It Chapter Two: Nearly three hours of Yo Mama jokes and people screaming “F**k.” Plus a clown. At least there won’t be a Chapter Three.
I don’t care for musicals.
I’m not enamoured with Broadway productions and generally avoid the films that are based upon them. Perhaps part of my problem was being inundated with a particular form of the genre when I was young. An unnerving number of Disney films, and thus “kid fare,” were made as musicals in the 1960s and 70s. At the same time, many of the “classics” of Broadway theater seemed to be making their way onto film at the time. At some point, I just could take no more.
Cabaret, therefore, never made it onto my lists of films I wanted to see. In some ways, it promised to be not only a “typical” early 1970s musical but might have been considered the archetypal Broadway musical. Doesn’t every Broadway actor, male or female, aspire to be Liza Minnelli? How many productions must imitate Joel Gray’s over-emoting? Perhaps my avoidance of the whole lot means that I over-weight some of these vague impressions I’ve developed on little evidence. So while I don’t know how influential Cabaret actually is on what came after it, it sure seems to me like a road map for how to perform show tunes on the stage and on the screen.
It took a one/two punch for me to finally decide to watch it. First, I read a review in the Wall St. Journal of a summer staging of Cabaret at, of all places, the Ogunquit Playhouse in the Maine resort town (for we who don’t indulge in expensive vacations, it is the fictional home of Frannie Goldsmith and Harold Lauder in The Stand). The Ogunquit production of the musical is based on the Sam Mendes 1993 London revival, which I also haven’t seen, but it was described as a “lewd, pitch-black production.” Punch number two is that Netflix removed Cabaret from streaming at the end of September. Finally, as I was wavering (a bunch of interesting stuff disappeared September 30th, all vying for my viewing attention), someone posted the beer hall clip from the film. The scene features a young Nazi leading revelers young and old in singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me. The social media post drew a connection between the teen-aged “Hitler Youth” and celebrity du jour Greta Thunberg. I had to watch now.
First of all, even when I wasn’t enjoying the film, I was admiring it. It is a technical masterpiece. It is no accident that it earned five technical Academy Awards (cinematography, art direction, sound, film editing, and score). Watching the camera work in the night-club scenes would make many of today’s directors wish they could go back to film school. This is not to say that the film was unenjoyable, just that some parts were better than others. One out-of-place example has Fritz Wepper, playing the secretly Jewish confidence man Fritz Wendel, acting the Borsch-belt fool opposite the elegant and straight Marisa Berenson’s teenage* heiress Natalia Landauer. It’s not that its bad; it is just not consistently engaging.
In contrast to most musicals of the time, characters don’t spontaneously break out into song as a way of expressing themselves. Musical numbers are either in the context of a night-club performance or background music played on a Victrola. The one standout, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, is all the more powerful a scene in that it does have characters standing up and spontaneously singing, although still in a plausible context (I’ve been known to start singing in beer halls at the slightest provocation, myself).
The source material of this film, the various Broadway musicals, and a 1950s musical/film interpretation called I Am a Camera, is a collection of short stories called Goodbye to Berlin** by English author Christopher Isherwood. Isherwood wrote the stories based, roughly, on his time in Berlin in the early 1930s and published them in 1939. It was a contemporary account lived, written, and published all before the full and horrible impact of the Nazi takeover of Germany was realized. George Orwell contemporaneously described the work as “brilliant sketches of a society in decay.***” I’ll come back to this analysis after working my way backwards through time.
The urgency of this story in the contemporary is obvious and, although less obviously, universal. From the left, we see a story about recognizing or, perhaps, failing to recognize evil as it is growing strong. I’m going to assume, without any evidence whatsoever, that the minds behind the Ogunquit staging see their performance as a tale about Trump’s America and the need to, as Michael York’s Brian Roberts rather unproductive does, punch a Nazi. On the right, folks hear the shrill, absolutest ragings issuing from the mouths of babes echoed in the strains of Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Check the young lady at 2:07 for some righteous anger.
The context of 1972 is probably similarly obvious. Several years after the Stonewall Riots, the movement for gay rights was changing into one demanding open acceptance and normalcy within larger society. This heralded a new integration and, perhaps, power for the gay community but would also provoke a backlash. In 1972, that backlash could be easily compared to the early support for Nazism; perhaps harmless enough as it existed but capable of growing into something terrible.
