adaptations of Stephen King are almost impossible to learn and always will be

adaptations of Stephen King are almost impossible to learn and always will be ...

John Carpenter, the director of Halloween and Big Trouble in Little China, told SFX Magazine that he had only made 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 was just not that scary. However, it was something I needed to do at that time for my career.

Carpenter is in good company. Few filmmakers have successfully translated Stephen King to the screen. As Carpenter put it to SFX, No, no one has ever done it very well.

Everybody has their reasons for why one of the world's bestselling authors has inspired so many flops and catastrophes. Yet, almost everyone agrees that transforming Stephen King successfully is a herculean undertaking. There are a couple of agreed-upon classic King movies, like Stanley Kubricks The Shining, but even that film has its detractors, mostnotably King himself. And Kings's handful of hit films are the exception to the norm: Only a dozen of them received consensus good reviews.

The difficulty in generating a film out of a King story is the amount of detail and character-building he so often invests in his work. Only 15 of his 60-plus novels are less than 300 pages long, while the majority of his longest works and most famous cast members are not recognizable until they are shown onscreen.

Then, King's newest novel, Fairy Tale, which is due on September 6th, offers a brief introduction to the exciting but agonizing realities of translating his work for a visual medium. In that single sentence, it is easy to imagine the effort it would take to bring such a broad narrative to life on screen with any integrity.

Stephen King isnt bound by traditional structures or audience expectations; he has developed a trusted brand. Studios are understandably unable to get their fill of attempting to capture some of what makes him so popular, though it must be said that the ratio of well-liked to dissatisfied King on film means they are also prone to 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) requires removing characters and plot points. It requires adopting a writing style that is quite different from Kings', which often spends whole chapters on characters or events that are not necessary to the plot and tone of the work. Adapting his work involves making choices and often sacrificing everything that is unique.

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, positioned him on the map, just as the book it adapts created an overnight sensation for its author. The film grossed $33 million against its $2 million budget, so it wasnt surprising when Warner Bros. purchased the rights to Kings Salems Lot for the purpose of making it a feature film.

CBS took risks with the story, merging characters and changing the villainous vampire from a dandy to a subhuman rodent. It's still terrifying. It opened the door to the idea that the best approach to King wasnt on film, where flop after flop Firestarter, Sleepwalkers, Silver Bullet, and Graveyard Shift tarnished the stories that inspired them. King's true future, according to Salems Lot, was on television.

When capital-A Artists crossed the small screen, it was often subjected to network tampering (Twin Peaks) or outright cancelation (Fishing With John, The Dana Carvey Show) in order to please TV studio bosses as concerned about ratings and censorship as with the relative quality of the product.

On 1991's limited CBS series Golden Years, King Szarabajka plays a janitor who is exposed to harmful chemicals and starts getting older. All six adaptations of King's work appeared on the small screen (ABC, specifically) in two- to four-episode installments. The Shining, also directed by Garris, was also adapted, along with a new 1999 film, Storm of the Century, which King hand-picked for the task.

What was the problem? Choices. None of the early Kings writers brought any significant style to the task; they were all shot with small spherical lenses in 1.33:1, a deliberately box-shaped aspect ratio when shooting on television. These miniseries all seemed to have been encouraged to pursue broad performance styles, to convey every emotion as clearly as possible.

And then there were the special effects. Though some early adaptations have interesting practical effects (the best are found in Wallaces It, in which Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown takes on gigantic shapes and sizes thanks to the effects team), theyre mostly marred by early CGI that was not 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 approach, showing how directors can modify the horror writers' gentler stories in an effort to win awards. Even some of the most famous films from this 90s period Misery, The Dark Half, and Needful Things have much more controlled, quiet scenes than The Stand, which ends with a computer-generated hand squeezing a nuclear bomb until it detonates, killing a demonic villain who looks a

The arrival of prestige TV

The Mist, a slew of horrifying and horrific horror films, was released in 2007 by Frank Darabont, who was able to lean into unapologetic sadism at every turn and garner impressive ratings in the process.

Oz, The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood redefined what could be shown on television. 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: The West Wing, Hannibal, and Friday Night Lights on CBS.

Netflix and Hulu paid big bucks for shows like House of Cards and The Handmaids Tale. Big-name talent was being attracted, and Oscar-winning actors began to appear on TV left and right. It seemed like nothing (colorful language, graphic sexual assault, violence) was off limits, and writers' rooms and casts were finally filled with people other than straight white men. What better time than now to give Stephen Kings' unmatched name recognition another comeback on the small screen?

In the 2000s, King produced only a few TV adaptations, most of which were directed by Baxley or Mikael Salomon, who remade Salems Lot for TNT in 2004. That series covered the Kings story as it was written, yet they remained so simple to follow, that they would have been a popular hit with fans.

King had already written a number of new works begging for a prestige raise. Haven, a 2010 series based on Kings' 2005 mystery novel The Colorado Kid, was funded by the Syfy network, which was then known as Sci-Fi. It was financed by a pool of volunteers, with cheap synth music, not-all-there special effects, flatly handsome cinematography, and little ambition.

