has moved forward, and Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey will indeed be playing Roland and Walter. Now, from all that I've been able to gather from this project, this really will be The Dark Tower in name only, and I don't just mean casting the wrong actors in the central roles. It seems that the producers behind this project don't feel the books are worth respect and I firmly believe the film will bomb, just like The Golden Compass and the original The Lord of the Rings film. This means that it will be quickly forgotten other than as a punchline and a few years down the road, someone can try again and this time, do it right.

I still think Daniel Knauf is the man to bring this to life, and now I think he's even more appropriate, because I have re-thought this and I think this will work as a TV series.

One of the reasons I wanted it to be a movie series was that it was the lynchpin of the SKCU. That said, many if not most of my adaptations thus far have been theatrical films, and this series can act as its Agents of SHIELD. Besides, this story becomes so layered that really a TV series is best anyway. As with The Stand, I want NetFlix to handle it.

The events of this book will be the first season. This means I was a bit prescient including off-page characters like Vannay and Farson in the cast list. In a TV series like this, they're definitely going to appear on screen.


We've arrived, folks. The second of three beams holding up this blog, and the most important.

Well, one seventh of this beam. But the keystone. Buckle up, everybody, this is going to be a very long post.

I have a lot of feelings about The Dark Tower, strong ones. Stephen King calls the series his "magnum opus", and I feel that's fair, because it's surely the biggest thing he ever attempted. It was so big it almost defeated him. Indeed, some argue that it actually did.

King started writing what would become this first volume of the series in 1970, when he found a sheaf of green paper in a library, and for reasons he wasn't even sure of at the time, wrote the following line:

"The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed."

Thus began a mosaic novel that it would take him over twelve years to complete.

This story first gained life when its first part, simply called The Gunslinger, was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in October of 1978. By November of 1981, all five parts of the story had been published by that mag, and in 1982 they were collected in this single volume. Having never read the magazine versions (having been not even one year old when the first one was published), I have no idea if they were revised at all when they were first collected, so I don't know if what I just finished was how this story initially read, but it's all we have for the time being.

From that initial volume, the series was born. I can safely say it's like nothing else I've ever read. I don't necessarily mean "better" than anything else, just very, very different. It's a dark fantasy western with a pinch of horror, science fiction and science fantasy, and thrown together in a mish-mash that includes "portal fantasy" and breaks just about every "fantasy rule" one can break...and yet, it works. At least, a majority of readers feel it does. More on that later.

One odd thing about this series is how sporadic its publication was. The first volume was published in 1982, but we didn't get the second until 1987. The third came in 1991, the shortest wait between volumes we'd have until the early 2000's. The fourth came in 1997. King then finished the series off with three final volumes, written together, published between 2003 and 2004. Almost a decade later he was inspired to write another volume, one that chronologically takes place between the fourth and fifth volumes. Eight volumes over 30 years. 34 years if we're going by the actual first Gunslinger story's publication date.

This played havoc with my chosen reading order, as you can well imagine. I'm a big reader of fantasy, which is about 99% serialized, and normally I read all the volumes of a given series in order, one right after the other. That's how I've read The Dark Tower every other time I've read it. But this time I wasn't reading just one series; I was reading the entire output of said series author, and, this was important, by order of original publication date. This meant reading the first volume, then putting this series on hold to read the stuff published between it and the second volume, then who knows how many weeks later resuming this series, then putting it on hold again, etc.

I toyed briefly with the idea of just breaking my pattern and reading them all at once, then doing one large blog post about the series overall. What stopped me were several ideas. First of all, the volumes of this series were each written at a different point in King's career, giving us a little microcosm of his development as a writer. This idea intrigued me. I also realized that by sticking to publication date, I actually was reading the series, one after the other. I'll explain what I mean by giving you more of an idea what the series is about. I do feel like I should give a spoiler warning, because I'm given to understand that even some devoted King fans have yet to read this thing, some even refusing to do so because they "don't like fantasy" or something.

The Dark Tower takes place (mostly) in a pseudo-post-apocalyptic world that clearly has some things in common with ours and yet also clearly does not. It focuses on Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger of Gilead, as he treks his way across his world that has "moved on", searching for a mysterious tower that haunts his dreams. What that tower represents is, quite literally, all of reality that might exist on any plain. It is the nexus of all worlds that exist or might exist. Our own included. And something has gone wrong.

This first volume is pretty sparing in letting us know much more than that, as it mostly focuses on the Gunslinger himself pursuing a mysterious "man in black" who might have some answers about his quest. However, many references are made to the idea that "time's funny here" and "something has happened to time". This world having "moved on" means a lot more than just how desolate and degraded it is. The fabric of its reality might literally be falling apart.

In later volumes, we will see that in fact, all of King's fiction, to varying degrees, are connected to this one by virtue of taking place in one of the many realities connected to the Tower. Several of these works directly reference the Dark Tower story line, while other books that seemingly have no connection are brought into the Tower's world. In fact, sometimes, characters and events from King's other works have to be read first in order to make sense when they show up in The Dark Tower.

After realizing that I was going to have to read the books intermixed with King's other fiction, I then began to wonder how I should pursue this course of action. Should I read the first volume as though it was a collection of novellas, or as a single volume? I decided on the second option there, telling myself that the magazine supplements were akin to an author releasing chapters of their books online before releasing the whole thing. But then, should I wait until I'd read the entire series and do a long blog post about the whole thing? Could I wait that long? Should I ask my readers to do so? It didn't make much sense. After all, if this does become a series of movies, each one has its own casting process, and each one will introduce new characters.

A final hurdle to get over is this: The Dark Tower is an amazing series, but it's also very frustrating. This mostly stems from the fact that when King started writing this, he had no idea where he was going with it. This isn't a bad thing; the same was true of JRR Tolkien when he started working on The Lord of the Rings. King has detailed to us how he felt like he was letting his fingers do the work and that it almost felt like he was just a vessel the story was telling itself through. This even becomes a plot point in later volumes, but that's a subject for a future post. The fact is, when he started this series, he wrote with abandon with no real eye to future volumes. He also likely wrote it while flying high, considering that it was at this point in his life when his substance abuse issues and alcoholism were pretty much ruling him.

People have talked about the "dreamlike" quality of this first volume. I can see what they're talking about. A good 90% of this novel feels like it takes place within someone's dream, and I'm not certain I can really describe why. It's pretty internally consistent, at least with itself, but still, it feels...otherworldly. And I dig it. I only wish King could have remembered the sort of plot he set up, because later volumes ignored much of what he set down in print here.

