Dual Roles Blogathon: The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

Introduction

This is my contribution for the Dual Roles Blogathon.

Reception: Here and Elsewhere

Roger Ebert gave this film 3.5/4 stars. He provided great pull-quote material but not without a caveat:

“The Spiderwick Chronicles is a terrific entertainment for the whole family, except those below a certain age, who are likely to be scared out of their wits. What is that age? I dunno; they’re your kids.”

Clearly that sentiment was truncated for the DVD release. He is correct in that it is likely a more 1980s PG than a 2008 PG. However, it is quite good and has an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is rather high for a family fantasy.

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In 2008 this film was nominated for 10 BAM Awards (tied for the most) in large part due to its technical prowess of it, but it was also in my top 10 and thus a Best Picture nominee for that year. It won the award for Best Sound Editing.

The lead actor, Freddie Highmore of the dual roles, was nominated for Best Performance by a Child Actor as it was called then, and likely would have won were it not for Will Poulter’s stunning debut which did not require the affectation of dual roles. Highmore won the year before in a comparatively stronger performance in August Rush.

The Team

The film is an amalgamated adaptation of a number of books in the series. The team in front of and behind the camera is impressive. Director Mark Waters, just coming off his remake of Freaky Friday, which was a big hit in every sense; but the names behind the scenes of The Spiderwick Chronicles get bigger. James Horner provided the scoring, Michael Kahn, whom usually cuts Spielberg’s films was editor, and Caleb Deschanel, the noted multi-Oscar nominee, was the cinematographer. So the team was in place to deliver this story as well as possible.

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Flanking Highmore was Sarah Bolger, Mary-Louise Parker as his mother, Joan Plowright as Aunt Lucinda, David Strathairn as Arthur Spiderwick, and Nick Nolte as Mulgarath.
Freddie Highmore

Highmore has become better known in his early adulthood as Norman Bates on Bates Motel, which will have upcoming its 5th and final season. However, his transition from young actor to adult actor has been, albeit not well-publicized, fairly smooth and persistent.

in 2010, at age 18, he appeared in Toast, which earned a bit of notice on my site and at the BAM Awards. In 2011 he was in the lackluster The Art of Getting By and in 2013 Bates started up. This year he featured in a BBC mini-series called Close to the Enemy an indie called The Journey, and his most outstanding work on Bates Motel to date.

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Even becoming a working actor after being one of the biggest young stars of your day is quite a feat.

As for The Spiderwick Chronicles, dual roles is not something that young actors normally do for pragmatic reasons first and foremost. Young actors, due to union and legal regulations, work fewer hours on set. Minors also have schooling requirements if they’re not working a summer shoot. To put a young actor in two major roles is a logistical hardship more so than merely having a young lead or ensemble, which is the reason why you see so many “high school” shows populated by actors in their 20s and even 30s.

So there’s a tribute to Highmore in that they found him capable of playing these twins, rather than finding twins to play the roles, and also in making scheduling a bit more of a headache as a trade-off for a better end product.

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If you then consider that this is was Highmore working with his non-regional American dialect for a 3rd film and this time while playing two characters, it’s even more impressive. Clearly, when playing two characters, even when one if far more involved in the plot than the other, it’s still twice as much work and the actor has to work two characters through their arc while also differentiating their mannerisms, physicality, and demeanor.

This is established almost right away. Jared, the character who carries most of the action in this film, gets into a spat with his older sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger). Highmore is intense and angry and seeking to engage her physically. Wanting help from his twin, Jared says:

“Simon, get her!”
“I’m a pacifist.”

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The response is a throwaway wherein Highmore makes no eye contact with his alter ego. This instantly makes an impression about how to set the twins apart. They are not the dress alike, inseparable brand. Jared is more the everyman, who is angrier about the move, and in general; Simon is more studious and uptight.
Jared is the doubter at first of anything magical going on, but is also more adventurous and finds the book, uses the dumbwaiter. His character is not only introduced in a fit or anger but it is intimated he had anger management issues in the past.

