Monday, December 12, 2011

REVIEW: A&E's Stephen King's Bag of Bones - part 1 (2011)

Director: Mick Garris
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Melissa George

Stephen King is an institution these days, and pretty much anything he puts his name on is gonna sell like mad. Luckily for us, his recent work is some of his strongest ever, with recent novels like Under the Dome and anthology Full Dark, No Stars being incredibly lively and vicious. I was surprised when I found out they were making a TV miniseries out of Bag of Bones, one of his more experimental and adventurous novels, in the tradition of his classic 90s miniseries, and the question on everyone’s lips is, is it any good? Well, yes and no.

This succumbs to a lot of the problems that most Stephen King miniseries – no, ALL of them – have had: it’s too long and feels the need to show everything. And I mean everything – they don’t really leave much to the imagination. This could’ve easily been shortened to something more economic, like a 2 hour movie or so, but I get the idea King likes to have everything exactly the way it was in his book, whether that means sacrificing clarity and power or not. It’s a pretty understandable case of writer’s ego, but it doesn’t prevent this from becoming too bloated and cumbersome.

The actual story is about a writer (surprised?) named Mike Noonan (Pierce Brosnan), who loses his wife in an automobile accident and decides to move up to their old lake cabin to recuperate. There he meets Mattie (Melissa George), a young mother fighting for custody of her child against the small-town maven Max Devore (William Schallert), and also gets involved with ghosts. Now, this first half is only setting up the whole story, introducing all the players and themes of what we’re going to get in the second half. There are several parts, however, that just drag, like when Noonan is under the ghostly, dreamlike spell of dead singer Sara Tidwell – this segment just drags on and on and on. And I swear, if he says “One for yes, two for no” one more time, I’ll kill him.

These are the problems that really bring this thing down, and it’s a shame, because otherwise it’s pretty good, when it gets kicking. Bag of Bones’ strength lies in the characters and their relationships, as it did in the book. Noonan is sympathetic because of his loss, and perhaps the only reason the elongated, dragged out storytelling style works is because we get to see his grief in full naked light, and thus can empathize more. Mattie is tough but guarded and spooked, and so we’re invested into seeing how her character develops – seeing as she opens up a tiny bit to Noonan every time they talk. Bag of Bones in the book was a great story because of the expansive romance elements tying in with the ethereal ghost story, and the movie definitely captures some of that, even if the ghost elements come across as a bit silly here. I’m sorry, but some of the scenes where he’s talking to what he thinks is his dead wife just come off as a bit too unbelievable to work.

But overall I kind of enjoyed this anyway. Despite its problems – too long, too melodramatic, etc – there’s a certain ja ne sais quois about Bag of Bones’ first part that kept me watching smoothly for the whole 2 hours. Now, there are still another 2 hours, and this cuts off right about where things start to get intense, but as far as this part goes, it’s not too bad. If you’re a Stephen King fan, you’ll certainly like it. Check it out at your own peril and TUNE IN TOMORROW FOR MY REVIEW OF PART 2!