What’s not entirely obvious to me is Orwell’s point in 1939 (assuming he made it contemporaneously with the book’s publication). Surely the “society in decay” refers to the emerging Nazism, which had clearly become and uncontrollable force by 1939. Could it also refer to the decadence and hedonism of the early-30s Berlin? Is there a connection between the collapse of traditional morality and the rise of authoritarianism? Besides the red armbands and petty thuggery, what early warning signs do we see in Cabaret that would foreshadow the coming storm. What warning signs might we be seeing right now, today?
Das eine Mal als Tragödie, das andere Mal als Farce
Watching the film in 2019 invokes very different reactions that it would have in 1972. In terms of actual “adult content,” it is on-the-whole rather mild. There is no outright depiction sexual acts. There is a level of casual nudity that, while it was becoming acceptable in the early 70s, is a tad bold by today’s standards. At the same time, the implied sexual content is perhaps more intense than expected. Homosexuality and bisexuality, while not portrayed on the screen, are key elements of the plot. Sexual congress results in an unplanned pregnancy which prompts an abortion. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching Glee and other times it’s A Clockwork Orange.
While the topless scenes may have seemed simply artistic in the 70s, the sexual undercurrents were not considered mainstream. The film initially received an X rating (albeit at a time before X was synonymous with pornography) in the U.S. and the U.K., although these ratings were later revised.
Anger over the content was not restricted to those who were concerned about its subversion of traditional morals. Tomorrow Belongs to Me caused quite a stir as people objected to the glorified use of a “Nazi song” in the film. In point of fact, the song was an original composition, as were all the music numbers, by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Both composers are Jewish. Yet, the misconception and anger were enough to have the song cut from the film when it was first shown in West Berlin. As with the rating reconsideration, however, the deleted number was later restored.
Another Kander/Ebb song also drew anger from the left. If You Could See Her begins a scene with an extremely large woman on a scale and Joel Gray expounds:
“I know what you’re thinking. You wonder why I chose her […] If you could see her thru my eyes, you wouldn’t wonder at all.” The woman then turns around and is revealed to be a chimpanzee. Gray’s character continues to sing of her hidden virtues, finally ending with the line, “But if you could see her thru my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all!”
This last twist, again, upset many at the time, seeing it as an expression of antisemitism. It’s a comparison that echos in modern controversies where any juxtaposition of animals and ethnic minorities is bound to be called out as hate speech, regardless of intent. Furthermore, the contemporary explanation (in Wikipedia) says that the song “reveals the growing acceptance of anti-Semitism.” Apparently, the inability of an audience to discern satire from contempt remains unchanged from the 30s through the 70s into the twenty-teens.
It seems to me that our collective inability to recognize subtlety – whether in art, literature, or even the daily news – will continue to define us. The importance of this work (encompassing everything from the short stories, the films, and the theatrical productions) is its portrayal of an early and outsider’s view of the rise of one of the most destructive forces of the 20th century. In reading it, we wonder if we could have anticipated the violence and death that sprung from Nazism. We wonder if we will spot it the next time arises. However, if we’re all only looking out for anti-homosexual bigotry coming from blonde kids wearing red armbands, I think we’ve missed the point.
*The actors and actresses are all their mid-to-late 20s or early 30s, which seems consistent with the source material. An exception is the character of Natalia, who in the original book is a teenager.
**Published, also, in a combined volume with the novel Mr Norris Changes Trains and called The Berlin Stories. This more extensive packaging also seems to be the cheaper option, if you happen to be looking to read it for yourself.
***This publishers blurb is quoted in all the sale-oriented reviews but, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, without context.
Recently, I was trying to find some information about the various adaptations of The Shining, and I came across an offering of three Stephen King made-for-TV adaptations in one DVD package for an almost-reasonable price. In addition to The Shining, the set contains the Rob Lowe version of ‘Salem’s Lot, and It. I’ve watched all three of them before. The Shining is a much more faithful adaptation of the book, which is why I want to watch it again. Salem’s Lot pales in comparison to the 70s version which, itself, didn’t really do its source material justice. I’ll probably want to watch them both fairly close together so as to compare on a fair basis. As to It, well, until recently it had the advantage of be the only adaptation of the book out there.
