King On Screen


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

King On Screen
"The big challenge here lies in attempting to do more than scratch the surface of a subject which keeps on offering up more possibilities." | Photo: Yellow Veil Pictures

There have been more than 80 films made based on Stephen King books, plus numerous small screen adaptations. They’re so varied in content and tone that you might not realise how many you’ve seen, and their appeal extends far beyond horror fans. Indeed, director Daphné Baiwir contends here, it’s really quite misleading to call King a horror author. His interests range far wider than that. What he does really well is to write characters, which is a lot of what makes these adaptations appealing.

Many people, she observes, find their way to King’s books through the films rather than the other way round. They can be roughly divided into two groups: the horror fans excited by the likes of Carrie, It and The Mist, and the others drawn to the likes of Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption. in between, perhaps, there is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, indisputably a horror film yet indisputably a classic – King hated it, and the interaction of the two creators, with their very different styles, gets a chapter all of its own, followed by a look at a much lower budget interpretation of the story which the author far preferred.

This gets to the nub of the politics of adaptation. What others may regard as great art will not satisfy that species of fan desirous of seeing every detail of a book recreated just so, with precisely the same characters and mood, upon the screen. Baiwir makes no secret of being a fan of King’s work, yet knows when to reserve judgement and uses this focus on his work as an opportunity to explore the topic of adaptation in a wider-reaching way, noting how issues like personality and time gaps between publication and release play into it. It’s a little disappointing that the controversy around changes to the ending of It (in both versions) is not addressed here, especially in light of the fact that there’s a section dedicated to praising the author for his female characters, but to be fair to her, Baiwir has a lot of ground to cover.

One might argue that some of the problems with King’s early work stem from his alcoholism, and his recovery from that is touched on in several places, as is the way that it informed The Shining. We don’t see much of the man himself, though he does appear in archive footage, including at an entertaining surprise on-set birthday celebration; where we do see him, he comes across as a little shy but good-natured and enthusiastic about supporting work which he feels is being done well. His affection for his fans is established in anecdote, and it’s clear that quite a few of those who adapted his work were fans first.

For many, his work was a gateway to a lifelong love of horror, first encountered a little too early and the source of many nightmares. Baiwir has amassed an impressive collection of filmmakers who clearly delight in sharing their stories. There’s a particularly substantial contribution from Frank Darabont, who discusses the challenges of raising funding for a prison movie which everybody thought the public would find too depressing to watch, plus his later work on The Green Mile.

The whole thing is framed by a fictional set-up in the kind of small town setting where nearly all King’s work is set. It tries to cram in as many references to his work as possible, and fans will have fun trying to spot them all, though others may find it a little slow. In many ways it’s the most efficient part of the film, because the big challenge here lies in attempting to do more than scratch the surface of a subject which keeps on offering up more possibilities. Baiwir’s film is a good start, but there’s a lot more to be said.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2022
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A documentary about the more than 80 feature films based on the work of Stephen King.
Amazon link

Director: Daphné Baiwir

Starring: Frank Darabont, Taylor Hackford, Tom Holland, Tod Williams, André Øvredal, Vincenzo Natali

Year: 2022

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: France, USA, Belgium


Fantastic 2022

Streaming on: iTunes

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