King himself realized that, and in the early 2000's, while he was writing the final volumes, he released a "revised and expanded throughout" edition of this book, and in preparation for making this blog post, I read both. I've read them both before, but until recently kinda felt like the original version was now meaningless. I had started to feel differently of late, mainly because I kinda dislike it when an author isn't consistent with his own story. I felt like there shouldn't have been a need to come back and re-write the first book, and I still wonder what the story would have been like if King had crafted a more focused narrative and kept the future volumes consistent with the first.

Reading these two versions of this book back to back, several things struck me. First, the original version still has a lot of merit, and if you're a serious Constant Reader I definitely recommend reading it, but ultimately that takes nothing away from the revised version, which, contrary to my memory, and popular belief, is not only just as good but seemingly all the better because this time King knew where he was going with it. In spite of myself, I couldn't help thinking that "this was how the original version should have been", all while still being annoyed that a second version was needed. It was like, while reading the original version I was thinking "man, it's a shame he didn't keep this tone and information" but while reading the second version, I thought "Okay, this is the first book in what the series this turned into." I enjoyed them both, but very differently.

There's a kind of "Dark Tower Multiple Personality Disorder" that I have noted in the past (though not here) where the original first volume is one personality, the second, third and in part fourth books are another and the final three are yet a third. There might be even a fourth with the eighth volume (which I haven't read; I'll get to that in a moment). That first book had that dreamlike, alien feel, which was almost completely missing from the second and third books, while the fourth grounded Roland's world, or at least, the version of the world he'd grown up in, into a purely physical realm not unlike umpteen other second-world fantasy settings. It might be coincidental, or it might not, that the fourth volume was the first Dark Tower story King wrote after going stone cold sober.

But shortly after writing the fourth book, King was involved in a horrible accident (he was struck by a car while walking) that nearly ended his life. He has said since then that the accident really got him focused on his own mortality, and was one of the motivations to finish what he had started. Another was getting a letter from a fan stricken with terminal cancer who really wanted to know how The Dark Tower series was going to turn out before they died.

So, King got busy and churned out the remaining volumes. And they were a whole new breed of strange. Not necessarily in a good way. More on that once we get there.

The result is a series that fans both love and hate. I can't speak for all readers, but the general feeling I've gotten from other King fans is that they love the first three books, opinion is sharply divided on the fourth, while the last three are mostly awful. (I know I keep referring to this series as if it only has seven volumes, but so help me, I can't see the final volume as anything but an extended coda.) Of course, if you get ten Constant Readers together in the same room and ask them each their opinion of the Dark Tower books, you're likely to get twenty or thirty different answers. And that's just the ones that have read it. I have already mentioned the contingent of King fans who prefer him to stick to just horror or straight drama, and dislike it when he writes books set in secondary worlds. Along with this one, they're also not keen on The Talisman or The Eyes of the Dragon. I have run into several King fans who have read most of what he's written, but not this, or if they have they gave up after (or during) the first volume.

I don't think it's up for debate that the series definitely went off on weird tangents and definitely had some weak points. Some hate the way it ended, others love it, and this is probably as good a time as any to mention that I was so disappointed by the way the series ended that I kinda gave up reading King for a long time. The final three volumes of this series are the only ones I have not read at least twice (and volume 8 is the only one I've simply never read). What I'm saying is that there is room for an adaptation to clear some things up, streamline them, alter them where needed and make a coherent narrative that the series, at least in some places, lacked. Especially we now have an opportunity to clean up those final volumes.

And with that, it's time to mention that Hollywood currently has plans in the works to adapt this series into a movie. There's been plans forever, to the point where I'm not even sure how long the rights have been bought or how long plans have actually been in effect. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are at the head of these plans to adapt. There was a plan in place for a bit for Howard himself to direct a series of films that would interact with an accompanying TV series, with a script by Akiva "Bat Credit Card" Goldsman. I thought the idea had some merit (aside from the involvement of Howard and Goldsman, both men with a decidedly hit-or-miss record, mostly miss in Goldsman's case) but I wasn't a fan of the alternating structure they were going with. I also didn't care much for the man they chose to be Roland (more on that later).

After deals that didn't go through with HBO and various other TV homes, it looks like the project is destined to be a single movie, with the option for sequels if the first one does well. We've got a director; a fellow named Nikolaj Ayrcel, who's never directed in English before. The screenplay is being revised by Ayrcel himself and a man named Anders Thomas Jensen. I'm not familiar with his work, either. We even have a release date; supposedly we'll be seeing this thing in less than a year.

Simply put, I'll believe it when I see it. Howard has already said that the project isn't really as greenlit as it might seem, and I personally have a hard time believing that this thing will be completely finished and ready to be released in less than a year, especially since the project doesn't seem to have a completed script nor any confirmed actors, though there are hot rumors. At this point, if you don't know the rumors, I'm going to suggest you google them and let's not talk about it here.

There are signs that this is a troubled production. The continued delay in anything solid is one aspect, the switching of directors and potential stars are another. From what I know of it, I actually hope this particular effort doesn't pan out. And as there are signs that it won't, I'm going to make this post with the assumption that this movie is about to get canned.

I sincerely hope that Daniel Knauf is reading this. If you are, buy the rights the moment you hear they're up for grabs. You are the man to write this script. Team up with director Tarsem Singh, who knows his visuals, and we've got an amazing pairing.

While we're talking about it, I should mention that I also struggled mightily with the question: should this be a series of movies or a TV series? If I was adapting just this series by itself, I would say TV all the way. But as the lynchpin of the SKCU? I think we need a movie series. This first book could be translated to film with relative ease, and I think the second and third could as well. The fourth is tricky, and the final books need to be cleaned up anyway. We shall cross each bridge when we come to it.

EDIT: I've changed my mind, as I said above. This is now going to be a TV series. This is the first season. All the actors below will appear in the opening credits of any episode they are in (which in some cases will be just one).

And now we come to the million-dollar question: who should play Roland Deschain himself?

This is one of the most hotly debated topics among King fans bar none. Everyone feels very strongly about it, and while the image of Roland is one that nearly all Constant Readers agree on, no one seems to agree on which actor would be right for the part.

I think it used to be a case of wanting it all. No actor was good enough for Roland because no actor is Roland, none of them are real gunslingers, none of them have spent twenty years chasing the Man in Black across a desert. I kept hearing people dissing other people's choices, saying things like "he looks like somebody's dad. Roland shouldn't look like somebody's dad." Whatever the fuck that means.

We really saw how different people's ideas were when Javier Bardem apparently actually got cast for Howard's film version. I was against this casting decision, and still am, but some were for it. I also wasn't impressed with other actors who were apparently in talks at one point or other: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Craig. It kinda felt like they were touring popular actors du jour.