After three seasons, CBS began developing and quickly losing interest in Under the Dome. That 2013 series ditched the King novel and got down to the business of keeping a weekly program going by packing the narrative with dramatic cul-de-sacs and rudimentary plotting. King told the New York Times that he was disappointed to see it go.

Finding a footing

The prominence of King-based television started in earnest until Hulus' lovely 2016 adaptation of 11/22/63, about a man (James Franco) who travels back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. In 2018, the streamer also released Castle Rock, a kind of open-world Stephen King tribute stuffed with as many references to his work as two seasons of TV could handle.

Spike TV released a very costly season of The Mist in 2017. The same year, Ally McBeal's new version of The Stand went to CBS All Access. Adrien Brody starred in a 2021 remake of Jerusalems Lotcalled Chapelwaite, which premiered on Epix. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Pablo Larrain directed Liseys Story for Apple TV Plus.

Each of these new series is exceptional in its own way. Castle Rock's Andre Holland and Melanie Lynskey both do wonderful work making mute displeasure and displeasure seem utterly real as impossible things happen to them. The cast in Chapelwaite is superbly designed and photographed, and it infuses its tale of outcasts fighting for their lives with a dark sorrow.

Even if none of them ever aired on regular old network television, theyre all off the air, in their own ways. Liseys Story, The Stand, and The Mist were all canceled, despite great response. Even then, the only one of these series that performed admirably was 11.22.63, but it has remained hidden in the spotlight for various reasons, whatever the reason may be.

The success of Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story is clearly supported by Castle Rock, while it is different: long, brooding, and tense, with long silences and long attempts to rationalize the unirrational. Designed by Julianne Moore, Dane DeHaan, Joan Allen, and Michael Pitt, the film is a mixture of postmodern cool and real, scorching pain, and includes strong postmodern cool. Unlike its fellow horror period pieces Salem, Penny Dreadful, and

The Stand was, if anything, too conventional. It technically modernizes Kings' foundational epic story with a more diverse cast, culturally relevant dialogue, and accidental COVID echoes, but its still just a rough translation of Kings' words, with too little personality added, as one of those exercises that asks why did they do it in the first place? It's hard to imagine that someone looked at Kings' foundational epic story in his own words, his version of The Lord of the Rings, and saw

Why did so few of these series succeed with all of this variety and talent? Modern creators have thrown everything they can think of at the problem of rethinking Stephen King: longer run times, well-known actors, million-dollar soundtracks, and gory violence you couldnt show on television a few years ago. No one has managed to produce a Stephen King TV adaptation that might be described as a classic or compete with his books' success and popularity.

What now?

The hokier King version that was created by the early-90s TV miniseries boom was few people's interest in the more mature, more experimental versions. Similarly, nobody expressed much interest in the last few years' last batch of adaptations. But in trying to correct something through a negative example, they only discovered how not to do what was done previously.

The Institute, based on the book he co-authored with his father, is being developed for Netflix. Even after the last round of cancellations, producers still believe there are still opportunities to make King work on the small screen.

Changing peoples memories of the original stories by replacing them with prestige-TV texture removes the compelling writing style that continues to draw readers to King and seeks out new voices to flesh out his plot lines.

People may be disappointed if Kings' voice is replaced by someone else's. And those who havent yet seen his work and dont already have positive associations with a given title may prefer these ubiquitous adaptations. For all his fame as a reliable, enjoyable author, he has developed an equal reputation as a creator of unmemorable or downright depraved media. And when so much of it (except for the It films) has been overlooked, it's easier than ever to overlook the latest one.

More than that, television has become a medium where other familiar names dominate, such as David Simon, Vince Gilligan, or Shonda Rhimes, who are well-known for their successful, unique, and fresh stories. These kind of auteur showrunners, who have built their own brands and audiences, are less interested in adapting someone elses work, especially when almost no one has a proven record of producing a truly breakthrough King TV series or miniseries.

Were you ever in an age where familiarity and novelty are the two biggest competing media draws? On TV, the most-watched shows are ten Dick Wolf series, a Game of Thrones spinoff, every branch of CSI and NCIS you can think of, and as many iterations of popular reality shows as TV can produce.

Part of the reason for this is that King series were created in a stressful time when consumers are clearly looking for comfort entertainment. The latest batch of King series really hammer home the cruelty of his worlds in ways that the later versions of the 1990s couldt. Playing games with such vivid dramatic weight that they are almost intolerable.

If you're bingeing, finding time in Kings worlds can be challenging. His stories of communities ruled by sociopaths, parents ruining their children for adulthood, and the sacrifice of kind people to prove that some things are worth saving are all a lot.

Still, his short stories have been so popular for so long because they take them on breathtaking, well-realized dark journeys. Today's television productions seem to be more suited than ever to his long and varied stories. However, almost everyone who has tried has dropped out. Does the prospect of a Stephen King TV series finding the kind of purchase producers have been looking for since the 1979 Salems Lot miniseries be a problem for television and films?