Simon doubts Jared’s story´at first. When he’s taken by ogres Jared’s on a journey whether he wants to be or not having started the ball rolling by reading the book and taking it outside of the protective circle around their house.

Among the other challenges present to Highmore in this film is that he has to interact with a CG counterpart on more than a few occasions. There is also a scene wherein Jared and Simon are fighting each other which required Highmore to play both sides of the fight opposite stand-ins and doubles, it’s a demanding piece of physicality that cuts well.

After Jared brings Simon back to safety, literally dragging him, his leg injury (prosthetic make-up time added to logistics to consider – time in the make-up chair is time on the clock for a young actor) makes him most useful at the house. This allows for fewer scenes where Highmore would have to shoot two sides if he went with them to try and fight Aunt Lucinda.

While we’re far removed from the silent film days where there were Hollywood legends of directors literally willing to traumatize young actors to get them to produce real tears on film, crying scenes are still very demanding on an actor of any age. Highmore as a youth had these scenes as one of his calling cards and in this film there is a point where each of his characters is pushed to tears. For Jared it’s when he learns the truth his father won’t tell him about their parents separation that their dad has been too chicken to say to him himself.

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Toward the end there are scenes where the two characters collaborate such as when Jared summons the Griffin and Simon settles him down. Simon is teary in the cage when captured and also toward the end I believe. Here is the former scene for an example of Highmore as his own scene partner:

Below is another example of his work, this time in a climactic scene. Please do not watch it if you’ve not yet seen the movie. Scroll past.

 

There was less fanfare for this film than say The Parent Trap, as that was Lohan’s breakout and a remake, but this film is not too well remembered, and it should be in part because Highmore shines throughout.

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Book Review: The Cinema and Directing by Kim Jong-Il

This post is one that serves a few purposes. First, it is to turn you toward Open Culture. If anything is out there and legitimately free of charge they’ll tell you about it. It was in their posting that I discovered that not only did North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-Il write film theory but also directed some films. I read this shorter work first and will see his Godzilla film soon.

You can read my review of this book on Goodreads.

You can view or download a .pdf of the book here.

Music Video Monday: Panic! at the Disco – LA Devotee

Introduction

I’ve debated starting this theme for a few weeks, and I ultimately decided I would as it would encourage me to looks for options that actually fit what I’m aiming for. If one pays too much attention to Top 40 type music you tend to see a dearth of creativity in the music video form. The music video is spawned from short films and can be as creative if not more so than their predecessor. Far too often it does just become singing heads. I want to try and buck that trend and find ones both new and old that do something somewhat outside the box, at the very least have some sort of visual narrative. Here we go.

Since this video features Noah Schnapp (Will Byers, Stranger Things) it’s gotten a lot of press for that but the video is that good though and deserving of the attention – and I like the song a lot as well.

As I watched it there were echoes of many other videos and films that came to mind but it is definitely its own thing.

And on a personal note, I went to film school with the executive producer of the company that produced this video, which is very cool indeed!

Rewind Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

Introduction

It was hard to know how to categorize this old writing. This was a lengthy reaction piece, not quite a traditional review, that I wrote after viewing the film in my Films of Spielberg class. Part of why I chose to post it here is how it ends, which (scout’s honor) I did not recall until I re-read it, not that it takes a clairvoyant to predict Jurassic World, but it is longer for here roundabout 12 years ago.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Yes, it was the box office champion of the world when it was first released, but in a way I feel that Jurassic Park did suffer from bad timing as it came out only a few months before Schindler’s List. If there had been more separation between the two or maybe if the Academy viewed ’93 like they viewed ’00, Spielberg would have had two Best Director nominations. Although, I’ll always think it’s underrated.
According to Spielberg he got on the project when working on ER as a film script. Spielberg asked Crichton out of curiosity what his next project was. Crichton was hushed, as writers usually are. Then he finally gave Spielberg only two words: dinosaurs and DNA. Spielberg got it immediately and wanted to be the first to read it. Crichton agreed but he said Spielberg would have to direct. The rest is history. Sometimes you’re good and lucky.
The concept of this film is so tremendous I don’t know how everyone wasn’t out flocking to make dinosaur films of every and any kind. The only thing I think that kept people away were budget concerns. Dinosaurs were quite big in the silent era but then faded away. What a lot of people fail to recognize is that this story is so tight; it’s so well acted and flat-out well done. It’s unquestionably a cinematic masterpiece that is as grand as it is great and here’s why…
In Spielberg’s renowned tradition the dinosaurs are kept out of view early on, so we’re not bombarded. In many action movies people are moving around so long and so much that all focus is lost. We get taken into Jurassic Park very slowly, first we’re on Isla Nublar and the tree shake and we get a subjective shot from inside the dinosaur cage the handler gets attacked but we see no blood nor any “monster.” And in the very beginning the issue of responsibility, which is a theme throughout, is raised.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

