Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Tommyknockers Knocked On My Door, Hung Around for Three Hours, and Then Clogged My Toilet

Stephen King annoys me but I recognize that -- under all the repetition and hackery -- there's a big slice of brilliance in him. No matter how bad any given Stephen King book is, the idea BEHIND the book is usually a whopper.

"The Tommyknockers" fits this description perfectly. I haven't read it since it came out, but I remember it being a relatively poor -- and over-long -- treatment of a fantastic plot. It's unsurprising that the mini-series -- which I watched today -- took out most of the good ideas, drastically simplified the plot itself, and tacked on a horrible ending.

Television scriptwriters really do seem to think that we (the viewers) are incapable of dealing with complex ideas. The truly great thing about King's original book was that the "Tommyknocker" aliens were terribly flawed and destructive creatures; they could do amazing things but were far too selfish and short-tempered to really thrive. This was presented as a racial trait in the novel, and was a sly mirroring of humanity's own foibles: we have great power and adaptability but we're also very primitive, and there's nothing more dangerous than a baby with a loaded gun.

This element added an indispensible level to the explained everything and lent itself to a lot of great plot twists. But in the mini-series, of course, the aliens were just hissing bad guys who wanted to exploit humankind, an idea that reduced it all to a typical "invasion earth" story.

Another thing that television scriptwriters Absolutely Must Do is add a climactic straight-forward fight -- good versus evil! -- and then make sure that everybody's alright in the end, no matter how improbable such a thing might be. I was pleased to see that, in the mini-series, all the infected townspeople underwent an instant spa-treatment as soon as the aliens died...they even got magically-applied lipstick and mascara!

But the show wasn't ALL bad. Traci Lords is always fun, and the major set-piece in the book ("What's happening in the barn?") was even more gruesome on screen. Yay!

Still, I feel personally insulted when a piece of entertainment treats me like I'm stupid. I'm not, and I'm hardly alone in LIKING a bit of a challenge!

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