Nightmares and Dreamscapes
October 31, 2006
Brian Henson, Rob Bowman, Mike Robe, Mikael Salomon,
Starring: William Hurt, Claire Forlani, William H. Macy, Richard Thomas, Greta Scacchi, Steven Weber, Kim Delaney, Ron Livingston, Henry Thomas, Tom Berenger, Jeremy Sisto, Samantha Mathis,
Stephen King adaptations are traditionally hit or miss affairs. For every superior one like Salem’s Lot (1979) there are many more lackluster ones like Maximum Overdrive (1986). And so each new King adaptation is approached with a certain amount of apprehension. How is it going to turn out this time? Nightmares and Dreamscapes, originally a collection of short stories, is the latest King work to be adapted with eight stories, an hour or so in length, originally airing on TNT over several weeks. For the most part, the adaptations are quite good with very few bummers in the collection.
One of the most impressive episodes is the first one, “Battleground” (taken from King’s Night Shift and not Nightmares and Dreamscapes) about a professional assassin (Hurt) who, after killing a successful toy manufacturer, is given a lesson in karma when he receives a package of toys from the company of the man he killed. The package contains a collection of little green plastic soldiers that eventually come to life and wage war on the incredulous hitman. Once the toy helicopters start blasting holes in his bathroom door, the segment really starts to cook. When Hurt’s killer realizes what he’s up against, he begins to adapt and improvise, using household items like the toilet to trap and kill these little buggers.
What is so ingenuous about this episode, aside from the impressive use of CGI to animate the toy soldiers, is that the story is told without any dialogue and this allows a versatile actor like William Hurt to showcase a more physical side. Director Brian Henson does an excellent job orchestrating the chaos and shows a real knack for visual storytelling.
“Crouch End” is as good if not better as an American couple (Eion Bailey and Forlani) honeymooning in London who ignore a cabbie’s warning not to go to Crouch End. They end up getting lost in its labyrinthine streets and find themselves stranded in a place between our world and another, where normal people become beast-like beings, harkening back to a time when it was a place of ritual sacrifice. Our hapless couple has stumbled onto a nexus point to another dimension that gives this episode a deliciously creepy Lovecraftian spin with ancient otherworldly horror.
The anthology stumbles with “Umney’s Last Case” with the usually reliable William H. Macy as a successful mystery writer who swaps places with the private eye hero of his 1930s crime fiction. Both are forced to deal with the culture shock of their new surroundings. Macy does a fine job in the dual roles but this episode comes across as a lame film noir homage.
“The End of the Whole Mess” is an apocalyptic tale of two brothers, one (Thomas) is a brilliant scientist whose experiment to rid the world of violence has a terrible side effect and this forces his filmmaking sibling (Livingston) into a heart-wrenching dilemma that weighs his personal feelings against that of the greater good. Ron Livingston and Henry Thomas both deliver heartfelt performances and are quite believable as brothers.
Tom Berenger plays a troubled writer (are there any other kind in King’s fiction?) that gets involved with a mysterious painting that comes to life in “The Road Virus Heads North” (taken from King’s Everything’s Eventual and not Nightmare and Dreamscapes). Crime does not pay, King-style in “The Fifth Quarter” as an ex-con (Sisto) tries to go straight but can’t resist the lure of what looks like easy money. But, as the cliché goes, looks can be deceiving and things go horribly wrong for all involved. “Autopsy Room Four” (also from King’s Everything’s Eventual) features an intriguing premise: a dead man (Thomas) is about to be autopsied only he’s not really dead and we are privy to his panicked thoughts as the doctors prepare to cut him open. However, the execution (no pun intended) isn’t all that good with several characters (Thomas’ included) coming off as extremely annoying and tiresome.
Fortunately, the anthology ends on a high note with “You Know They Got A Hell of a Band” as a married couple (Delaney and Weber) on a vacation take a short cut on an obscure county road and promptly get lost. They stumble across Rock and Roll Heaven, a town not on any maps and that seems like an answer to the husband’s criticism that rock ‘n’ roll died with the birth of the disco. The town is populated by dead musicians: Ricky Nelson is a short order cook at the local diner and Janis Joplin is one of the waitresses while Otis Redding is the sheriff and Elvis Presley is the mayor. On the surface, the town looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting but they soon find the rotten core of this delicious looking apple. The citizens seem nice enough but they soon turn nasty as they insist that our protagonists stay for that night’s concert. There is nice chemistry between Kim Delaney and Steven Weber who seems like a believable couple and bicker like they’ve been married for years.
The featurettes, spread out over the three discs are brief in length and very superficial. Each episode is synopsized in a series of “Inside Look” featurettes. An actor from each episode is also briefly interviewed where they talk about their character and, again, synopsize the segment that they are in.
“Battleground Special Effects” examines the slick effects created for this episode and how they realized the miniature army that attacks Hurt’s character.
“From the Mind of Stephen King” has the cast and crew members from various episodes talk about the appeal of his prose. They talk about how he writes modern myths that have broad appeal and so forth.
“Behind the Drama of Nightmares and Dreamscapes of Stephen King” takes a look at the origins of this anthology. The filmmakers picked accessible stories that utilized comedy, drama and horror with an emphasis on the relationships between characters.
“Page to Picture” examines the adaptation process, touching upon aspects of production art, cinematography and location scouting all in service of the script.