We then move to an amber mine in the Dominican Republic, the globe-hopping Spielberg loves to do in the Indiana Jones films only occurs here in the first 20 minutes. The atmosphere and setting of Isla Nublar is huge in this film. The purpose of these scenes is two-fold being to introduce the safety questions surrounding the park and also for the exposition of the fact that two experts will be needed to approve the park. Alan Grant is brought up and we only learn that he is a digger.
We then move to Montana. We see Alan Grant (Sam Neill) on a dig, there’s an annoying kid (Whit Hertford) to whom he demonstrates a raptor attack with his 6” fossilized claw. This also foreshadows the very last of the dinosaur attacks in the film. Not only is that introduced but also the notion that the T-Rex’s vision is based on movement. It also serves to establish the relationship between Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). They are then visited via helicopter by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) he asked them to come to the island, never really reveals the true nature of the park, and bribes them by offering to fund their digs for three more years.
We then move to San José on the Costa Rican mainland where Dennis (Wayne Knight) meets with Dodgson (Cameron Thor) and we see there is a conspiracy afoot, in which, he will be paid quite a bit of money for fertilized embryos. Knight, best known for his supporting appearances on Seinfeld and 3rd Rock from the Sun gives a great performance as a the nervous, over-anxious, bumbling conspirator.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)
Upon arriving on the Island, Grant and Sattler are introduced to Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) he provides a lot of comic relief and also has his own unique scientific perspective juxtaposed with Sattler’s knowledge of plants and Grant’s knowledge of dinosaurs.
This is without a doubt some of John Williams’ best work in scoring. It’s definitely some of his most melodic and well-placed work. The main theme appears at the right spots and stays in your head long after the movie is over.
We’re shown a sign upon arrival reading “Danger!/1000 Volts” which is another piece of foreshadowing. Another sign that provides a little hint is “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,” which is draped over the exhibit of skeletons.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Another great touch is its timing. It’s 20 minutes before we see a dinosaur in its massive glory. Spielberg knows this is what we’ve come to see and isn’t going to throw it out too much or two quick or it might get stale. After this we move into the plausibility aspect and walk the audience how it could and did happen through a film strip and a little cartoon character named Mr. DNA.

The film shows its intelligence when dealing with cloning whereas most films just gloss over the issues that might make it more difficult or simply changes a few laws of natural science around to make it more convenient for themselves. In Jurassic Park one of the first things we see is that cloned dinosaurs are born where other cloning films might make them full size from the get go. Secondly, there are gaps in the DNA sequences which are filled by frog DNA which comes into play later.

When walking in the park we get some information in the Raptors which actually shows later films have kept the series consistent in that regard. One place in which there may be an inconsistency in parts 2 and 3 is that on Isla Nublar there is a plan called the “Lysine Contingency” in which, the dinosaurs are purposely engineered without the amino acid Lysine and if they are not given doses through injection or in food they will fall into a coma and die. If this is the case, how are they still even alive in parts 2 and 3?

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Another clever link-up is first Dr. Malcom uses water to explain Chaos Theory and then cups of water shaking is the clincher that tells us the T-Rex is after these people. This only occurs 63 minutes into the film; this is not what one would call action all the way. Case in point, the big chase with Dr. Malcolm looking back at the T-Rex and the famous “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear” shot, doesn’t begin until the 82nd minute of the film.

