Anpassungs to Stephen King are pretty difficult to get right, and always will be

Anpassungs to Stephen King are pretty difficult to get right, and always will be ...

John Carpenter, the director of Halloween and Big Trouble in Little China, told SFX Magazine that he had made only one film that he didnt like: Christine, which was his only Stephen King adaptation. Universal Studios had hired Carpenter to direct a remake of Kings Firestarter, but they dismissed him and hired Mark L. Lester, who directed Christine for Columbia Pictures.

In the interview, he states that it wasn't that scary. However, it was something I needed to do at that time for my career.

Carpenter can still consolute himself: He's in good company. Few directors have successfully translated Stephen King to the screen. As Carpenter put it to SFX, Nope, no one has ever done it very well.

The majority of people agree that Stephen King's works is a herculean task, including Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, although the film's main critics include King. Only a few of his fifty theatrical feature-length films have received widespread praise.

The difficulty in assembling King's 60-plus novels is the depth of detail and character-building he so often puts into his work. Most of them range from 600 pages to over a thousand words. His longest works and most powerful casts can't be enunciated without many hours of screen time.

The introduction to Kings' latest book, Fairy Tale, is a valuable glimpse into the challenging but rewarding worlds that await him when it comes to bringing his work to life on screen with any integrity. Kings books create and destroy communities or entire worlds in order to demonstrate how precarious American society is.

Stephen King isnt bound by traditional structures or audience expectations. He has developed a solid brand. Studios are understandably unable to get their fill of attempting to capture some of what makes him so popular, although it must be noted that the proportion of well-liked to disapproved King on film implies that they are also gluttons for punishment.

Making a single film out of a book about all of American life (or even two, in the case of Andy Muschietti's hugely successful Kings It adaptation) involves eliminating characters and plot points. It also involves utilizing a writing style that is quite different from Kings', which often spends entire chapters on characters or events that are irrelevant to the story's themes or tone.

Kings first movies and the miniseries boom

Brian De Palma was the first director to direct a film based on Kings' writing. Carrie, his 1976 horror film, put him on the map, just as the book it adapts drew attention for its author. The film grossed $33 million against its $2 million budget, so it wasnt surprising when Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Kings Salems Lot in the mid-70s, with the intention of turning it into a feature film. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that it

CBS made some adjustments to the book, such as mingling characters and changing the evil vampire from a dandy to a subhuman rodent. It's still frightening. And it opened the way to the notion that King's best approach wasn't on film, where flop after flop Firestarter, Sleepwalkers, Silver Bullet, and Graveyard Shift tarnished the stories that inspired them.

Longer run times gave artists the freedom to explore more of Kings' work, but at a time when the medium was the domain of writers, excellent directors would often have to wrestle with it when it failed to find an audience.

Golden Years, a 1991 CBS series, in which Keith Szarabajka plays a janitor who is exposed to harmful chemicals, has received his first taste of television writing. All six versions of King's work have been released on the small screen (ABC, specifically) in two to four episodes, including a horrific remake of The Shining (also directed by Garris) and a new 1999 production, Storm of the Century, directed by Craig R. Baxley.

Which were the causes of stress? Choices. None of the filmmakers who got a degree in Kings writing brought any significant skill to the task. The original intent of these early adaptations was to mimic Kings concepts and story beats as faithfully as possible. These miniseries all appeared to be small in their attempts to reproduce the narrative basics on film.

And there were the special effects. While some of the early adaptations have interesting practical effects (the best are found in Wallaces It, in which Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown takes on enormous shapes and sizes thanks to the effects team), theyre mostly marred by early CGI that wasnt ready for primetime. Only The Stand and It have made it to Blu-ray.

Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Hearts in Atlantis all took a different stance, showing what happens when directors modify gentler stories with an eye toward winning awards. Even in the most recent 90s horror film The Stand, which concludes with a computer-generated hand squeezing a nuclear bomb, the film does not depict a demon who looks a bit like Jay Leno.

The arrival of prestige TV

The Mist, based on a Kings novella, was being transformed into something of a Mark Twain or Will Rogers-style figure in America. The real bellwether came when Frank Darabont made it into a plentifully gory and unbearably horrible 2007 film.

Oz, The Sopranos, Deadwood, and other HBO shows changed the way television was shown. Literary writing, patient direction, and cameras shooting in wider aspect ratios all gave television a cinematic appearance and feel. Soon, every network had its own prestige show: Mad Men, The Americans, and Friday Night Lights on CBS; and David Mamets The Unit on CBS.

Netflix and Hulu paid out huge sums for shows like House of Cards and The Handmaids Tale. Big-name talent was being attracted, and Oscar-winning actors appeared on TV left and right. Nothing (colorful language, graphic sexual assault, violence) seemed to be off limits, and writers' rooms and casts became increasingly filled with people other than straight white men. What better time than now to give Stephen Kings his unrivalled name recognition another comeback on the small screen?

In the 2000s, there were only a handful of King television programs, most of which were directed by Baxley or Mikael Salomon, who remade Salems Lot for TNT in 2004. It shouldnt have been such a difficult task, again in theory, to remove Kings pre-Sopranos TV adaptations from the public consciousness. That's because, like the latter, they've spawned a vociferous fandom that might complain that their favorite programs were

King had also written a number of new works begging for a prestige deal. Haven, a 2010 series based on Kings' 2005 mystery novel The Colorado Kid, wasfinanced by the Syfy network, which then was called Sci-Fi. It was presented as and acted much like any number of network TV series, with decent sounding cinematography, odd characterization, and little ambition.