We know that Roland's look was inspired by Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name, so quite a few fans think Roland looks just like ol' Clint. I'm not among them. Eastwood was the inspiration, not the basis for cloning. The books are somewhat sparing in describing what Roland actually looks like, or at least, the earlier ones are. Later we learn several things about Roland's appearance:

  • He has piercing blue eyes; "Bombadier's eyes", they're repeatedly called
  • He is very tall, somewhere around 6'6"
  • He speaks in a flat, inflectionless voice, probably a light baritone
  • He is broad-shouldered but lean
  • His face is hard, lined and drawn, his skin sun-browned and weather-beaten
  • He's not attractive, or at least not in the classic sense, and more than one character calls him "ugly"
  • He's very old, and at least by the fifth book is starting to look it
I should also mention that the book describes him as white, and this colors his interactions with a black Civil Rights activist he ends up traveling with from the second book onward. I personally think he should stay white, because my end goal is to have the actor more or less become Roland to us, the way that Viggo Mortensen became Aragorn, Daniel Radcliffe became Harry Potter or Hugh Jackman became Wolverine.

A big name star, which the studio seems intent on getting, seems the wrong choice here. I'd rather not have a big name that has non-readers coming with pre-packaged expectations.

Many fans, and I'm among them, do not want to see a re-interpretation of this role that fits the actor chosen. I'd rather the actor be the kind who can remold himself to fit the part. I want Roland's first onscreen appearance to be so close to how he's written that it's as if he walked off the page and onto the screen. Now, I understand that there's a shortage of nearly seven-foot-tall actors that meet all the other criteria, so I'm willing to bend on certain things. He doesn't have to be super-tall, and make-up and contacts can take care of the weather-beaten skin and give him his Bombadier blue eyes (though I still strongly prefer an actor who already is blue-eyed).

I also would strongly prefer that the actor be over 6 feet tall, have relatively darker hair (and tanned skin), and be somewhere between 40 and 50 years old. If he's closer to 40, he should have a "lived-in face" that makes him look older. If he's closer to 50 he should still look strong and hale.

I have made peace with the idea that he'll probably not be too terribly ugly. The earlier books don't even really make a big deal out of his "ugly" looks. In fact, it's mostly his fellow traveler Eddie who calls him ugly, but in a later volume, once King is introduced as a character, Eddie notes that the two men look so much alike that they could closely related. King isn't hideous, but I doubt he competed in many beauty pageants. I strongly doubt that Roland look like King in the movie, and I doubt he'll look like Clint, either. Nor should he. He should evoke Eastwood, not look just like him.

Then there's the question, how does Roland sound? Because he's based off Eastwood, there are plenty who think Roland talks like a cowboy, with an American southern accent. I can't see that at all. The books talk about how his accent seems to be kinda not really there at all, like he comes from everywhere and nowhere. The dialect of New Canaan and the surrounding lands definitely sounds more like various English accents, or even Irish. I think it wouldn't be a bad thing if Gilead scenes used Received Pronunciation, the residents of Tull speak like Irishmen, and Roland himself have a sort of no-accent accent, if such a thing is possible.

EDIT: Initially I had a number of choices up for Roland so that my readers could pick their favorite. The winner is below, and he was my first choice anyway. As this is now going to be a TV series, it fits even better as Kirkwood mostly does television.

Langley Kirkwood.
Kirkwood isn't very well-known, despite a fairly lengthy resume. He's a British actor who, despite being rather handsome, mainly takes supporting roles. Americans might know him best from TV series like Dominion (where he plays Jeep), Banshee (Douglas Stowe), Black Sails (Bryson), The Bible (older David), and as Judge Lex in the movie Dredd.

He's six feet tall but always manages to look taller, and he's 42 years old and has a face that could be made much older with ease. He's also got the blue eyes.

His voice is a light baritone, but I've heard him deepen it. He's played a wide range of accents, including generic American, so he wouldn't turn Roland into a Brit.

His handsomeness threw me at first; I wanted to say no based on that. But like I said, I've made peace with the idea that he won't be ugly, plus with those prominent frown lines, Kirkwood can make himself look hard and fierce, and that's really more important than ugly.

No, he doesn't look like Stephen King. None of my choices do. If I was shooting for an actor who looked like a harder, badass Stephen King, I know exactly who I would pick. But I don't think he has what it takes to play Roland. Maybe he can play a King-like writer character later.

Other Roles
Believe it or not, there are other characters in this book.

This next role is one I've talked about before. I'm going to expand upon it now, and really, honestly, if you're an avoider of spoilers and yet read this far, please read no further until you've read the entire series. See, part of the narrative in this book takes place during Roland's boyhood, where we witness the events that made him a Gunslinger. These vignettes into his past are interspersed with his hunt for the Man in Black in the concurrent present.

Marten, later to be styled "Marten Broadcloak" was an enchanter who worked for Roland's father, a senior Gunslinger (Gilead's political structure is pretty loose in this book). Off in other lands, a revolution is going on, apparently against the Gunslingers themselves, and Marten is later revealed to have secretly been a part of it, or perhaps, secretly its leader. His goal is to remove Roland's father Steven, in the permanent sort of way, and he begins to realize as Roland ages that in fact the young man might become a problem. By this time, Marten has seduced Roland's mother Gabrielle, or possibly just raped her into submission, and he decides to get rid of Roland by letting him know what he's done to Roland's mother.

His goal is simple, yet complicated. Roland will naturally be very angry and want to kill Marten. So, he will undergo the challenge of manhood too early, fail, and either die or be sent into exile. This is the rite that makes the Gunslinger; call out his teacher Cort and defeat him in single combat. The youngest student to ever win was Steven Deschain himself, at 16. Roland himself is 14. Roland is sure to lose.

There's one big problem, though. He doesn't. He passes the test and becomes a Gunslinger, and Marten, realizing he's now living on borrowed time, high-tails it to the revolution and that's the last Roland ever has seen of him.

The entire time, during the first version of this story, we're led to believe that Marten is the Man in Black. When he finally catches up with him, he eventually reveals that he is not Marten, but another man from Roland's past; a young priest who joined the court of Gilead after Marten left. This man's name was Walter. Walter is in fact the Man in Black, and Marten was little more than his patsy.

This is a very intriguing idea, and the only complaint I have is that Walter is never mentioned before the Big Reveal, and I could have stood some sort of foreshadowing there. In the second version, however, everything changes.

The Man in Black's name is revealed to be "Walter O'Dim" early on in the book. Roland later talks about "two men" he knew that looked enough alike to have been twins, but he never saw them together. Walter later explicitly reveals that he and Marten are the same man. Furthermore, he had another alias; John Farson, the "Good Man" who was the revolution's leader. I was thrown by that, because official canon is that John Farson was just another of Walter's patsies, not Walter himself. But while I don't remember the original version saying this, the revised version clearly has a line "Marten Broadcloak, also known as John Farson, the Good Man."