We’re occupied with suspense elements with the plot to steal the embryos and Dennis’ encounter with a Dilophosaurus. Coupled with the attempt to try and get the systems back up and running after the virus made itself known with Dennis’ caricatured image in the scene repeating “Uh-uh-uh, you didn’t say the magic word.”

A major element of fear that these dinosaurs cause is that these people realize that there is only so long that they can run and outdistance these beasts before they are caught. There is a lot of hiding. Tim (Joseph Mazzello) is forced to hide under the Jeep when the T-Rex is stomping on it. Later on he is hanging in the tree and they rest for the night perched on a branch. The same holds true for the fear we feel when the tandem of Raptors are after the kids, during this part we also see a genetic sequence displayed in light on a Raptor which is quite an impressive shot.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

While waiting out the night Hammond tells of how he used to run a flea circus and how he used to love to make people happy. He said he wanted his park to be something real but is told it’s the same thing because there’s no real control over the animals.

The situation escalates when we find the dinosaurs are breeding even though they are all supposed to be female. The explanation there is that the gaps were filled with frog DNA. Frogs have been known to spontaneously change gender and it has occurred here. Life has found a way.

The dialogue in Jurassic Park is just great and I could go on an on listing smart and snappy lines that are funny and/or thought-provoking but it all just works. In this film Spielberg yet again showed his unique talent for having people and things that come out of nowhere and just scare you. What cements Jurassic Park’s greatness is when the Raptors meet up with the group on the museum/lobby. This element of Spielberg’s greatness comes when the Tyrannosaurus Rex, while the Velociraptor is the breakout species of the film, T-Rex is the star – and saves the day by knocking the Raptors aside allowing the people to escape as the main theme chimes in with perfect timing. As the banner rains down the T-Rex gets into the perfect pose and roars. It’s one of the most personally pleasing moments I’ve ever experienced and it was the work of a crowd-pleaser and a true genius.

Jurassic Park (1993, Univesal)

What marks Jurassic Park the most is how it ends. In this respect, it understands its own modesty. There’s no corniness at the end of the first or the third, I’m trying my best to forget the sequel. They got away. That’s what mattered in the end. There may have been a lot going on but that’s about it right there, they’re flying away.

Jurassic Park is a classic film which succeeds at something very difficult taking creatures many people loved as kids and showing the scary side of them and having us embrace that too. The anti-cloning sentiment won out quite easily, but with the T-Rex saving the day we see that these creations are victims of circumstance and not so unlike Frankenstein’s monster.

Paleontology is a science I devoted most of my childhood to. It’s also one that’s full of new discoveries and theories which provide unlimited amounts of material. Just one example is that in recent years many paleontologists through kinetics and computer simulation now support the T-Rex was a scavenger and not a hunter as believed since its discovery. This is a franchise I think has a lot to stand on and a built-in audience and I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if it were to continue.

In Memoriam: Bobby Breen (1927-2016)

Introduction

While this In Memoriam starts more like a traditional obit, I continue in my new tradition of enlivened posts, as opposed to Gene Wilder, where I posted clips, here I have entire features where you could build your own film festival if you want. Thanks, public domain!

Bobby Breen

Bobby Breen passed away on September 19th, 2016, he was born Isadore Borsuk in Montréal, Québec, Canada on November 4th, 1927; he was 88. His parents were Jewish immigrants from modern-day Ukraine (then USSR).

While the case with most child stars was that their parents that pushed them, Breen’s parents did not. His much older sister, a music student, discovered his talent and allowed him to pursue a career shortly after they moved to Toronto.

He was touted as the boy soprano. His voice is undoubtedly incredible but what’s really intriguing is the films are truly built around him and showcasing his singing.

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Bobby Breen and his sister.

Shortly after his first gig at a nightclub he started entering and winning competitions. In 1934 he was on a bus to Chicago and working in the theatre, with his surname already changed to the more anglophonic Breen.