I read the book shortly after it came out in paperback. I can’t remember exactly when but, in any case, definitely before the original, TV version of It was aired. As a fan of the book, I made a point of catching the two-part movie (miniseries?!?) when it was on. I can’t say I was entirely thrilled.
But first, something not about the what and how, but about the when. The story ITself (ha ha, right?) is about an ancient evil that awakes every 27 years (give or take*) to feed on the fear of its victims, preferably children. The “present” of the book is the fall of 1984 into the summer of 1985.
Whenever a story is updated, the author/adapter often feels the need to update it vis-à-vis current events. A story about terrorism written before 2001 would feel like it was ignoring something important if 9/11 wasn’t subsequently included, wouldn’t it? Stephen King gives us fine examples of both what to do and what not to do when he rewrote The Stand to take place after AIDS. This seemed to be necessitated by the fact that the book is to take place in the “near future” (the original hardcover was published in 1978 to take place in 1980s). Does it make sense to write about a “near future” that has already long passed and, obviously, didn’t actually happen? Or is it better to keep moving your near future forward, while you’re at it, so the reader (at least the ones who have rushed out and bought your revised book as soon as it came out) still gets the sense that your possible future remains possible?
I guess it depends.
In any case, when the made-for-TV-movie treatment came out four years after the book, It, was published, the narrative was advanced five years, to still take place in “present day.” Again, it probably felt more natural to engage the viewing audience with their own “near future.” It also avoids anachronisms. A story set four years in the past has the problem the writers know what happened in the intervening four years but the characters don’t. Maybe not a problem, but putting the characters and the audience on equal footing feels natural.
Even at the time, the mini-series was somewhat disappointing. Part of it was the gap between “made for TV” and “movie” budgets, circa 1987. These days, we expect our TV “events” to look polished. Not so much in the late 80s. Even by those standards, however, watching a badly-done stop-action monster fighting on screen felt a little off. With its TV origins, this production had a strike against it, although it wasn’t entirely its (or Its) fault.
Second strike is that it is a Stephen King novel. With one or two notable exceptions, converting Stephen King’s material to film has not worked out well. The Shining is often seen as an exception although, having just read Dr. Sleep, I now know that King didn’t much care for Kubrick’s interpretation. Its success has more to do with the Nicholson/Kubrick vibe and, in that regard, it is unlike any other King-derived film. Stand By Me is my personal pick for the exception that makes the rule. Based on a King short story, the movie is both faithful to the original and exceptional in its own right. I’ll state that, for what its worth, there are plenty of adaptations that I haven’t seen. Although, to a large extent, this is because so many of them are so bad. The King stamp on a movie frightens me off and not in a good, Stephen Kingly sort of way.
I’ve thought a lot about this phenomenon. For me, I think the answer is that Stephen King’s writing is extremely visual. I talked about this before when it came to his ability to describe the indescribable, and this is part of it. It also applies to simply to his ability to create an image in the readers mind, whether that be the look of Randall Flagg, the creepiness of a House, or just the view down an empty highway. When his writing does so well in using the imagination to paint a picture, translating that to two-dimensional images on a screen will invariably fall short.
With regards to It, there is a similar failing in translation. For example, King uses the repetition of certain words and phrases to help establish the alternative world in which his stories take place. It works well within the books. It works considerably less well when written in as dialog in a screen adaption. In the book, a phrase like “Beep-beep Ritchie” implies a long history between old friends. They’ve known each other for so long that they’ve established their own language when they talk to each other. King lets us see this history by showing them using that language. It illustrates the depth while avoiding creating that depth (extensive portrayals of their relationships before the narratives of the book) or outright describing it (“the children had been friends for so long that they…”). However, when phrases are put on the screen “Beep-beep” or “We all float down here,” they fall flat. Why? Part of it is the shortcomings of the screen relative to the imagination. Part of it is a lesser ability of an on-screen portrayal to create that depth, that history in the way that books can. Part of it may just be bad acting. Or maybe the key is that what makes a good combination of dialog and acting on screen is very different from what comes off well in a book, all of which is very different from what would seem natural if encountered on the street between real people.