In later books, we learn that Walter is also the Walkin Dude, Randall Flagg, the villain from The Stand, as I already said in my post on that book. We learn that he walks worlds like we walk streets, and that he has numerous personas he takes on, many using the initials "RF" but not all. Now, I want to stress, I think Walter also being Flagg is cool, and I wouldn't want to change that for the world. But it kinda bugs me that Marten ended up being Walter after all, especially when King initially set up the much more interesting twist. I also can't swallow John Farson and Marten being the same person, and I think honestly, that was some sort of misprint since Marvel's Dark Tower comics, with King's blessing on their stories, clearly differentiate between Marten/Walter and Farson.

So, in the movie, I think we'll keep to that; Farson is his own man while Marten and Walter are two sides of the same coin. Lee Pace, who I had playing Flagg in The Stand, will play both roles, and I think as Marten he should probably have a different hair color, and probably a flamboyant hair style, as well. I also think it would be neat, and beneficial toward viewers being slow to catch on to the similarities, to have his face bear some wizardly tattoos. As Walter in the past (he'll need to be seen there) he'll have a shaved head and pallid skin, while the Man in Black will look relatively normal.
Then there's the boy Jake. I'm going to break my own rule here and...gasp!...cast a preteen role! Jake is described as looking around 8 or 9 in the original version and more like 10 or 11 in the revised version. The reason I'm breaking this rule is for several reasons: one, they're looking to make this thing now; two, there is no way Jake will remain a preteen through the entire series (unless they keep re-casting him, which would suck); and three...Jake is almost as iconic a character as Roland himself. He's gotta be cast. I'll go one step further and say that Jake's actor should also play Bobby Garfield in Low Men in Yellow Coats (oh, yes, that's coming), as it's widely believed the two boys are "twinners" with each other. I'll save the description of twinners for another post.

But Jake is a badass little boy, and I've already seen a kid that I think will do Jake total justice. His name is Isaak Pressley, and he's eleven years old.
Roland's parents are not large roles, but they're major characters and they will be appearing again. Steven Deschain is being played by one of my potential Roland choices that I later decided was just un-Roland enough that he shouldn't be in contention. That would be Ray Stevenson. Gabrielle Deschain is an even smaller role, but I figured Claire Forlani's sad eyes when I read the scene where Marten reveals his dominance over her.
Ray Stevenson

Claire Forlani
One of the first antagonists Roland encounters in story is Sylvia Pittston, a "preacher" who holds most of the town of Tull under her sway. She talks like an old tent revival preacher but has been seduced the Man in Black, and he's left a demonic child inside of her. The book describes her as very large, but sensual and seductive. I kept thinking of larger actresses who could pull that off, and there are a few, but I think the actress who could really capture the essence of who Sylvia is would be none other than Helena Bonham Carter. She's put on some weight recently, and if she isn't as big as Sylvia, it really doesn't hurt the story at all. EDIT: As this is now going to be a TV series, I have replaced Bonham Carter, the only performer I chose who probably wouldn't want to do TV with Cynthia Ettinger from Carnivale. She's also physically heavier than we think of Carter being, and she's very able to play evil.
Roland's teacher, Cortland "Cort" Andrus, is described as huge, scarred, completely bald and with a broad belly that looks like fat but is actually spring steel. The first time I read this book, many moons ago, I couldn't help but picture him as Michael Clarke Duncan. Duncan is no longer with us, sad to say, but I like the idea of Gilead being a racially mixed society. And, really, Cort's skin color is never even remarked upon at all. So I chose a modern-day Michael Clarke Duncan, Nonso Anozie.
Probably the only person in Tull who can be said to be truly friendly to Roland is the bartender, Alice, aka Allie. Allie is an aging former beauty with a scarred face and an insatiable sexual appetite. But she's played as kinda pathetic. She put me in mind of the character Trixie from Deadwood, and honestly, I saw no reason she couldn't be played by the same actress, Paula Malcomson. She's the right age, the right look, we know she's willing to go naked, and she even has an Irish accent.
Now let's talk about the other "child" characters from the book. As I said, we flash back to Roland's past several times throughout. We meet Roland first as an 11-year-old, then as a 14-year-old, and the events of this book feed into the events of the fourth volume of this series. In this instance, I'm okay with pulling a Game of Thrones and aging the kids up. First, I think it would be hard to take the 11-year-old actors seriously, second, I don't want to have one set of actors for the youngest kids and another set for the teens, and third, if we're doing the fourth book, we'll need actors viewers are familiar with, and if you've read that book, you know there are scenes that will require older actors.

By the way, apropos of nothing, hey Dark Tower comic readers? You know the character Aileen Ritter, the one you can't stand? She's canon. King invented her, and she is part of his memories from the past. Not a large enough part of them to need an actress to play her, but she is mentioned. Just thought I'd point that out.

Roland himself will be played by Edmond, Skandar Keyes, who is 25 but looks ten years younger. In fact, all the actors I chose are baby-faced twenty-somethings (well, nearly all).
Then there's Cuthbert Allgood, Roland's best friend, who laughs a lot but is ultimately the most emotionally volatile. I pictured him as Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who can do just about anything.
I decided Roland's third friend, Alain Johns, who has only a very small part in this first book but is one of the central characters in the fourth, should have his role beefed up here. He's quiet and introspective, usually the peace maker when Roland's and Cuthbert's tempers get the better of them. He'll be played by Aramis Knight.
I also decided to go ahead and cast Susan, Roland's long-lost love, both because Roland dreams about her and because a demon takes her form. She'll be the female lead when they get around to filming the fourth (which I think should be filmed simultaneously with this one, then released later). Susan's last name is Delgado, and the village she comes from is based loosely on Mexico, but she's blonde. I decided that Nicola Peltz was probably the most exotic-looking blonde in the correct age group.
One role that's relatively small, and probably not all that necessary, but that I want to keep, is that of Brown, the homesteader Roland meets at the start of the story, and tells his tale to. Brown is rather mysterious himself. I really like the scenes between he and Roland. He's described as relatively young (which makes me think "not old") and red-headed. I picture him as Paul McGann, who just happens to be another of my Roland rejects.
The following roles are not large, but they're important, and memorable.