A year later he was in Hollywood and Sol Lesser, a producer best known for discovering Jackie Coogan and being involved in many Tarzan renditions, signed him to RKO.

Films

After some radio appearances his first film, Let’s Sing Again was released. Most of these videos are links to whole features. Enjoy!

After its success RKO signed him to a three-picture deal.

Rainbow on the River (1936)

How good or bad the films he was in usually hinged on how naturally the opportunities for him to unleash his voice were folded into the plot. On the rare occasion both of these combined perfectly.

Make a Wish (1937)

 It may not be the best film he was in, I’d argue the melodrama Make a Wish was, but it may be the best showcase of his singing talent.

Way Down South (1939)

You can get this film on DVD with a great introduction by Lou Lumenick:

Breaking the Ice (1938)

However, like all his films it ends well and enjoyable enough to watch and there is decent spacing and plenty of singing.

Hawaii Calls (1938)

In 1939, following Escape to Paradise, and with two more films still on his contract. He retired from the industry.

 

Four films Bobby starred in were nominated for Academy Awards in scoring categories so they were fine productions.

Life After Film

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In a 1977 article he discussed his decision to leave the industry:

When you’ve been a child star and suddenly find yourself with a husky voice, it’s hard to convince agents that you’re not over the hill. I stopped singing at 16 because of the huskiness and took up the piano. I had the knack for it, but never wanted to be a concert pianist. I just wanted to be back in the world I’d known all my life.

In 1942 he returned to appear in Johnny Doughboy as himself. This film is very hard to find, save for wildly overpriced Amazon resellers.

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He served in the army during World War II, and despite not performing at the time, was recruited to entertain the troops along with Mickey Rooney. He did see action on the battlefront though. In 1945 he was hospitalized in France and won a Bronze Star after the war was over.

After retraining his adult voice over time he did return to performing in his new tenor range.

In 1964 he recorded an album with Motown called Better Late Than Never, which was not claimed not to be released. However, that song and some of his other recordings can be found on Spotify. These were his first recordings since 78 rpm releases in the 1930s.

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In his later years he was living in Tamarac, Florida and was running Bobby Breen Enterprises which focused on local talent after having managed bookings of what he called the “Condominium Circuit” which meant hiring aging stars of the past.

Breen was also featured on the cover of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

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He and his wife Audre died in the same week.

Conclusion

When I heard the news I thought I wouldn’t put down more words than these:

I have found more to say as I wanted to share these under-viewed films and his incomparable singing. The sad truth is that far too often human nature dictates that we don’t look to the past too often unless we hear of a death. However, since I first saw his films I’ve written of them, and saw this as a last chance to alert the uninitiated that there’s more out there than you realize, and you don’t know what you’re missing.

Rest in peace Bobby, may choirs of angels come to greet you.

My Ballot: Scream Factory 2017 releases

Scream Factory, an imprint from Shout! Factory, has been on a stellar run giving Criterion-like treatment to horror films.

They just ran a poll of titles they have rights to and are considering for release in 2017. In the above picture are my votes. When the results are announced I will update this post.

I have only seen one of my choices, so it should be an exciting wait.

Stephen King Properties Awaiting Adaptations: Novels

Introduction

I’m rather sure that this is the list in this series that most people have been waiting for. Stephen King’s novels be they gargantuan or modestly sized are where most know him from, and it’s where most of his noticeable unadapted works reside.

And as I planned on completing this series on his birthday; Happy Birthday, Mr. King!

Omissions

With King being so prolific, so many means of adaptation, as well as phases of production there are quite a few omissions:

  • One note about this list is that since The Dark Tower is in production, I have omitted those books from this list, clearly the idea is to start with The Gunslinger and proceed from there.
  • The Colorado Kid, Under the Dome, and 11/22/63 having been morphed into TV series are also exempt.
  • Titles currently in any stage of development are excluded namely: Rose Madder, Mister Mercedes (TV series, as well it should be), and Lisey’s Story.
  • Although it’s no guarantee there was just an announcement made that Mike Flanagan is developing an adaptation of Gerald’s Game for Netflix, so I’ll be optimistic and assume that happens, so I’ll skip on it also.
  • I include Black House in the section on The Talisman. However, with it being a sequel to the the latter I cannot imagine it going first for obvious reasons.