Folks often refer to Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise as a strength of the original It miniseries. I find it telling that his best lines (“Kiss me, Fat Boy!”) were written entirely for the screen whereas the signature lines from the book (“Beep-beep” and “float”) come off as awkward. Unfortunately, its the awkwardness that dominates. Again, the production isn’t that out of whack for 1980s made-for-TV, But it struggles more as it ages.
Produces and directors sure saw where 80s It failed. These very reasons must have contributed to seeing the remaking of the movie as a feature film as a good idea. If nothing else, top notch special effects using 2017 technology should be a huge improvement.
Once again, of course, we have to shift the timeline of the story. The “past” episodes of the narrative now take place, as a matter of fact, in between the two presents of the original versions, in Fall of 1988 through the summer of 1989. The new film makes less of an effort to track the book but, even setting that aside, there is little** that shifting the story forward some 30 years impacts. The story does seem to suffer a bit, even when compared to the miniseries. Perhaps the strength of the special effects detracts from the human angle of the story. Especially in the book and carried over into the miniseries, the monster plays on the weakness of each individual child, requiring individual character development. A theme is that the group can achieve together the triumph that, as individuals, would be a failure. As the new film focuses on special effects, with longer and more visual horror scenes, it leaves less time for setting up the characters.
There is also the big shift in the presentation. The original miniseries, like the book itself, tells the story by alternating between the past and the present. In the miniseries, the first “episode” introduces the adult characters and has them remembering their encounters with the clown as children. So by the halfway point, we know both their young and grown selves. The new movie is also filmed as a two-parter. The first movie, and the only one out as I write this, focuses entirely on the children. The adult characters are not present in any way. In fact, the story stands alone. Even if the second film were never to be made, except for those of us who know the original story, the audience wouldn’t feel like they’d been left with half a tale.
Another difference that struck me in particular was the ages of the characters. I don’t recall if, in the miniseries, the ages of the kids are made explicit. I do know that the ages of the actors are around the 11-year mark and that matches the explicit ages within the book. In the new film, there are several clues that the children are meant to be older. First, they look older, as the actors are in the 14-15 range. It is clear that the characters portrayed are also older, although again I don’t recall their ages being explicitly stated. Henry Bowers has a car, which makes him at least 16. His victims need to be at least close to his age, high school at a minimum, to make his bullying of them plausible.
They also don’t act quite like 11-year-olds or even 14-year-olds. The boys emit a constant stream of obscenities and sexual innuendo that seems more appropriate for freshmen in college. While I’m the wrong age to have “been there, done that,” my own memories would suggest that boys aged 11 (or even 14) would not have a ready sexual joke for every occasion, particularly not “the losers.” A year or two later or maybe some locker-room mentality might make a difference, but that language seems rather out of place for the characters that speak it. It also may be that, despite setting the film in the late 1980s, they act more like kids of the twent-teens. Is it also possible that the kids of today are that much different, perhaps vulgar, from kids of the 80s? Maybe. Look at Freaks and Geeks or even Stranger Things for a much more plausible portrayal of boys at this age and in this age.
The older actors and older characters also change the tone of the attraction/romance component of the story. The new Beverly, the actress, was 15 or 16 at the time of filming, an age that can look pretty adult in some circumstances. That impacts the way the various “crushes” play out, even without changing the actual situations or the dialog. Society has changed, but biology does not. Within the books timeline, Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin in 1957. In 1959, Elvis met and fell for 14-year-old Priscilla. Granted, adults dating 13-year-olds was frowned up even then and, by 1985, even more so. Nevertheless, the sexuality of teenagers was at least acknowledged to such an extent that we can use an 11-year-old unpopular girl interchangeably with an attractive 15-16-year-old while blithely pretending we don’t know what we’re all on about.
On this point, I’ll go back to the book. Around the time the book came out, I remember there was something of a kerfuffle in terms of media and its treatments of the sexuality of teenagers. I wish I could recall the titles in question, but I cannot. I think it involved movies. The situation involved the transport of non-pornographic films across the Canadian-U.S. border; films that depicted minors in sexual situations. Doing so exposed the possessors of such media to severe penalties under child pornography laws. It also caused something of a moral crisis among polite society. I recall thinking at the time that the moral crusaders had some real blind spots in terms of what they found offensive and what wasn’t worth noticing. It, at the time, receiving no particular negative attention except that which Stephen King generally garners for trafficking in witchcraft and devilry. Put it on MTV, and it was an international crisis. Write something many times worse in a book (one that exceeded 1000 pages at that) and nobody notices.
