Saturday, July 15, 2006

Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Episodes 1 and 2

I've been looking forward to this TNT anthology series of Stephen King adaptations, and the first episode did not disappoint.

In "Battleground," William Hurt is a hit man who murders a world-famous toymaker only to be attacked, in turn, by a box of vengeful toy soldiers. It reminded me, by design I'm sure, of the old Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders," in which Agnes Moorehead battles the tiny title creatures. Like "The Invaders," "Battleground" is almost dialogue-free (the only exception this time around being a closed-captioned TV broadcast), and like "The Invaders," "Battleground" is scripted by a Matheson (Richard Christian Matheson, son of Richard Matheson, who wrote "The Invaders").

The director of "Battleground" is Brian Henson, a good choice not only because of his puppetry experience but because he's the son of a world-famous toymaker himself. I figured Henson would handle the effects well, but he handles the human actors very well, too. Note the ambiguous facial expressions of the toymaker (rage? grief? terror? exultation?) and the woman on the airliner (flirtation? concern? unease?).

I might add that the fanboy in me loved the in-joke cameo by the murderous fetish doll from Trilogy of Terror, another attack-of-the-little-people Richard Matheson script; and I also loved the delirious point-of-view shot from the cockpit of the tiny helicopter, as its occupants buzz a snarling Hurt as if he were Godzilla. I regret that Henson repeated the shot later; he should have made it fleeting and one-time-only, like our glimpse of the tiny commuter in the Addams Family movie.

Mostly, though, this is Hurt's show, and he's excellent, generating a complete character through facial expressions, gestures and body movements. The tiny assailants don't terrorize him so much as they astonish him, intrigue him and challenge him. One gets the idea, thanks to Hurt's performance, that this evening at home, horrible as it may be, is a lot more welcome than the quiet, solitary one the hit man had planned.

Hurt is so good, in fact, that I pretty much forgave the fact that the story makes not one lick of sense. Why would this detail-obsessed professional paranoid carry a suspicious package into his apartment and open it, even after recognizing the signature? And where are all the neighbors, security guards, cops, etc., during the noisy, evening-long free-for-all? By the end, the whole high-rise looks as deserted as the Overlook Hotel, for the simple non-reason, I suppose, that it has to be in order for the story to work. Maybe the toy soldiers gave everyone else tickets to Pirates of the Caribbean.

Still, "Battleground" is a model of plot construction compared to Episode 2, "Crouch End," in which American newlyweds in London are lured into a warren of Lovecraftian horrors for no discernible reason. One survives, again for no discernible reason; one (mostly) doesn't, again for no discernible reason. Do they suffer because they're Americans, because they're good-looking, because they happened to flag down the cabbie with the most sinister monologues in the city, because they have bad agents, or what? Maybe they're just schmucks, or God is, or Stephen King. Claire Forlani and Eion Bailey (who suggests the young Jim Hutton) are both appealing performers, but they have nothing to do here but overact in front of bluescreens.

For creepy extradimensional goings-on in England's capital city, I refer you instead to China Mieville's masterful story "Reports of Certain Events in London."

Oh, well. One up, one down, six to go.

If you were expecting meticulous comparisons between the episodes and the original King short stories, sorry to disappoint you; I've read neither, and all my King books, like all my other books, are still packed up from the move.

1 comment:

sudoku said...

shame to hear about Crouch End - as a written short story it works beautifully. It still doesn't make a scrap of sense, but that's not usually a problem with horror stories if the atmosphere is handled well.