7. Insomnia

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Stephen King wrote, in On Writing I believe, how with all due apologies to his fans who enjoyed it, Insomnia was one of the books he didn’t consider to be very good. Aside from the occasional brilliant image, which would be useful in a film version granted, I don’t see much cause for this one to be adapted, and am not surprised it hasn’t been. However, if the old adage of a bad or mediocre book making a great movie maybe it’s a nut someone can crack when no options remain, and Hollywood is still refusing to buy an original screenplay.

6. Duma Key

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Inasmuch as it also deals with paintings that’s where I see a similarity between this and Rose Madder. Why I place Duma Key slightly higher (than Rose Madder would’ve been) in the pecking order is that merely the fact that this is a more extroverted and cohesive effort making the transition in medium easier.

 

5. From a Buick 8

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This is Stephen King’s other car-related novel but is nowhere near the fantastical end that Christine was, and perhaps that’s why it’s not been looked at as a possible film yet.  I wouldn’t mind seeing it but as you can tell, I have quite a few ahead of it.

4. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

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A few personal items here in the interest of full disclosure (non-sports fans can go down past the photo): one I am a Yankees fan, and as such the only King book I never read is Faithful his collaboration with Stewart O’Nan that chronicled the Red Sox breaking of The Curse of the Bambino. Not that I begrudge them having won in principal, and as a writer I wished my teenage self had chronicled the New York Rangers ending the curse of 1940 (something I felt in my bones would happen in the preseason), but it was the fact that it was against the Yankees, and overcoming a 3-0 deficit (a comeback I also felt coming), that I skipped it.

Once upon a time I considered The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon part of The Curse no one much talked about. Just after the book came out in April of 1999, Gordon only pitched 17 more innings in a Red Sox uniform. He had elbow issues and ultimately needed Tommy John surgery. Missed all of the 2000 and was then let go by the Sox. Coming full circle on the Curse he was on that Yankees team that lost to the Red Sox.

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Tom (Left) and Dee Gordon.

The book tells of a young girl gets separate from her parents in the woods, something may be following her and she relies on her wits and her imagined version of Red Sox star Tom Gordon to help her. The set-up is fairy visual even with all the inner monologue in the story, it doesn’t necessarily need a lot of dialogue and much of that can be externalized or turned into visuals. I’m not sure if it’s the specificity of the title (like that stopped The Shawshank Redemption from making the title more marketable by leaving Rita Hayworth by the wayside) or the fact that interest may be limited in a fictional version of a relief pitcher. It can work. Now it’d have the added bonus of being a period piece. And who knows maybe Tom’s son Dee, also a Major Leaguer, wants to give acting a shot.

4. Joyland

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Any amusement park or carnival them in Horror has a certain amount of visual potential, add a ghost and an unsolved murder into the mix and it could have even more. What it is prone to would be a touch too much cinematic cheese and/or a dampened impact by virtue of a non-traditionally unsettling setting. Still I would like to see someone take a stab at this because for every Funhouse, where the atmosphere doesn’t help it much, there is a Goosebumps or Zombieland that uses the locale expertly.

3. Doctor Sleep

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I love the idea of a film based on Doctor Sleep. However, there’s no gimmickry that would work to tie it in to The Shining in my mind. You can’t really parallel it to the Kubrick version or the mini-series in any kind of way that would work, nor do I think producing it as a tandem of new films with a new version of The Shining before it would work either.

The most I can say about making it work in a cinematic context is to have a really good casting director look at Danny Lloyd, see who may

2. The Talisman

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Though I chose this as my number two selection, I am far more baffled by The Talisman not having been adapted yet than by any other King title. It is one of my earliest reads, one of my favorite books, and one I know has passed through more than one option: none other than Steven Spielberg has this in his docket and some point.