You see, the book version of It contains explicit descriptions of sexual congress among the 11-year-olds. This never made it into either movie version, even in the newer one where it might be considered at least age appropriate, if not still forbidden. It‘s [again, !] a real mixed-up set of values we have, applying different rules to different circumstances. Maybe that scene could never be written today, whether for a book or a movie; that I don’t know. Maybe in a few years, It will be republished with the sexing stuff removed. Or maybe we’ll continuing as we always have; feinting in horror at one reference while accepting it as mundane in another context, or perhaps even edgy somewhere else. In this, I suppose, the new Victorians aren’t all that different than the original ones.
*My hyperlink takes you back to an earlier post where I discussed the synchronization of the timelines in Stranger Things, Dark, and Back to the Future. It‘s present day, as well as its 30-year-or-so cycle, fits in well with this theme. The death of Georgie Denbrough likely comes very close to the November 12th, 1984 date that seems to repeat. In this case, however, I’ll not accuse King of paying homage to Back to the Future. I think the key here is that the Losers’ Club of the story, and in particular famous horror author Bill Denbrough, are exactly the age of King himself and when their characters become adults, they are returning take on the monster at the age of King, himself, the age at which he is writing the book.
**Maybe one, just because thinking about it made me think about it. A key factor in the original stories (and miniseries) is that Eddie’s mother forces him into hypochondria and insists that he treat himself with ineffectual asthma medicine as a means of controlling him. The “prescribing” of a placebo inhaler makes sense in a 1950s plot. Not so much in 1989.
As a younger man, I absolutely loved Stephen King and read everything of his I could get my hands on. At some point, however, he managed to write faster than I could read, and I sort of lost track of what he has put out. As it stands today, there are many of his works that I’ve yet to read.
It also didn’t help that, like so many in the entertainment business, he has become actively involved with partisan politics. He was a public backer of Barack Obama’s presidency and, more recently, has been a vocal anti-gun advocate. It’s much harder to turn over your money to someone when you know they’re going to be using it against you, even when you enjoy their product.
He may be cranking out the novels multiple times each year but King’s writing remains engrossing. Many consider his works a guilty pleasure but, despite being lacking the wherewithal to do a proper analysis, I assert that his writing is of a better literary quality than most give him credit for. My enjoyment of Dr. Sleep aside, there are two aspects of this particular story shown (heh) through the narrative. One of them impresses and the other bugs me to no end.
Like The Shining before it, Dr. Sleep has alcoholism as a major theme. Among the scant inheritance Danny Torrence received from Jack, he has his father’s affinity for the drink. The opening chapters of the novel establishes the grip that liquor has on the main character and follows him to the “rock bottom” that, in some cases, represents the beginning of redemption for the alcoholic. King manages to capture the feeling of being a drunk in an utterly visceral way. King had his own fight with substance abuse, so I suppose the reader may assume that he knows of what he speaks.
That knowledge does not extend to firearms.
One would think that a best-selling author such as King would have the support of top-notch editors as he cranks out the novels. Furthermore, one would think that the job of said editors would be to do a little research when encountering topics of which they know nothing about. Apparently this is not true when it comes to King’s hated firearms, a phobia he likely shares with the staff at his New York City -based publisher. The mistakes aren’t horrible, as far as errors go, but being as obvious as they are to someone who knows better, they can really stand out.
The first error smacked me when one of the heroes of the novel brings along his firearms while coming to the aid of the good and the righteous. The novel takes place mostly in New Hampshire, where the “good guy with the gun” is woven deeply into the rural fabric. The problem comes when it is explained that his weapon of choice will be a 1911 pistol which, by virtue of it having been his service piece, is “fully automatic.” Despite such a thing having actually existed, it is unlikely that an elderly New Hampshire man would actually bring it to a gunfight. It is impossible that an elderly New Hampshire man would call it a “one-nine-one-one,” as King writes. May John Browning forgive his mortal soul.
