One of Stephen King’s most infamous novels is about to be adapted for the second time.
Some books are born bad. Stephen King is a blockbuster novelist, cranking out one or two tomes a year to the delight of his rabid audiences. Not everything is going to be great, and a few clunkers will get through. That’s how art and artists work. We blitz through his doorstoppers and then we’re on to the next one. Fair enough.
The adaptations of his novels are no different. For every Shawshank Redemption there is a Dreamcatcher. Some of us can’t even agree on the genius of Kubrick’s The Shining (including the author), and spend too much time arguing the merits of the Steven Weber iteration. Stop that. When an adaptation doesn’t live up to the film inside your head the failing can be a tremendous hurt. That’s the cost of fandom.
Right now, we’re riding high off a great Stephen King year. IT and Gerald’s Game were rather wonderful interpretations of King’s ideas (let’s pretend to ignore the bizarre misfire that is The Dark Tower). We want to keep that adaptation train running, and it looks like the next brick has been selected for cinematic reassignment. The Hollywood Reporter announced that The Tommyknockers is getting another crack at the bat.
Wow. That’s not a good book.
The movie will be produced by James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) and Roy Lee (IT), who have taken on a massive challenge. The plot revolves around a glowing hunk of space metal that’s unearthed in the backwoods of the small town of Haven, Maine. Your basic Stephen King setting. Once the hero novelist who discovers the shiny object starts digging, he unleashes a noxious alien gas that slowly transforms the citizens into something monstrous. Grotesque, body horror shenanigans ensue.
In short form Wikipedia detail, “The Tommyknockers” doesn’t sound any worse than the average terror story. A pinch of H.P. Lovecraft, a smidgen of John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” Stephen King’s novel fails the reader with its rambling bloat. The book is a drone with no satisfactory conclusion, and at 700-plus pages, the boredom drags your patience into exasperation.
Don’t believe me? Trust in the author. Talking to Rolling Stone in 2014, King blamed the failure of “The Tommyknockers” on his drug addiction:
“The Tommyknockers is an awful book. That was the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act. And I’ve thought about it a lot lately and said to myself, ‘There’s really a good book in here, underneath all the sort of spurious energy that cocaine provides, and I ought to go back. The book is about 700 pages long, and I’m thinking, “There’s probably a good 350-page novel in there.”
Here’s the real question, is there a good movie in there? ABC Television adapted the book into a two-part mini-series back in 1993. It was an embarrassing mess starring Jimmy Smith and Marg Helgenberger. They didn’t have the budget to pull off the alien theatrics, nor did they know what to add or delete from the page count.
A new Tommyknockers will need some serious reworking. With The Conjuring and Insidious films, James Wan has proven himself a reliable master of channeling cliche concepts into original scares. One can imagine a spark inside King’s novel igniting his imagination for demonic character designs and jump scares. The more he puts of himself into The Tommyknockers remake the better off we’ll all be.