Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #189 – '11.22.63'

The Obdurate Past: 11.22.63

The day has come for those of you who have been holding back: All episodes of 11.22.63 are now available on Hulu and ready for you to binge. You can even see it all for free if you sign up for the month-long trial the service offers. There are two options: one with commercials and one without. The latter is more expensive on a monthly basis if you stay on after the trial ends, but it’s worth the few extra dollars in my opinion to eliminate the ad breaks.

I know I promised you a mid-series update, but I didn’t get around to that. Sorry!

My feelings about the series as a whole haven’t changed since I first wrote about it a couple of months ago. I think it is one of the best miniseries adaptations of Stephen King’s work. There have been a lot of complaints about the changes to the story, but on the whole I think they worked without doing the novel a disservice.

Let’s explore some of them:

112263_104c_0373_f_03_R_Ben_Mark_Holzberg1) No Derry scene – the scene in the novel where Jake encounters a couple of familiar characters from It is charming, and it does call ahead to the dancing motif that will be part of the Jodie storyline (although less so in the miniseries than in the novel), but it is only meaningful to people who’ve read the other King book. Adaptations aren’t created specifically for people who have already read the novel, in my opinion. They have to appeal to people who have never read this—or any other—King book. So it would have been indulgent to spend a lot of screen time on this little grace note.

2) No test runs – other than proving that the tree carving from 1960 showed up in 2016, Jake doesn’t go back and forth a bunch of times to demonstrate the proof of concept. I can see why they did that. First of all, it’s repetitious. Secondly, it makes the reset seem like a convenient escape clause, so when something goes wrong, the audience would wonder why he didn’t just start over again from the beginning.

3) The first trip to Dallas – more than anything else in the first episode, this put people familiar with the novel on notice: all bets are off. You may think you know the book, but you don’t know what we’re going to throw at you in the miniseries. I liked that. It made the series more interesting. If I want to see the book play out in moving pictures, word for word, I’ll read the book again! New scenes, new characters, new crises—to me that’s all a great bonus.

4) Bill Turcotte – ok, this is one of the more controversial changes in the miniseries, taking a tertiary character and elevating him into a major player in the proceedings. I admit to resisting this at first. The past resists change, after all. But I understood it. Watch the first episode again and note how often Jake ends up talking to himself so he can explain to viewers what’s going on. Now imagine that for seven or eight more hours. Without a sidekick, all the stuff that goes on inside Jake’s head as he plans and processes information would have to come out on the screen somehow. Bill becomes the audience, in a sense. Jake explains things to him. It’s more natural and realistic. Also, Bill becomes an agent of the past, working with and against Jake from time to time. He’s a wild card. That’s not to say that I was terribly upset when his part in the proceedings came to an end, although I have to say he got a raw deal. But you can shrug your shoulders and say: ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because of resets.

6) Miss Mimi – this change was a stroke of brilliance. Jake is from 2016 and only has an academic sense of what it’s like to live in 1960. Miss M112263_107b_0075_f_03_R_Sven_Frenzelimi shows him real-life examples of things he probably knows intellectually but not personally.

7) The Green Card Man – again, I think this was a change for the better. He became a more ominous presence, and his catch phrase (“you shouldn’t be here”) gets picked up and reverberates throughout the series, in large part because he was allowed to stray beyond the confines of the rabbit hole. He’s the one who sets Jake straight on the way things are, and the way they must always be. Excellent use of a creepy character.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: fidelity to the source material does not guarantee a successful adaptation. I think one of the flaws with Dreamcatcher, for example, is the fact that the filmmakers tried to put the entire novel into the movie, and it simply didn’t fit. On the other hand, a lot of changes were made to the material in the Dolores Claiborne adaptation, but the end result was a movie that captured the essence of the novel better than most. Also, people often think that some adaptations are letter faithful to the original material without stopping to consider how many changes were actually made. Often more than you realize.

This miniseries has a lot going for it. First of all, it looks fantastic. They managed to recapture the early 1960s, both in sight and sound. It didn’t look like something filmed on a movie studio back lot: the world felt real, expansive and lived-in. If there were budgetary issues, they didn’t show up on the screen.

112263_108c_0169_f.r_Ben_Mark_HolzbergNext: the cast is top notch. Some people were nervous when James Franco was announced as the lead, but I think he did a decent job. Not outstanding—in just about every scene where he is going nose to nose with someone else, all eyes will be on the other actor, in my opinion, but he did what he had to do. He’s the everyman character, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone else could have elevated the role. He’s charming when that’s called for. Mission accomplished. On the other hand, relatively unknown actors like Sarah Gadon knocked it out of the park. How could you not love her Sadie? Daniel Webber and Lucy Fry were perfect as the Oswalds. They disappeared into those roles. And all the supporting actors were as good as it gets.

Do I regret some of their choices? Sure. I would have loved to have seen much more of Jake’s years as a teacher in Jodie. Those were thoroughly engaging parts of the novel. But the series is already nearly half a day long, and you can’t cram the entire book in, even when afforded as much screen time as Hulu provided.

There’s a lot in this series for King fans, including a whole passel of Easter Eggs, such as the dramatic appearance of Christine, a small part by Annette O’Toole (from It), references to Castle Rock, businesses visible in the background that call back to King’s stories, familiar King catch phrases, and all that graffiti.

So, bottom line: I don’t think you’ll regret watching this adaptation unless you are offended by the notion that some things will be different from the novel. This series was created by people who have a deep and abiding passion for the book and for King’s work in general, and they’ve done a brilliant job of bringing this massive book to the screen.

By the way, I was going to document the changes that occur in the opening credits for each episode, but someone has already done the hard work, so I’ll refer you to her. You’re Not Crazy — The Opening Credits Of 11.22.63 Are Changing Every Week.


5 thoughts on “Stephen King: News from the Dead Zone #189 – '11.22.63'”

  1. Well written description of the series. I absolutely loved it. The changes kept the story flowing and didn’t take away from the story at all. I wish more of Stephen King’s stories were done this way. Kudos to Hulu, JJ Abrams, James Franco & an awesome cast.

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