Simply converting a 1911 to a full-auto trigger mechanism wouldn’t have been done, except by someone who might enjoy wrecking a decent pistol just to see if he can. The result would entirely uncontrollable and likely unreliable. Despite the wide range of magazine sizes available today, older 1911s prefer to run with a 7-round magazine, which would seem pretty pointless to use in an automatic weapon. While John Dillinger famously had a automatic 1911, the version that he used was modified with special barrel to help prevent the gun from leaping out of the hand of the shooter. It also had a foregrip, so it could be used two-handed. I’ve also seen some pictures with a buttstock attached, which also would seem to be a smart way to try to control such a contraption. These production models used 18-round magazines, which were probably themselves custom-built and also likely had to undergo some reliability testing to make sure they worked with the converted pistol. I don’t know if any of these survive to this day but, if they did, they would probably be worth a fortune. This isn’t something you’d want to stuff into a glove box.
The book identifies another “full auto” pistol, likely a Glock, in the hands of the protagonists. While a little bit more feasible (conversions of Glocks into subguns do seem to be somewhat popular), should someone own a legal version, it would still be a collectors item rather than a fighting gun. Of course, there are illegally-owned machine guns out there. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are examples of Glocks converted to machine pistols circulating in the ‘hood, but remember we’re talking about a law-abiding former soldier here. A more likely explanation is that King confused “semi-automatic” and “automatic” terminology, a confusion propagated by his political fellow-travelers.
Perhaps primed to be offended by this earlier mix-up, I got hung up on King’s description of a particularly fierce firearm as a Glock .22. Again, for most this would be considered a fairly minor error. Nevertheless, it jumped off of the page at me. To people for whom the very mention of the word “Glock” is a little scary and dwelling on any form ammunition, no matter the type, is even more so, a Glock .22 might sound pretty formidable. Problem is, a pistol in .22 Long Rifle is going to be particularly underpowered for the context in which the reference was used. In fact, Glock doesn’t even make a production .22 handgun, although they are easy to come by as conversions of larger-caliber models. More likely, it was an attempt to reference a Glock 22, a .40 S&W caliber firearm, which would be quite appropriate to bring to a gunfight. Does that misplaced period really matter so much? Maybe not, but isn’t that what editors are for?
Catching mistakes like this on a subject that I know a little bit about makes me wonder how much I take on face value, but is at least an inaccurate.
P.S. An additional comment about the title of this entry. The novel uses the phrase “Shine On” which immediately brings to mind the Twister soundtrack. I thought this might be unique to me, but I see the New York Times review of the book is itself titled “Shine On.” I think Twister has got into all of our heads.
When I first started reading Stephen King’s Under The Dome, I was immediately struck with a sense of “why didn’t someone think of this before.” What a unique approach to creating an “end of the world” scenario! The way it is done provides a nearly perfect setting for the author to explore what has become an incredibly popular genre.
The premise, for those of who who haven’t read the story (and if you haven’t, but intend to, you may not want to read this review, as I will be divulging various plot points), involves a small Maine town which is suddenly cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious, indestructible dome.
With this premise, he solves what I like to call the “small world” problem.
Books, films, and TV shows often run into a problem when trying to create a story of epic proportions. Any character, or any set of characters, are just so many people in a vast world. So if those characters are involved in epic plots to change the world, or save mankind, or destroy the ring of power (for example), there are untold millions who also populate that same world. All these people are also watching these epic events unfold, and interact, react and are otherwise entwined with them. In particular, if the world in question is the real world, our own world, we have a good sense of its vastness and complexity and notice when that is missing from a story.
A TV show that really struck me as getting it wrong was Revolution. Another post-apocalyptic tale, its events span the entirety of the United States of America. And yet, there are only a handful of characters, many of which are related to each other. A story which should have an epic feel plays out with 5-10 main characters and a few dozen extras. The world is too small.
Under the Dome, by contrast, starts out by creating that small world. Further, it does so in a way (isolating a small town) that allows the story to take place in the real world, present day. Yet within this new microcosm, we can explore all the problems of survival, lawlessness, environmentalism, and so on, that make (in my opinion) the end-of-the-world genre so appealing.
As to the story itself, if you like Stephen King you will probably like this one. I wouldn’t rank it among his best, but it certainly has that stuff that keeps him on the best sellers lists. The book is written in that way that drives the reader forward, eager to learn what happens next. I was kept up several late nights, unable to stop, until I finished just one more chapter.