Hax, the cook in the palace Roland is raised in, turns out to be a traitor working for John Farson. He's described as being incredibly fat, and his racial make-up is actually mentioned: "a quarter black, a quarter yellow, a quarter from the South Islands,...and a quarter gods-knew-what". Sounds like a perfect role for Hawaii Five-0's Taylor Willy.
Sheb, the piano player at the honky-tonk in Tull, almost didn't get cast by me, but he did for two reasons; he shows up again in the fourth book, and because he's described as a "little man" with a piano-player's stoop. There's an actor known for also being a piano player who is also very short (short enough he's been mistaken for a dwarf), and I think he'd do very well here. His name is Paul Williams.
Then there's Nort. When the Gunslinger arrives in Tull, Nort greets him in the High Speech, which is strange because Nort's just an old drug addict. It turns out that the Man in Black raised Nort from the dead before Roland's arrival. This role would be fine for Stephen King himself to play, and for those concerned about the real King showing up later in the story...I strongly doubt that's actually going to happen. Plus, King's way too old now to play his mid-50's self.
And now, I'm going to include two roles who don't actually appear in this volume. In fact, I'm not sure they ever appear on page at all, other than Roland's references to them. But the movies will be an opportunity to flesh both roles out, at least somewhat. The first is John Farson, the Good Man, who leads the revolution that ultimately brings down Gilead. As I said earlier, I don't believe he's really Marten, or Walter, but he definitely is being used by them. The comic series based on these books fleshes him out a great deal, and he's...well, he's a human monster. So I wanted an actor known for playing creepy bad guys. I went with Michael Wincott.
Finally, there's Abel Vannay, known as Vannay the Wise. While Cort is Roland's battle teacher, Vannay is his teacher of everything else. I figured giving him one or two scenes would be a nice nod to the character, and I picture him as Ian McNiece.
And thus we conclude the first chapter of The Dark Tower. And now I request patience again, because it will be a bit before I get to part two, The Drawing of the Three. I know you'd all like to see my ideas for Eddie and Susannah, but I apologize, you're gonna have to wait.

As I said in my last post, I don't know what my next full blog post is going to cover, but I'll be a little less mysterious: right now I'm reading Different Seasons, and as any Constant Reader knows, this book contains four novellas, three of which have already been turned into movies. Two of those movies are already classics, and I see no need to remake them. The third is too recent to worry about a remake, nor am I sure we really need one. As for the last one, the rights evidently have been sold and there have been umpteen attempts to make a movie of it, none of which have panned out. If what I suspect about it is true, I'll be doing my next post on that story. Otherwise it will likely be a remake of Christine.

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Return of the Skipped Stories

It's eternity in there...
Well, it's that time again. Time to have a look at some of the stories that won't be getting their own posts or their own casts, and why.

I'll admit there weren't as many this time, because for one thing the amount of short stories between each novel is starting to grow fewer. When I first started this blog project it seemed like it was nothing but short stories, and even once I got to the earlier novels there were still tons of short stories in between. Now there's maybe two or three, and there weren't any at all between The Running Man and the book I'm reading now.

I also ended up making full posts at least twice out of novels I had initially not thought would get their own cast. I figured the world could live with just one adaptation of The Dead Zone and Cujo, but once I was done with them I felt like I wanted to cast them.

But, as I've said before, not everything King writes needs its own movie, and these stories, for a variety of reasons that I'm about to elucidate on, won't be getting one, at least from me. Which is kind of a shame because at least one of them I thought would be.

Here are the stories, and my reasons for skipping them:

Squad D (Short Story) (1978) (Uncollected)
I put 1978 as the date here, but no one's really sure when this thing was actually completed. It was intended as part of an anthology series edited by Harlan Ellison, but Ellison rejected this story, and as far as I know, it's never actually been published. I can sorta see why. It's a little weak, but then, it's nowhere near King's weakest. Several published stories were weaker. In this case it's about an old man who lost a son in the Viet Nam war, but was sent a picture of nine of his son's squad, the titular Squad D. The picture was taken by the tenth squad member, a young man who was in the hospital when the rest of his squad ended up walking across a mined bridge. So the only squad member not in the picture is also the only surviving member. Apparently he was wracked with a serious case of survivor's guilt, and the story starts on the tenth anniversary of the squad's death, when the father in question notices there are now ten soldiers in the photograph he has. He ends up calling the father of the surviving soldier, and learns that, yes, the young man is now dead. He hanged himself out of guilt, finally joining his squad both in death and in the picture. It's a little mysterious, sad, touching, but for some reason not really any of that on the level it's clear King intended. I can see why he hasn't included this this one in a collection yet. He likely never will.

Man with a Belly (Short Story) (1978) (Uncollected)
I don't know why, but I never really enjoy King's mob stories. He's written a surprising amount of them, and this is one of the few that have never been collected. I'm not sure why. I expected this one to be about a grossly fat man, as King seems to have a morbid fascination with fat people, usually making them the object of scorn, pity or loathing, but in this case, the term "man with a belly" is apparently an old Sicilian term that means a man heavy with power. Or something. Anyway, the title character hires a hitman for a job on his wife, but not a murder. That's kinda all I really want to say on the subject. Let's just say it's not a pleasant story. It's also not all that interesting. Like Squad D, I won't call it his weakest, because it isn't, and in fact is stronger than many that were collected, so I expect it will show up in a future collection some day. But it's not even close to adaptable material; it's too short, lengthening it would make it boring (which it kinda already is) and everybody in it is miserable.

The Crate (Short Story) (1979) (Uncollected)
My first thought after reading this one was that it would make an absolutely phenomenal episode of some classic anthology TV series, like The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Maybe the first one, as Hitchcock tended not to go for the (apparently) supernatural. This one has been adapted already, as one of the episodes in the first Creepshow movie, and it worked there probably as good as it can, with one exception. The story concerns a professor who, along with a janitor, discovers an old crate under the stairs in an older part of the university he works at. Whatever is in it eats the janitor and a graduate student before the professor runs to his friend's house to find out what to do. The twist that occurs near the end is genuinely not one I saw coming, and I don't think you will either. I really liked this story, and I'd like to see it filmed again some day, especially because Creepshow actually showed the creature in the crate, when the story deliberately didn't show us more than a couple of glimpses, which I thought was more appropriately creepy. This is another one that I'm not certain why it was never collected, because it's a really cool little story that worked exactly as intended. However, it's not long enough to film as anything but a short, and as I've said, that's not the purpose of this blog.

The Mist (Novella) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Well, there's a pretty obvious reason why I skipped this one. There's already a film version of it which was released relatively recently, and it was damn good. Frank Darabont always turns out a winner, and dang it if he didn't do it again. His prior King adaptations were all non-horror, so it was cool to see that he can do this kind of story as well, and do it very well. Probably the only part that wasn't so good was a brief segment where it was obvious the tentacles attacking a character weren't really there, but for the most part, the effects are amazing. I'm a little sad that I can't include this in the SKCU, but happy that this movie exists. The movie is also surprisingly faithful to the novella, with a couple of very appropriate additions and the removal of some unneeded marital infidelity. The ending caused some controversy, but I must say, it fit pretty well, as sad as it was, especially considering the story actually hints at it.

Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
I think King sometimes just sits down at his typewriter (or computer nowadays) and starts writing until he reaches a certain word count, then stops. This story is pointless. Now, the crazy thing is, it's the second story about a character King introduced in the early 80's, the Milkman, Spike Milligan, who kills. Yeah, this is the second story, but was published first, from all I can gather, so I read it first. The Milkman is barely in it, and doesn't really do much. His inclusion seems almost an afterthought. The main plot concerns a couple of drunks who work at the local laundry driving around trying to find a location where they can get a fresh inspection on their car, which is falling apart. There's a lot of drinking, a lot of pointless talk between the two of them and the vehicle inspector, and a conclusion that seems random and hideous. I can't imagine this one ever being filmed. There's just no there there.

The Monkey (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Here's another one that an anthology TV series could have sold. The plot of the story isn't really scary, but there is a feeling of doom that hangs over the whole thing palpably, and it's one of the stronger stories in the Skeleton Crew selection. So far, anyway. When Hal Shelburn's aunt dies, the aunt that practically raised him, he and his family start going through her belongings, and Hal finds a windup toy cymbal-crashing monkey that he first found as a kid. It seems broken, until it starts clanging its cymbals together, heralding the death of someone Hal knows. What got me here is how much more story there could have been about Hal and his family, both when he was younger and the two sons he has now. I felt drawn into this one and I would love to see it filmed some day, but I think extending it to a full narrative might cut that feeling of doom somehow. I'd prefer it be left as a short.

The Wedding Gig (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Another mob story, another story featuring a fat character that we're, at least initially, supposed to pity. The story is told from the point of view of a coronet player in a band back in the 20's, who are hired to play a gig at the wedding of a small-time mobster's sister. The narrator tells us about the sister's weight problem and how it was obvious that her marriage was a sham, and he has a brief conversation with her before a guy comes in with a message from a rival mobster. You might be able to guess what happens next. This story doesn't have much bones to it. It's just a "this happened, then it was over" kinda story.

The Jaunt (Short Story) (1981) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Out of all of these, I was sure I'd be casting this one. It's considered an early classic, and I felt a little embarrassed to admit I'd never read it. I kept hearing about how this one was pure nightmare fuel, with one of the cruelest, most disturbing twist endings King's ever written. I have to agree. It was a pretty awful ending (in a good way) and an interesting story, at least somewhat, up to that moment. One thing I have to kinda chuckle at is a reference by one character, from far in the future, to a "President Hart". Stephen King was a big-time Gary Hart supporter, and this wouldn't be the last time he allowed himself a little fantasy of seeing him elected. Here's the problem with filming it. The story is about 99% science fiction, and the kind of science fiction that is at least partially realistic, and it's not grim or gritty at all. The narrator is a father in the 24th century who frequently takes teleportation "jaunts" for his business trips, but this time his whole family is coming with him, and just like people in 2016 who have never flown before, his family has never jaunted. To calm their nerves he tells them about how the jaunt technology was invented, and it's a pretty intriguing little tale. And then there's...that ending. This would work very well, I mean very well, as a short film (an independent one was made, but it plays around with the story) or (I sound like a broken record) an episode of an anthology series. But if you expand this to film, which could be done, it would both dull the impact of that shocking ending and also make it sorta come out of left field, this relatively low-key sci-fi story suddenly becoming a horror story in its final moments. I'm not sure how that could work.

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Hmmm...I might not actually skip this one. More on this later.

The Reach (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
I appreciate King's sentimental stories as much as anyone. I loved The Last Rung on the Ladder and The Woman in the Room. I bawled like a baby reading The Green Mile. I don't think there's a person alive who didn't love The Body, even if they only saw it in its movie form, Stand By Me. But The Reach, I'm sorry to say, bored me to tears. It's about a 95-year-old lady, Stella Flanders, who has spent her considerably long life on Goat Island, and has never left. The "reach" of the title is the narrow body of water that separates Goat Island from the mainland, and Stella remembers one winter where it got so cold that the entire reach froze, and her husband and some other men walked across it to spend an afternoon on the mainland. The winter of her 95th birthday is similarly cold, and Stella, knowing she has cancer and is likely to die soon, starts seeing her long-dead husband and other departed loved ones appearing to her, young and healthy, and encouraging her to come across the reach and join them. I don't know if I was just in the wrong mindset when I read this story, but I couldn't really get into it. There were tons of references to this character and that character and how they related to each other, how they died, etc., and it felt like listening to your elderly neighbor talking about the people she grew up with, seemingly expecting you to know who they are just as much as she does. I almost think a full novel would have been better, which makes me think there actually is potential for a moving, if glacial, film to be made of this. Betty White could star. But it's not a film I'm interested in doing a whole post on, ultimately. Odd bit of trivia; there's a family named Bowie in this story. Related to Dave Bowie of The Colorado Kid? Hmmm....

Now for an update on my progress. As I said, there are two versions of this next book I'm going to blog about, the original and a revised, expanded version. As you might recall, I said I was reading both, back to back. I have finished the first, and I am presently about a fourth of the way through the second, which is longer by approximately a hundred pages (it's tough to tell as the first version was trade and the second is mass market). As that's still a relatively short book, it shouldn't take me too long to finish.

After this next post, I have no idea what's really coming next. There are a shit-ton of short stories and novellas in the next while, and many (I mean many) have already been adapted, some to the point where I don't think another adaptation is needed. Among those that haven't, I don't know how filmable they are because I've never read them. The Jaunt showed me that even stuff I think I'm definitely going to adapt ultimately won't happen, so I don't want to make a prediction.

That said, I'm proud and happy to type this next line.

Next Up: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger!

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Running Man

Show of hands, please.

How many of you have heard of The Running Man?

Okay, that's a lot of hands. Now, put your hand down if you think I'm talking about an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

That's what I thought.

I've talked before about how the film versions of King adaptations like The Shining and The Dead Zone end up becoming so well-known that they have supplanted the book in pop culture. People hear "The Shining" and picture Jack Nicholson with an evil grin on his face or the weird hexagonal patterns on the floor of Kubrick's Overlook. They hear "The Dead Zone" and picture Christopher Walken and Tom Skerrit at the mouth of a tunnel. They might say something like "I haven't read the book, but I've seen the movie" or "I like the movie better" or something.