The narrative is lovely and simple, the magic seems real, and one of King’s greatest protagonists abounds. And while it was rumored a while ago, CGI technology has clearly advanced far enough to hand the fantastical elements of this tale. I have nothing but praise for this as a possible adaptation.

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As for the sequel Black House, clearly it can’t happen before The Talisman. Not sure it will but it would be amazing if, in an ideal world, if there was a long layoff between The Talisman and this. Maybe even retaining original cast members like whomever is cast as Jack.

1. The Eyes of the Dragon

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It’s a wonder, it can get under your skin, yet is a fairy tale the likes of which you might actually read aloud to your kids. And as opposed to the runner-up it’s not a leviathan page count tale. There clearly is no good reason to my mind why this has not happened yet. With Dark Tower films would there be enough of a lull to have casting crossover as well? McConaughey as Flagg? Alright, alright, alright. Idris Elba as King Roland? Hell, yes!

King Properties Awaiting Adaptation: Short Stories

Introduction

Please note that films based on short story in any stage pre-release that are confirmed are excluded be they in postproduction, production, pre-production or announced. For a handy reference I suggest you check the IMDb. Now, ferreting out which stories have had releases with public screenings or direct-to-video release because of the existence of the Dollar Baby.

Dollar Babies are short stories that Stephen King allows to be optioned for one dollar ($1) to student and amateur filmmakers for use in the festival circuit only. It’s a great program of giving back and a hand-up to filmmakers.

I was fortunate enough to have entered into a Dollar Baby agreement with Mr. King in 2005. In my final semester I sent out a few inquiries about adaptation rights, the other one or two were cold. Upon his website adding a messaging function I messaged to see if there was any truth to the rumor that this non-exclusive non-commercial rights program existed. His assistant responded saying it did and that I need only pick a story from a given list, write a proposal and send it to the address she disclosed.

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The letter was mailed on a wing and a prayer, but once I got a fat envelope at home with a Maine return address and no sender’s name, I knew what it was and that one of the highlights of my life was about to occur. Enclosed was a contract, one that I’ve never had any problem sticking to and am baffled that so many on the internet scoff at because they “really need to see something.” For years I, my producer, and some cast and crew members withstood badgering for submission to a film festival where only Dollar Babies were screened. It’s great to have your film desired but we knew for a fact that said individual, who shall remain nameless, was not to be trusted with a copy of the film as he had been known to illegally distribute them. It was my name on a contract alongside that of my idol and if my movie got out there where it shouldn’t be I was the one who would look unprofessional.

All that aside, my film Suffer the Little Children was a long but rewarding journey, and an education. Thankfully, audio issues were cleaned up and we eventually started getting acceptances and even some prizes.

The film’s mission was complete. Mr. King has been quoted as saying he still grants professional project rights for a dollar and points on the back end, plus, certain exclusivity, which is why this a list I was rather looking forward to writing.

Selections

I included short stories and novellas into the same category.

There are a few titles I felt should be excluded entirely though for almost entirely personal reasons and I will comment on them now.

First, I believe that there will never be a good reason to adapt “Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling” from Hearts in Atlantis, despite its beauty. The reason for this is that it deal with Bobby Garfield as an adult coming home and reminiscing. The cinematic version of Bobby Garfield, Anton Yelchin, died tragically this year. As such, I feel the chances for this story to be adapted did too. The persistence of Yeltsin’s career from childhood through early adulthood made him the ideal candidate to reprise his role many years later. It’s a dream deferred sadly.

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The only other titles I’m excluding are “The Things They Left Behind” and “Graduation Afternoon” as they are 9/11-related stories. Previously I wrote of my own 9/11 story in passing in part to discuss the literal use of it on film, few instances of which I’ve seen. As effective as these stories are in text transposing them to feature length films would change the nature, spirit, and intentions of the stories too much for them to remain wholly tasteful.

As for the things I did select, I will not put them in any kind of order but instead divide them by collection.

Night Shift

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I Am the Doorway

Most of Night Shift has already made appearances on film, but usually as shorts in Dollar Baby adaptations.