Notable, for me, he continues something that was used in his earlier work, From a Buick 8. I’m thinking of is his description of horrors so total, they are incomprehensible to the human mind. This fascinates me. How does one describe the indescribable? He pulls it off.
One other comment on the book, for you firearm fanatics. A mistake he makes with the duty weapons of the police force kind of stuck in my craw. He identifies their pistols as Beretta Taurus Model 92s. It’s a little bit of sloppiness in the research department, as he’s mixing two brand names (for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, imagine has the characters driving a Ford Chevy 150). The Beretta 92 is a fairly common sidearm for military and police. Taurus also makes a 92, itself a Beretta clone (actually made in a Beretta-built factory in Brazil. I imagine a police department could save some budget by buying the Taurus over the original Beretta, although I have no idea. More likely it was a googling error, which mixed up some names. Stephen King is a bit of a hoplophobe, so one can forgive his ignorance (if maybe not that of his editors.) That this stands out as the low point should tell you how little I had to criticize.
Interestingly, given the thrust of my essay, I did have a problem with the scale of the dome and of Chester’s Mill, which seemed occasionally inconsistent. I live in a town that I imagine to be similar in size, location, culture, layout, etc., so as I read I thought of the story as taking place near my own home. Despite the fact that the area encompassed by The Dome is detailed in maps at the front of the book, I have trouble reconciling the scale with some of the descriptors. The downtown seems too small for the size of the town and the “back woods” portion of the town seems too big for the size of the dome. But I’m probably just over-thinking it. It didn’t really get in the way of my enjoyment of the book.
Which brings me to the TV show. I found out fairly recently Under the Dome had been made into a series. I was excited, because I had enjoyed the book. I was also excited because the problems with a “small world” are much more acute for a TV show on a budget than for a novel or a film, and as I say, this setting was a great solution to that problem.
One thing I did not want to get in the way of my enjoyment of the TV series is too much comparison to the book. Even the best translation of a book to television (Game of Thrones?) will suffer if compared too closely the the original text. And the show does deviate from the book. Starting with some significant changes right from the opening scene, the series has continued to move in its own direction in a number of major ways.
But that is OK. The setting can be used in ways that the original story didn’t. Given that my big nit with the book is the Beretta/Taurus thing, one new direction that the show takes the story is exploring Second Amendment issues. The ubiquity of gun ownership in rural (umm, where is this exactly? Maine? California?)… somewhere, and the implementation of gun confiscation in a crisis are explored. And when the guns come out, Hollywood’s unfamiliarity with firearms are boldly displayed. Our hero, Barbie, has a habit of constantly ejecting a round from his pistol, both before and after each shot. Shotguns are racked, reracked, and racked again, punctuating arguments between characters. One character even racks her Mini-14 like a shotgun.
It also bothers me, in each new episode, to hear talk of the sheriff and his/her deputies. These are town employees, not county employees – that much is made clear. That makes them police, not sheriffs.
I often wonder why T.V. shows and movies don’t put a little bit more effort into fact checking. Novels usually don’t have these glaring errors in them, I assume due to the editorial process. How hard is it to have editors/fact checkers look at scripts before they are filmed to keep out some of the more insane incongruities? Huh?
So, the nitpicks aside, what do I think of the show? At first, I thought it was headed for a place among my favorites. As the season wore on, though, I’ve been downgrading it to the good-but-not-great level. One of my biggest reasons for that is, you guessed it, the “small world” problem.
—–Spoiler Alert—- sort of
So about mid-season, we are introduced to some new characters. As it turns out, all the shady activity that we’ve been discovering in earlier episodes is all traceable to one crime boss. Furthermore, that crime boss happened to also get caught under the dome! Because the boss’ mother also happens to have grown up with the other characters. Somehow, all the trouble in South Western Maine (or is it Northern California) can be traced back to some bad decisions made in a Chester Mill High School. The mob bosses and drug lords of Boston (or is it Oakland?) don’t come into play – even pre-Dome, the world of this little town seems isolated from the larger world.
I sense that there were some major plot shifts, leading to possible discontinuities, which may have been a result of the series getting the go-ahead for a second season. I’m still looking forward to Season 2, and hoping that it will find it’s new groove.
Under the Dome: Season 1 DVD (free to watch on Amazon Prime)