The Year in Review and a 2018 Preview
Last year was been a banner year in the Stephen King Universe, particularly with respect to the diverse cinematic adaptations of his novels. Let’s take a look back at the various treats we received during 2017, and a peek ahead to what we can look forward to in 2018.
Before we immerse ourselves in movies and miniseries, let’s remember the prose of 2017.
We had a single new King short story last year, “Thin Scenery,” published in Ploughshares Vol 43 No. 2 last September. This story was presented in script format and deals with a man who thinks his life a play.
Stepping up to longer works, we have Gwendy’s Button Box, the collaborative novella written by King and Richard Chizmar. The story takes place in Castle Rock, and deals with a mysterious stranger, a young girl, and a box that delivers treats and fortune, as well as having ominous buttons with possibly dark purposes. You can read my interview with the co-authors here.
Finally, at book length, we had Sleeping Beauties, co-written by King and his son Owen King. The story was timely, dealing as it does with issues of misogyny and women’s rights, and it was a romping great thriller, too. My review of it is here.
Let’s work backward through the various adaptations that were released in 2017. The most recent was 1922 on Netflix [reviewed here]. The novella from Full Dark, No Stars is probably not as well known as some of King’s works, but the film was well received by critics and fans alike. It is mostly faithful to the source story, and features an impressive performance by Thomas Jane.
Mike Flanagan has been dreaming about adapting Gerald’s Game for years, and his wish finally came true when Netflix gave him the green light to make a movie from a book many people thought could never be adapted. And he did a terrific job of it, enlisting a stellar cast and solving some of the novel’s staging issues in creative ways. [Review here] He also pulled off one of the most cringe-worthy scenes in any King movie. There’s a terrific video of Netflix people reacting to that shot. Check it out!
Of course, we had the fantastic film based on half of It [review here], which set one-day viewing records for its first trailer and defied all box office expectations, doubling or even tripling the most optimistic opening weekend box office estimates. The film’s global take is now somewhere in the vicinity of $700 million. Wow. Alas, we now have to wait until 2019 for the second chapter.
As much as It exceeded expectations, The Dark Tower disappointed. Four months after its release, it has a worldwide gross of just over $110 million, after a weak (but oddly symbolic) $19 million opening weekend. My review was not well received by some people, who thought I was overly enthusiastic about the movie. What can I say? I enjoyed it enough to go see it again two days later, which is something I never do. Rumors of the franchise’s premature death circulated, but there is still a possibility that there will be more movies and/or TV series. Only time will tell.
The digital edition of It is now available, with the Blu-Ray coming early this year, with a bunch of bonus material. Later in 2018 will come the director’s cut, according to comments made by the director. Check out the list of features on disc here, and while you’re there, get a chuckle out of the hilarious alternate version of the famous opening scene.
There were two miniseries adaptations last year, too. Well, calling The Mist an adaptation is generous. It was a series inspired by the title and set-up of King’s novella, but any similarities ended there. I previewed the series in #199 of this column, and at the time I had relatively high hopes. A decent cast, an interesting setup, and acceptable production values. However, things went downhill fast and, although I watched all the way to the end, I wasn’t surprised or heartbroken to learn that the series wasn’t being renewed for a second season.
On the other side of the quality coin was Mr. Mercedes, a terrific adaptation of King’s first straight crime novel. Everything about this 10-episode series worked: the casting was terrific, the production was excellent, the changes made to the script worked for me, the villain was well portrayed, and the secondary characters added a lot to the series. It was also the only adaptation released last year that featured a King cameo, and what a memorable cameo it was! I previewed the miniseries in Dead Zone #200, and am delighted that it has been renewed for a second season, where they will presumably tackle Finders Keepers.
The last word on 2017 should come from the man himself, and we have that courtesy of a Q&A with Entertainment Weekly’s Anthony Brenzican: “Pennywise’s creator on scaring the hell out of 2017.”
What does King have in store for us in 2018? One of his early short stories, “Squad D,” which was supposed to be in the anthology The Last Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison but as-yet unpublished after decades, will finally be available for people to read in Shivers VIII. I’m happy to say that I have a story in this anthology, too.
In late May, we’ll get King’s next novel, The Outsider, which has a terrific premise. I’m very much looking forward to this one.
Will there be other stories or books? In the interview above, King reveals: “I’ve written another novella called ‘Elevation,’ which is also a Castle Rock story and, in some ways, it’s almost like a sequel to ‘Gwendy.'” He also says, “I’ve got another book that doesn’t have a title yet and that’s done.”
For adaptations, the one that we know about for sure is Hulu’s Castle Rock, which is inspired by characters and events from a number of King’s works without strictly adapting any of them. The cast looks terrific and I like the concept. We still know very little about it, though, which is kinda cool. Even King says he’s as in the dark about it as everyone else.
There are other things farther downstream. It: Chapter 2 will be out in 2019, as will a remake of Pet Sematary. There are a number of other adaptation products in various stages of pre-pre-[pre]?-production, but I never put much stock in those until at least cast members are announced or the cameras start rolling.
Don’t forget to check out Reading Stephen King, which contains my essay “Living in a Web of Mystery” and has contributions from a long list of other people whose names you’ll probably recognize.
In any event, the best place to stay on top of all the News from the Dead Zone is right here. I hope you had a safe and festive holiday season, gang, and I’ll check back in with you off and on during 2018.