Regret Getting Trapped in this “Dome”

There’s a reason that a lot of Stephen King’s stories aren’t turned into films. To put it frankly, they don’t work.

First and foremost, Mr. King is a brilliant author — one of America’s finest — and he, along with several other survivors of the 20th Century, have done a damn fine job of elevating speculative fiction to a genre worth preserving. They deserve to be commended — but that doesn’t mean that the Hollywood vultures should start picking their bones for meat.

Courtesy of CBS Television

Courtesy of CBS Television

Let’s start with the pilot episode of the latest ‘n greatest (erm, not-so-greatest) King adaptation, “Under the Dome.” Off the bat, viewers should be nervous: “Under the Dome” was one of King’s weaker novels. The plot of the novel — retained to a large degree for the series — is that an invisible, dome-shaped force field suddenly wraps around a small township in New Hampshire. The dome is soundproof and unbreakable, and the members of the town have to deal not only with the environmental and infrastructural consequences of the dome, but also with their many personal demons. And yes, I know, “The Simpsons” already did it in the 2007 film — and I won’t even start arguing about how King had technically began the manuscript in the ‘70s and “Under the Dome” is just an updated product. Simpsons did it. We’re moving on.

The book had really fantastic characterization (something King never lacks for) but really fell through on tying all of the characters together into a unified plot that was worthy of who they were. The ending, especially, was rather trite, predictable, and shall we say it? Not worthy of the man’s genius. The plot up until the novel’s finale was dependent solely upon this persistent mystery “WHY THE DOME!?!” which, again, to be frank, doesn’t really give the reader a lot to work with.

So, already viewers should be wary before turning on their TV sets for CBS’ all-star adaptation (with King as executive producer). But, granted, the series has a really excellent cast: Mike Vogel stars as the closest thing to a main character; Dale “Barbie” Barbara, an army veteran with a mysterious, and possibly insidious, past, joined by the likes of Rachelle Lefevre; Jeff Fahey and “Breaking Bad’s” own Dean Norris as “Big Jim” Rennie, a megalomaniacal town councilman/used car salesman with more than a few tricks up his sleeve. Norris’ performance, only three episodes in, is already the strongest light in an otherwise dim ensemble that probably thinks it’s too big for its britches, but really is just weak in the knees.

Let’s go back to why, and my earlier assertion — King adaptations are rarely good. The film version of “The Shining?” Great, you say, but King absolutely loathed it and it deviates from the book entirely. “Shawshank Redemption?” “Stand By Me?” You’re right, those are great — but they’re not HORROR, and they’re definitely not supernatural. Consider instead, all of the King flops – “The Langoliers,” “IT,” “The Mist,” “The Night Flier” — the list goes on and on, and while “Under the Dome” certainly won’t top it, it’ll find a place there. In fact, the only way to really avoid the trap of adapting King’s supernatural works is to alter them (which bothers him, bothers me, and bothers horror fans, but also saves us from total crap films) which is why readers should be very skeptical of this quote from Mr. King himself, which either signifies a light in the darkness, or a sign of the end times:

“The TV version of ‘Under the Dome’ varies considerably from the book version… because the writers have completely re-imagined the source of the Dome.”

Now, make of that what you will. The source of the dome — the big flop ending to the novel — was always the big mystery driving the series. Altering it could save the show, but it could also be an even worse explanation than the crummy one King gave us (no spoilers) — and furthermore, too much alteration could eliminate the series’ single saving grace: characterization!

It already seems that way, with Barbie coming off as the CW-style gruff and mysterious, dark, handsome dudebro and everyone else (with the exception of Norris, who, I might add once again, is absolutely stellar) fading into the background. Some performances, like Britt Robertson as candy-striper Angie McAlister, are utterly laughable, not just for the acting, but for the corny lines they’ve been fed from writers.

To be corny myself, this is one dome you might not want to find yourself under.

 

ONLY RECOMMENDED IF: Episodes pick up. If it’s not better than episode 5, drop it.