If you mention "The Running Man", they picture Arnold Schwarzenegger in a gold jumpsuit. If you ask them which was better, the movie or the book, the response is likely to be "There was a book!?"

Yes, much like Die Hard, The Running Man is an action movie (starring a well-known action star) that was based on a book and hardly anyone knows it. In this case, it was based on the fourth Richard Bachman novel, but by the time they started working on the movie, everyone knew who "Richard Bachman" actually was. No matter; Bachman was still man credited by the movie, and since none of Bachman's novels were the monster hits that King's were, few people knew that King had anything to do with this one. Plus, at the time, if Schwarzenegger was headlining a movie, people went to see Schwarzenegger do his thing. Few probably even stopped to wonder if it was based on another work.

Of course, The Running Man movie was only slightly more faithful to the source material than was The Lawnmower Man. Ah-nuld's character shares the name of the lead character from the book, the villain's name is Killian, there's a character called Laughlin, there's a game involved and audiences cheer for the contestant's deaths, and that's...pretty much it. And that's kind of a shame, because this is one damn exciting book. I had a hard time putting it down. It might very well be my favorite Bachman novel yet, though I enjoyed Roadwork on a very different level.

It's the grim, dystopian future of...2025. Yeah, buckle up, 'cause in the next ten years things are going to go to shit. We're gonna start using plastic money called "new dollars", cell phones and tablets will disappear and pay phones will return, internet will not exist, racial animosity will be as bad or worse than in the early 70's and pollution will be so bad in poorer areas that just breathing can give you lung cancer. But on the plus side, we'll have floating cars that are fueled by air.

As you can tell, King tried his hand at predicting the future and got it very wrong. But one thing he did get right; reality television. See, the government runs pretty much everything (seems to be where we're heading so I'll give King this, too) but in order to keep the populace pacified while all their freedoms are taken away (again, seems to be where we're headed), they've provided free television, or FreeVee, to all households regardless of income (ol' Steve utterly failed to predict the internet, which Orson Scott Card actually did) and games are broadcast seemingly round the clock, each one playing to our morbid fascination, much like Survivor, Big Brother and Fear Factor, among countless others, do today.

This is why I was able to buy the premise of The Running Man while having a problem with a similar premise in The Long Walk. Both take place in "the future", both involve games where the only way out is to win or die, but this one struck me as far more realistic. First, the Walk in The Long Walk was viewed as a sporting event, and the Walkers were worshiped like athletes. The Running Man and various other "game shows" in this future are more like reality shows, as I mentioned, where the contestants enter the games almost entirely because they're poor and are willing to sacrifice whatever they've got for money for their families. The contestants are not celebrated. They are made public pariahs, kinda like how Survivor and Big Brother set up "villains" among the various contestants for the viewers at home to root against.

Ben Richards is our protagonist, a dirt-poor industrial worker whose too-honest opinion of the working conditions on his last job resulted in him being blackballed across the city as far as work prospects. His wife is reduced to turning tricks and his one-year-old daughter has pneumonia and may very well die without proper medical attention. Seeing no other options, Ben enters the games. They might be dangerous, he almost definitely won't survive, but whatever else happens, his prize money will be awarded to his surviving family, and Ben can die happy knowing they're taken care of.

The titular game turns the contestant into an enemy of the state and wanted fugitive. He's given 24 hours  (and two day's advance on his winnings) to run as far as he can, and then the game's assassins will set out on the hunt. His goal is literally to survive as long as possible. The longer he survives, the more money he earns, which will be transferred to his wife. If he survives for 30 days, he will be awarded one billion in new dollars. No one has ever made it past five days.

If this sounds nothing like the Schwarzenegger movie, that's because it isn't. The plot of this novel was very loosely adapted, and essentially turned into your basic Schwarzenegger movie; lots of one-liners, over-the-top action, colorful villains, a foregone conclusion that Ah-nuld will win, and no one questioning why a guy named "Ben Richards" has a thick Austrian accent. It was a lot of fun, but the novel is a lot of fun, too, and one thing I've heard from a number of Constant Readers is how much they'd like to see it remade, this time more faithful. I can see why. This might be one of the most immediately cinematic novels I've seen come out of King's canon. Almost nothing would have to be changed. I can even believe we'll be back to heavily polluting, since the government in this story runs everything and large governments are always wasteful and uncaring when the little people get hurt.

One thing that likely would is the racial content. I wasn't sure if I should bring this up, but it's uncomfortably close to reality. See, in this version of 2025, we've got people openly using racial slurs despite one character mentioning that such words are now outlawed. Two characters, one very minor the other small but critical to the plot, openly, and loudly, refer to African Americans using terms I feel sullied even thinking of typing, so I won't. Let's just say that no one actually uses these words in public anymore, even if they do in private, or online. At first I thought "well, this is not how the future will be", and then I thought of how racial relations are right now. Simply put, they're at their worst since the mid-80's.

Sorry, this is about to get a little political.

In the past eight years, old animosities that we thought were starting to be put to rest have sprung up again, and we constantly hear accusations of racism left and right, thrown at anyone whose words can be twisted to have a racial connotation, even if they didn't intend one. One unintended side-effect I've been wondering about is that it might very well be that some people will decide that if they're going to be assumed racists anyway, why not act the part? This is already happening to some extent, with obvious troll Twitter accounts blasting John Boyega for daring to have a major role in Star Wars, so yes, I can believe that in less than a decade we'll have people openly making racial slurs in public. It sickens me, and it sickens me further to realize that this all came back up due to grievance-mongers encouraging the worst in others, all supposedly for a good cause.

Okay, rant over. Back to talking about this book.

I recommend making only the following changes to it: moving the date from 2025 to a date well past that, preferably that adults of today won't live to see, because we're not anywhere near developing air cars. And yes, it's important to the plot that some of the cars can hover. Add cell phones and the internet, which won't be hard at all, and instead of carrying around "tapes" to record messages on, Ben can carry something that looks like a smart phone with something like micro SD cards to record them on.

I'm picking Ex Machina director Alex Garland for this, mainly because he also directed Dredd and I loved the way that film looked. It would be perfect for this film.

