40 years ago, I went to see a new film by Stanley Kubrick called “The Shining”. I liked it: it was scary, but it was also kind of confusing. I noticed that it was based on a novel by some guy named Stephen King (I had seen Brian DePalma’s adaptation of King’s “Carrie” but hadn’t put two and two together, I guess). I decided to read the book to see if it cleared anything up.?
When I finished it, I not only understood all the story that Kubrick hadn’t used, but I was now a Stephen King fan, reading anything of his that I could find, and over the next four decades, there was a lot to find. Of King’s 60+ novels, I’ve probably read 45, more than any author I can think of.
King himself has complained that most of his film adaptations don’t work because so much has to be jettisoned due to running time, but two cable series adapting two of King’s recent novels are able to get pretty close with more adult content and more time: 10 episodes each, totaling about 500 minutes from start to finish.
“The Outsider” (HBO-Aggregate Films-Temple Hill-Pieface-Civic Center Media-Media Rights Capital) starts out as straight crime drama: A young boy is horribly murdered, and all eyewitness and DNA evidence points to the local baseball coach (Jason Bateman, also an executive producer and director of the first several episodes). Ben Mendelsohn arrests him during a game, an event that triggers a massive surge of anger, grief and chaos. And then it turns out that the coach actually had an alibi, although how could he have been in two places at once? Now King’s tale turns to the paranormal, and Mendelsohn, a man who has no tolerance for the unexplainable, begins to believe.
Developed for HBO by Richard Price (“Clockers”), “The Outsider” has a gritty handheld realism that makes its supernatural trappings more effective; we’re talking doppelgangers here, and the cinematography relies to a great degree on blurry and out of focus imagery. Cynthia Erivo is very good here as private investigator Holly Gibney. My only criticism is the same that I had of King’s novel: I think the climax could have been much scarier. But with nine hours to wind the suspense, getting there is still scary fun.
Holly Gibney pops up again, this time played by Justine Lupe, in “Mr. Mercedes” (David E. Kelley Productions-Nomadicfilm-Temple Hill Productions-Sonar Entertainment). The story opens with a mysterious maniac plowing his Mercedes-Benz into the crowd at a job fair. Years later, the killer taunts retired detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson, against type but very grizzled and effective) out of retirement and back on the case.
I’ll not reveal the name of the actor playing the title character, but he does a very good job with a very complex and oddly touching character. Breeda Wool and Robert Stanton are also good in supporting roles, but the MVP of the series might be Kelly Lynch as the killer’s alcoholic, disaffected mother.
Each series can be considered a faithful remake of the novels, but there are enough twists and new characters added to keep us King fans guessing.