I am the Doorway is a memorable, eerie tale that deserves a feature length take. Horror and space can and should co-exist and this tale would be an excellent vehicle

Skeleton Crew

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Survivor Type

Being stranded on a deserted island is not an unusual cinematic motif, but it’s not one usually employed in the horror genre, which is a unique attribute that Survivor Type would be able to bring forth.

Four Past Midnight

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The Library Policeman

While Sun Dog once upon a time was optioned by Frank Darabont and nothing ever came of it, but this has always been and always will be my favorite story in this collection. It blends together a lot of different things like real-world terrors, ghost-like apparitions and creatures using a host body. It’s also another one of King’s greater characters in Sam Peebles. Not only that but additional dovetails into this story in other works may allow for some closure to be felt.
Hearts in Atlantis

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Why We’re in Vietnam

As opposed to the Hearts in Atlantis tale that I do not believe can be adapted due to casting issues in this one, which focuses on Sully’s experiences in Vietnam as he reflects on them following a funeral could be portrayed with a new actor in the lead.

Everything’s Eventual

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Little Sisters of Eluria

It would be a little way down the line but if the Dark Tower cinematic franchise continues I’d love to see this folded in wherever possible. It may not be easy to find room for it but there are great visual opportunities within.

Autopsy Room 4

This is one that Stephen King based on an old short story, which became a classic episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one I’m sure could be made to work on the silver screen.

Just After Sunset

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A Very Tight Place

In his work on the horror genre Danse Macabre King said:

“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. ”

This short story is the best example of this I’ve ever seen. It is perhaps the grossest short tale I ever read, and thus still excels beautifully. The claustrophobia of this tale would be a hard work-around for a film concept but it could definitely work with some creative thinking.

Full Dark, No Stars

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1922

This is a marvelously harrowing tale that also being a novella should have sufficient content for a feature film and would make a great one. The frame is built-in the dynamics are mostly interpersonal, and thus, it excels in the horror of the known as opposed to that of the unknown.

Bazaar of Bad Dreams

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With this being King’s most recent collection it stands to reason that most of these stories have not been picked up yet. However, there are three that particularly stand out and I would not be surprised if we didn’t see them adapted soon.

Obits

This is King’s homage to the 1950s horror film I Bury the Living. With it being a modern take on the notion of controlling deaths, and with what he feels is a more effective conclusion than the film saw this would be ideal for an adaptation.

The Little Green God of Agony

This is a weird little tale that would need somewhat more than a shoestring budget to take its conclusion out of the realm of The Langoliers, but there is definitely room for expansion.

The Bad Little Kid

In a story that follows through on one of his themes of the persistence and omniscience of evil it could be a great film, as there is already plenty of material and a chilling conclusion. Also, as this story was originally only published in German, it’d be interesting to see dueling adaptations here as well, with the German version getting a little more creative leeway to make it a domestic tale via transference of location.

In the Tall Grass (Kindle Single with Joe Hill)

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This is one of King’s (and Hill’s) most hair-raising pieces of fiction that gave me a Children of the Corn vibe and left me wanting much, much more. It is highly recommended.

Music Video Monday: The Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy by Troye Sivan

Introduction

I’ve debated starting this theme for a few weeks, and I ultimately decided I would as it would encourage me to looks for options that actually fit what I’m aiming for. If one pays too much attention to Top 40 type music you tend to see a dearth of creativity in the music video form. The music video is spawned from short films and can be as creative if not more so than their predecessor. Far too often it does just become singing heads. I want to try and buck that trend and find ones both new and old that do something somewhat outside the box, at the very least have some sort of visual narrative. Here we go.

The Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy

This one was supposed to be posted a while ago. When the video for “Wild” came out I knew this was going to be something special but I lost track of the releases. At long last, here is the whole of The Blue Neighbourhood Trilogy.

Whether this narrative in anyway reflects your personal life I think is irrelevant. The songs, cinematography, and performance are excellent and can communicate to all. As I watched this I had goosebumps for about 12 minute straight.

Enjoy!