BAG OF BONES
I have no problem placing Mick Garris on a list of people I consider the worst directors in the world. He seems to have nothing else in his arsenal other than the pop-up effect figures lunging into the camera to conduct some variant on going boo or to ominously leer while repeating some meaningful phrase. Garris seems to have no concept of subtlety, no concept of creating atmosphere he seems to believe that these pop-up effects repeated ad nauseum are what it takes to scare an audience without the realisation that all it does is reduce their effect to repetitive tedium. On the side of the dramatics, Garriss ability to create depth or nuance to his characters is non-existent. He seems to have no concept of being able to allow his actors to portray complex emotions indeed, Mick Garriss sole idea of venturing inside the psychology of his characters is to throw in pop-up dream sequences or symbolic flash fantasies.
To his credit, Mick Garris has managed to hold it together on a couple of occasions his adaptations of The Shining and Desperation both emerged okay. After at least indicating that he was heading in the right direction with these, Bag of Bones shows Garris alas heading back to the same territory as painful clunkers like Sleepwalkers and Riding the Bullet. There is the constant profusion of pop-up effects flash nightmare images of Annabeth Gish being dragged away under the bed, Pierce Brosnan having meaningfully symbolic dreams of opening up coffins to find phones ringing. The first hour of the mini-series plays out as a ghost story where Garriss effects are predictable and hackneyed the house ominously rattling, the mildly effective scene of fridge magnet letters seen rearranging themselves to spell things out, imagined bodies popping up out of the water of a bath. Garris borrows the effect from Stanley Kubricks The Shining (1980) of having Pierce Brosnan kiss someone and they turn to a corpse and seems so in love with the effect that he repeats it three times in a row. Some of these effects become unintentionally absurd Pierce Brosnan under attack from a stack of gramophone records being flung across the room at him, the climactic scenes involving him being battered by the leafy branches of a tree with the shape of a womans face in it.
The script is a reasonably faithful one that closely adheres to the book on most plot points bar some minor condensing and trimming. Alas, it is the wrong type of story to be given to a director like Mick Garris as too much of it exists in the twilight zone of imagination and supernatural manifestation or imagined scares. This turns far too much of the story over to the things that Mick Garris does badly ambiguity, psychological subtlety and character-driven drama. Naturally, Garris only delivers these scenes in terms of a constant profusion of pop-up effects a la the horrendous experience that was Riding the Bullet. The point it is important to make is that the book of Bag of Bones (1998), when I read it, was intended by Stephen King as a subtle psychological ghost story. The very fact that it has been placed in Mick Garriss hands seems to wring any subtlety out of it and turn everything into lunging pop-up shocks that only serve to destroy the books delicate mood. More importantly, so many of Stephen Kings works are dependent on his individualistic voice as a writer. Without that emerging on screen, all that Bag of Bones becomes is a banal and tepid ghost story that seems little above the level of a 1970s made for tv movie.
Worse is Garriss casting where everyone opposing the hero seems unable to be allowed to demonstrate their malevolence by their performances but has to be physically caricatured as well William Schallert is placed inside a motorised wheelchair and shown as aging and decrepit; Deborah Grovers retainer is made up like a mummified member of the Addams Family; the corrupt lawyer who acts as Kyras guardian is cast with one of the creepiest actors in the business Julian Richings who seems to be all long, gaunt and bony face and screeches out his dialogue. There is no reason why any of these characters could not have been played by regular actors but the hideous exaggerations seem to be no more than Mick Garris trying to explain their characters physically, which is surely the effect of underlining something in screaming red neon.
Pierce Brosnan is an odd choice in the central role of Mike Noonan. Brosnan works perfectly well in a role like James Bond or in The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) smoothly polished, certain of his handsomeness and ice cold. What Pierce Brosnan never seems to suggest is the role of the average guy, the family man or the ordinary working class hero thrust into something he does not understand. I could never convincingly buy him as a writer here, it just seems like a well-known actor pretending to play a part. This is also a role that should be much more internalised and psychological. The way the early sections of the mini-series ought to have come out should have taken us inside the grief that Brosnan feels, the spiralling descent and teetering on the brink of madness where the sudden appearance of the supernatural sits on an ambiguous edge where you cannot be sure if he is imagining it or not yet Pierce Brosnan is wrong for it and Mick Garris entirely unattuned to the psychological complexities of the part. Similarly, Melissa George has never looked lovelier, yet there is no conviction to the relationship between her and Pierce Brosnan the only thing that seems to bring them together is the turning of the plot, not any emotion. When she is killed, it is undeniably a jolt, but crucially we feel no sense of tragedy at the abrupt despatch of a major character.
As with any Mick Garris film, there is also a number of cutsie in-joke Stephen King references, again something that seems pointless. Annabeth Gish leaves Pierce Brosnan with a nerdy fan Ill leave you with Annie Wilkes here [the psycho heroine of Misery (1990)], while Jason Priestleys agent mentions the release of a new Richard Bachman book, after the well-known pseudonym that King used on several occasions.
Mick Garriss other genre works as director include: Critters 2 (1988) and the cable tv movie Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990); the tv movie anthology Quicksilver Highway (1997), which adapted stories by Stephen King and Clive Barker; the virtual reality tv movie Virtual Obsession (1998); versions of Stephen Kings Sleepwalkers (1992), The Stand (1994), The Shining (1997), Riding the Bullet (2004) and Desperation (2006). Garris also came up with the stories for Batteries Not Included (1987), The Fly II (1989) and Hocus Pocus (1993), worked as story editor on the Steven Spielberg produced anthology tv series Amazing Stories (1985-7), and has produced the anthology series Masters of Horror (2005-7), Masters of Science-Fiction (2007) and Fear Itself (2008-9).
Other Stephen King genre adaptations include:- Carrie (1976), Salems Lot (1979), The Shining (1980), Christine (1983), Cujo (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), Children of the Corn (1984), Firestarter (1984), Cats Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), The Running Man (1987), Pet Semetary (1989), Graveyard Shift (1990), It (tv mini-series, 1990), Misery (1990), a segment of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Lawnmower Man (1992), The Dark Half (1993), Needful Things (1993), The Tommyknockers (tv mini-series, 1993), The Stand (tv mini-series, 1994), The Langoliers (tv mini-series, 1995), The Mangler (1995), Thinner (1996), The Night Flier (1997), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Shining (tv mini-series, 1997), Trucks (1997), Apt Pupil (1998), The Green Mile (1999), The Dead Zone (tv series, 2001-2), Hearts in Atlantis (2001), Carrie (tv mini-series, 2002), Dreamcatcher (2003), Riding the Bullet (2004), Salems Lot (tv mini-series, 2004), Secret Window (2004), Desperation (tv mini-series, 2006), Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (tv mini-series, 2006), 1408 (2007), The Mist (2007), Children of the Corn (2009), Everythings Eventual (2009), the tv series Haven (2010-5), Carrie (2013), Under the Dome (tv series, 2013-5), Big Driver (2014), A Good Marriage (2014), Mercy (2014), Cell (2016), 11.22.63 (tv mini-series, 2016), The Dark Tower (2017), Geralds Game (2017) and It (2017). Stephen King had also written a number of original screen works with Creepshow (1982), Golden Years (tv mini-series, 1991), Sleepwalkers (1992), Storm of the Century (tv mini-series, 1999), Rose Red (tv mini-series, 2002) and the tv series Kingdom Hospital (2004), as well as adapted his own works with the screenplays for Cats Eye, Silver Bullet, Pet Semetary, The Stand, The Shining and Desperation. King also directed one film with Maximum Overdrive (1986).