For Ben Richards, I specifically did not want an action star. I've seen suggestions (not from Constant Readers) about remaking this with Dwayne Johnson, John Cena or Jason Statham in the lead role, and all I can say is no, no and hell no. This isn't a brainless 80's actioner, this is a taut futuristic thriller. I wanted an actor who can, you know, act. Ben's described as being 28, so I'd prefer the actor be on the younger side. This guy's got to know how to spend the bulk of the movie scowling, growling and generally being a dick and yet have people on his side. Initially I chose Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but my readers made a couple of better suggestions. The argument was that Levitt was a guy who seems like a natural winner, a guy we expect to wind up victorious. Kinda like...Schwarzenegger. This is a good argument, and enough to make me go back and change my pick. After a reader poll split between Levitt and Adam Driver, I picked Driver. A young-looking 32, one thing that strikes me about Driver is how strange-looking he is, without actually being ugly, and I can buy him as malnourished and desperate, no question. As the lead role in a thriller, he's occasionally got to be threatening as well, and that is where Driver's surprisingly deep, resonant voice comes in. Even before he was cast as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I saw him in a cameo in Lincoln (hey, wasn't Levitt in that, too?) and thought "My lord, he's got an impressive voice. He's going places." Have a look at this picture below and think of him dirty, ragged and on his last legs. It's pretty easy, isn't it?
The guy who runs the games is Dan Killian. He's our primary villain for this piece, and in the movie he was played by America's beloved game-show host Richard Dawson, his role combined with the host of the Running Man as well as its producer. In the novel, Killian is a black man who is best described as affably evil. At first I thought of good ol' Samuel L. Jackson, but I think he'd play Killian as Samuel L. Jackson. I'd prefer to have Killian be a man of impeccable manners and taste with a cold stare. Don Cheadle is my guy for this role. I think he could have a lot of fun with it. He knows how to turn on the ham without adding cheese.
Richards's wife, Sheila, isn't a large role, but as she (and their child) are the reason Ben's doing this (and he thinks of her often. I picture her looking like "white trash" generally looks; like she could be pretty if she took care of herself, bags under eyes, etc. The tired eyes of Portia Doubleday will work well here.
This next role isn't huge, but it's a good role for gimmick casting. Bobby Thompson is the host of the Running Man, a role that in the first film was merged with Killian so that they could have a well-known real life game show host play the villain. Bobby Thompson is described as looking "pretty" and he behaves like the host of a reality show, getting emotionally involved and promising retribution against Richards. I know this guy isn't an actor, but I couldn't resist the gimmick; having Ryan Seacrest play Thompson. Now I considered other well-known game-show personalities like Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron or even Steve Harvey, who currently hosts the same show that Richard Dawson was best known for hosting. None of them are "pretty" but they'd work. But I like the idea of a blandly pretty guy going all Sunday Morning on Richards.
At one point during his run, Richards realizes that not everyone is eager to help the Studio capture him. Some know what the government is really up to, and one of them is a young gang member named Bradley Throckmorton. Bradley is all tough gangsta act when his boys are around but proves to be very intelligent, well-read and resourceful. He helps Richards and alerts him to the governments' sending air pollution into the slums where they don't have to think about it. This pollution has given his baby sister lung cancer. There's an actor named Stephan James who I think is about to explode in popularity. Even if he doesn't, I think he fits this role incredibly well.
When he starts running out of options, Richards takes a hostage. Amelia Williams, a young socialite who is blissfully unaware of what it's like in the slums, isn't really much of a character, but she does end up helping Richards even when she didn't initially plan to. I think that what will sell this role is someone who knows how to do those wide, horrified, frightened eyes. I hate Glee, but I like Jayma Mays, and I think her giant eyes are right for this part.
But in the end, Richards comes face to face with the Studio's lead assassin, Evan McCone. We're talking about a guy so feared that mothers use the threat of him to get their kids to behave. In person, he's actually kind of small, unassuming, bespectacled and well-mannered. I know few who can do "well-mannered killer" better than Stanley Tucci.
Now for some relatively minor roles. When Bradley has sent Richards off to another city to meet his contact, said contact turns out to be a fat guy who lives with his mentally deranged mother. Elton Parrakis is a smaller but memorable part, and he made me think of Michael Chernus, who I'm only familiar with thanks to Men in Black III.
One role I almost didn't cast was the Running Man's director, Fred Victor, because in the book he has one short scene. However, in the movie we'll likely have several more scenes from within the studio, and thus Fred's role will likely be more substantial. I cast one of those "hey it's that guy" type actors, Kevin Dunn.
Then there's Elton's mother, Victoria. She's described as being rather large, and again, while her part is relatively small, she makes a big impact on the direction of the story. While Rusty Schwimmer probably isn't old enough, she certainly fits the part in every way that matters.
The last role I'm casting is that of Studio Vice-President Arthur M. Burns, mainly because the way he's described is a pretty perfect description of been-there-done-everything character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. It's like the part was written for him.
By the way, an interesting little bit of trivia, which I wasn't sure where to put: this is the first novel in King's canon to mention Derry, Maine. Yep, Derry makes its debut here. Not much happens there, but I thought it was worth a mention.

And so, we have come to the last Richard Bachman novel. Okay, no, it's not the last, but I can't help but think of it that way in my head. The Running Man hails the end of what I think of as the "real" Bachman novels. The next one, Thinner, was actually written in the concurrent present, rather than being an older manuscript polished off years later. However, what I know of Thinner leads me to believe it's a Stephen King novel that he decided to release as Bachman for no real reason. Classic Bachman presents bleak, disheartening stories that in no way can be classified as horror. Thinner is openly a horror story. I feel like I've come to the end of an era. (I've also noticed that Bachman almost unfailingly has all action take place from the hero's point of view. This might be true of Thinner as well, we'll see when I get there, but it's absolutely not true of the first, and for many years the only, Bachman book I ever read, The Regulators.)

Now, if you've looked ahead at the next chronologically published novel, you know what's coming next. If you're a Constant Reader, you know that two versions of this book exist. When I read The Stand, I chose to read the unabridged version only, because I think of that version as the one King truly wanted to write, but was told to cut it back. It's like the extended cuts of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, I feel like those are the real movies, rather than the edited versions that were released to theaters.

It's different with this upcoming book. This time, it's the first volume of a series, the first time King deliberately planned to write multiple volumes, and he wasn't really sure where he was going with this when he started writing. Thus, the first book is a bit...different than those that follow, both in tone and also with some of the presented information. Later he produced a revised and expanded version that fit better with the narrative he'd created in the ensuing years.

At first I thought I was only going to read the revised version, as honestly that's the version that should be adapted, but later I decided that I wanted to be able to talk about both versions in the post about it, and I haven't read the original version in years. Unlike with The Stand, this original version is a very different, but equally important entity that shouldn't be ignored. I don't know if it's really necessary to read both for the blog, but I really want to, so I'm going to. This means I'll be reading about 516 pages, rather than 300, but that's still not much longer than the average King book. I don't know how long I'll be at it, but it migh be a while before the post is up. It's a big one, so I know you're waiting for it, but I appreciate your patience.

The next post will be more on the skipped stories, and then the Big One (or, well, one of seven big ones).