Under the Dome was the next step, forming and quickly losing interest. That 2013 series abandoned the King's massive novel and got down to the business of keeping a weekly show going by packing the narrative with dramatic cul-de-sacs and simple plotting. It was canceled after three seasons. King told the New York Times that he wasn't disappointed to see it go.

Finding a footing

Hulus' 2017 adaptation of 11/22/63, about a man (James Franco) who goes back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination, was not launched until 2018; it is a kind of fanfiction open-world Stephen King tribute that includes as many references to his work as two seasons of television can handle.

The Mist was launched for the first time in 2017, as a result of Ally McBeal's creation of a new version of The Stand for CBS All Access. Adrien Brody directed a 2021 adaptation of Jerusalems Lotcalled Chapelwaite for Apple TV Plus.

Each of these new episodes is fantastic in its own way. Castle Rock's Andre Holland and Melanie Lynskey excel at making shaky assumptions and resigned acceptance appear real as impossible things happen to them. Chapelwaite is beautifully designed and photographed, and its cast imbues its narrative of outcasts fighting for their lives with a dark sadness.

They all have one thing in common: Even though none of them ever ran on regular old network television, they were all off the air, in their differing ways. Liseys Story, The Stand, and The Mist were all canceled, despite great response. Even the one of these series that performed admirably was 11.22.63, but it has remained unreported until now. (That may be due to sexual misconduct charges against James Franco.)

Castle Rock was evidently given the go-ahead for Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story, though it takes a different tack than that. It's quiet, brooding, and disturbing, dripping with postmodern cool and real, scorching pain, courtesy of co-leads Julianne Moore, Dane DeHaan, Joan Allen, and Michael Pitt. Chapelwaite, like its fellow horror period pieces Salem, Penny Dreadful, and The Terror, goes all in

The Stand, if anything, was too conventional. It technically modernizes the novel and the previous miniseries with a more diverse cast, culturally relevant dialogue, and unexpected COVID echoes, but it's still just a rough translation of Kings words, with too little personality added, or Eddie Murphy-in-The Klumps-style makeup on the necks of people who died of the plague.

Why did so few of these programs succeed? Modern artists have thrown every skill they can think of in dealing with the dilemma of rethinking Stephen King: longer run times, prestigious and well-established actors, million-dollar soundtracks, and spooky violence you couldnt show on TV a few years ago. Yet nobody has managed to create a Stephen King TV adaptation that might be described as a classic or compete with his bestsellers.

What now?

The younger, more sombre versions of King, which were introduced early in the 1990s TV miniseries boom, were few people who were interested in keeping them in rotation. Neither was anyone interested in the more soberer, more expressive versions. Every few years, a group of artists and producers examine the last bunch of adaptations and attempts to solve their problems by doing the opposite. But in trying to fix something through a negative example, theyve only discovered how not to adapt what is previously done.

The Institute, a series based on the book he co-authored with his father, is being developed by Jack Bender (who produced and directed most of Mr. Mercedes and Under the Dome) for Netflix. Even after the last round of cancellations, producers still believe there are avenues to go.

Replacing Kings prose with prestige-TV texture removes the compelling writing style that still draws readers to King, and introduces new characters to his plot points.

But substituting Kings' voice with someone else's will disappoint followers. And those who havent seen his work or already have positive associations with a given title may largely avoid these ubiquitous adaptations. He's also established an equal reputation as a creator whose work results in unmemorable or downright deplorable media. And when there's so much of it, and none of it (saving the It films) has achieved breakthrough success, it's easier than ever to ignore the latest title.

More than that, TV has become a medium in which other familiar names dominate, such as David Simon, Vince Gilligan, or Shonda Rhimes, who are well-known for generating excellent, unique, and innovative content. These kinds of auteur showrunners, who have built their own brands and audiences, are less interested in adapting somebody elses work, especially when nearly no one has a solid record of producing a truly breakout King TV show or miniseries.

Were you ever in an age where familiarity and novelty are the two most dominant media drawbacks? On television, the most-watched shows are ten Dick Wolf shows, a Game of Thrones spinoff, every branch of CSI and NCIS you can imagine, and as many iterations of popular reality shows as TV can produce. Now that the prestige-TV machinery has tried every angle in delivering people Kings prose, it increasingly looks this isnt the time to adapt King.

Part of the reason for this is that King series is still developing in a stressful period where viewers are clearly seeking out comfort entertainment. Doctor Sleep's child torture and murder, the extended family's agony after the child deaths in The Mist, and a vampiric daughters' pleas to her crestfallen father in Chapelwaite's death are all examples of how deeply tragic events can be.

If youre bingeing on King stories, it can be difficult to spend time in these worlds at all. People live with scars caused by psychopaths, they resolutely fail each other, or worse, they continue to be awful on purpose.

Despite the fact that his books have remained popular for so long, many of them have dropped out. Is it possible that today's TV series is more suited than ever to the demands of his long and winding stories? Perhaps the next adaptations will help unravel the curse of Stephen King in media, which has never been resolved by any of the author.