KING ON SCREEN focuses on Stephen King’s Adapted Work for Cinema and TV!
In the pantheon of living authors working right now, no one comes even remotely close to Stephen King in terms of his works being adapted to the big screen, and this new documentary by Daphné Baiwir really drives home why Stephen King’s works are so moldable and fitting for film and television. ‘King on Screen’ delivers exactly this, a documentary essentially going over the biggest Stephen King adaptations, how they ultimately got made and what makes his works so universal and so compelling.
The film starts off with a 7-minute opening sequence following this woman as she drives into a familiar Stephen King setting, Maine. As she traverses the town she encounters many references to all of King’s works, ranging from very obvious visual cues, such as the opening to The Shining, Cujo, Creepshow, and others to the very obscure that only very eagle-eyed observers will notice. This sequence alone sets up how deep the documentary will go in terms of analyzing why King’s works are so beloved by readers and audience members alike.
The whole opening scene will make every single Stephen King fan, no matter how hardcore or casual you are, giddy with excitement over the incredible amount of easter eggs and references on display. This opening really cements the love and affection the filmmakers have for the stories and the universe King has crafted, and shows that they themselves are deep fans of the material. It’s a nice opening that eases you into the documentary, which is told in a more traditional fashion featuring archival footage and talking heads, but nevertheless, it’s still fascinating hearing these industry giants talk about their creative process.
The documentary actually begins discussing these adaptations in a loose chronological order, starting with the first one by Brian de Palma titled Carrie. The film features a lot of influential filmmakers and creators such as Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), Taylor Hackford (Dolores Claiborne), Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep), Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, The Shining TV Movie, The Stand), Josh Boone (The Stand 2020) and many, many more. Because of the wealth of knowledge provided by these experts in their field, you get a grand introspection of what it’s like to make these films, from the initial idea to the fully realized subject.
It really shows you how important these adaptations are in the grand scheme of things because for a lot of these directors their first introduction to Stephen King came from one of his adaptations to the big screen. There’s even an acknowledgment that for most audiences, tend to see the adapted works and then visit the originals, which I would argue has made Stephen King the household name he is because of this. By letting so many artists take his novels and plant them on the big and small screen, he has gathered a huge and diverse audience from fans of his horror narratives to his dramatic stories and everything in between.
The documentary aptly suggests that Stephen King’s stories are sort of universal in nature. Even though at first glance King might be recognized strictly for his horror novels, that is clearly a misconception, since the man is completely versatile and has written such great dramatic works as The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, and Stand by Me to name a few. So what is it that makes Stephen King’s stories so appealing and outreaching? The documentary gives a plethora of responses to this question, and any of them can apply perfectly to the individual, but all of them boil down to the way the characters are constructed.
It’s very apt to say that Stephen King has honed down tremendously what it’s like to be an American and thus has crafted essentially idealized Americana novels where all these characters pass through fantastical and horrific circumstances. King on Screen goes into detail on one of the most controversial Stephen King adaptations ever, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Famously known as the adaptation Stephen King disowns and disapproves of, this film goes into great length analyzing why it works as a great horror masterpiece but ultimately fails in adapting the essence of what King brings to his written work.
It’s fascinating watching these filmmakers discuss The Shining and how influential it has become throughout the years. And this has snowballed into a lot of King’s work peering and cementing itself in pop culture, to the point where a lot of tropes, stereotypes, and clichés are born from Stephen’s written and adapted works.
Another introspective section, and one that doesn’t get discussed enough, is the concept of adaptation and what it entails. A lot of readers always seem to want a one-to-one copy of what they read to what they ultimately see on screen, but this documentary showcases that this can be the case, and ultimately there have to be some creative liberties taken in order to plaster the written work into a more visual medium.
There’s a great line in this film that said ‘It’s called moving pictures not talking pictures’ and this really cements why it’s so important to go through this process of figuring out what works and what does not work on a visual language, without dismissing the essence of what the written work proves. I think it’s really important to have these conversations because a lot of people have a big misconception when it comes to adaptations that they must be 100% faithful to the original when it‘s near impossible to do so because they are constructed on very different artistic mediums.
King on Screen is a pretty serviceable documentary, even if it’s a little bland and uneven. It’s mostly talking heads and archival footage, so it’s not incredibly creative visually save for that great opening sequence, but it’s effective in what it delivers and it’s ultimately fascinating hearing these great craftsmen discussing their works. It sometimes plays a little like Stephen King’s greatest hits, but I suppose it is understandable given the vast library of adaptations he has to his name.
Still, a little more focus on the subject matter could have gone a long way to making this the definitive documentary about Stephen King’s literary works on screen. The sound mixing seemed a little off as well, but my understanding is that this is a work in progress and the final version of this film will be perfectly equalized. For Stephen King fans, horror fans, people who love adaptations, and film buffs, this is a great documentary to sit back and absorb and learn something about the intricate and complex process of adaptation.
‘King on Screen’ was screened at Fantastic Fest 2022 and will be streaming throughout the Fall at upcoming festivals courtesy of Yellow Veil Pictures.
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