Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review: "Bag of Bones" Miniseries (2011)

Oh-kay. How to talk about "Bag of Bones"? It's always hard for me to review an adaptation of a book I love so much and have such a strong connection to, and Bag of Bones is definitely one of those books. Most people would probably say that you have to look at the book and adaptation as two separate entities. To a point, I agree. Movies and books are different mediums and therefore must be dealt with in different ways. But when a movie has such strong source material, how can one not judge the movie based on its ability to effectively recreate what was presented in the book? Let's see how Mick Garris and crew did with my favorite Stephen King book.

Part One Review: Honestly, not much has happened so far. Jo Noonan died, Mike Noonan grieved, Mike went to Sara Laughs (even though it was never mentioned in the miniseries that Sara Laughs was the name of his lake house but whatever), Mike found out that Sara Laughs is haunted by Jo and Sara Tidwell, Mike met Mattie and Kyra, Mike got involved with Kyra's crazy grandfather Max Devore. There's still much to be covered and since they didn't get very far in the first two hours, a lot of story and action is going to have be crammed into the last two hours. Good or bad? We'll see.

I must say that the first part felt a little slow, and not necessarily suspenseful. Mike's dreams and his ghostly encounters felt like the filmmakers were just recycling the same old horror movie cliches, when in the book the mood was creepy but much more subtle. I loved the inclusion of the refrigerator magnets and Bunter's bell as how the ghosts communicate, though. Pierce Brosnan's crazed laughing about these incidents was a little weird, but Mike expresses in the book about how he is both terrified by the ghosts and a little excited at what he is experiencing as well, so I guess that fits.

I'm still not sold on Brosnan as Mike. He's a bit older looking - though that doesn't matter much - and he doesn't have Mike's sarcastic sense of humor or overall way with words (he's a writer, remember). The actors playing Max Devore and his yet-unnamed "assistant" Rogette are also quite good so far, though they haven't had much to do. Max has just the right amount of cunning and evil behind his eyes, just how I pictured him from the book and Rogette is perhaps even creepier looking than I pictured.

The big change I got pissed off about noticed was how Jo died. In the book, she has a brain aneurysm in a parking lot and Mike wasn't there. In the show, she gets hit by a fucking bus. I understand the need for making things a little more dramatical or whatever but this is going a bit far. And to have Mike running out and holding his bleeding and dying wife? I don't know that they should have gone for that big of a change for the sake of drama. It was too gruesome for me, but I admit that it did manage to hurry the story up a bit and get Mike to Sara Laughs, so I'm letting it slide for the moment.

A couple things I did like: Really liked the dream sequence where Mike kisses Sara, Jo, and Mattie. It set up for the audience who the important players were in this piece and was quite beautifully shot. Also really liked the actress playing Sara Tidwell. She's absolutely gorgeous, and if that was really her singing in that one scene, then she's pretty freaking talented, too. Though Part One is starting out a bit dull, I'm excited to see how the dramatic events of the conclusion play out. Time for Part Two!

Part Two Review: NO! No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Part One may have taken a few liberties with the story and changed things around a bit, but Part Two done fucked the whole thing up. What I'm complaining about though, is not just that they changed stuff (although, yes, I was very annoyed at some of the changes). The real problem with this was the way everything was handled. All the action went down too quickly and they seemed to treat the audience like they were stupid.

What I mean by this is that at several parts, they had characters literally spell out what was happening instead of revealing it in a better way and letting the audience figure it out for themselves. The worst part was in the scene of what happened to Sara Tidwell. They actually had a bloody Sara say to the men, "I curse you! You will kill your daughters! Your sons will kill their daughters! And so on and so forth!" before she died. Ri-donk-ulous. What, is she a witch now or something? Mattie had to actually say to Mike, "That's why Jo didn't tell you she was pregnant! She knew about the curse!" What about the fact that all the children's names that the men killed started with a "K" like Sara's daughter Keisha (in the book, it was a son and his name was Kito)? All those little facts just make the mystery seem more involved and bigger and more powerful than the miniseries made it out to be.

I did love that they included one of my favorite parts from the book, which was when Mike met Rogette and Max on The Street and Rogette starts throwing rocks at Mike in the lake. It was a much longer scene in the book and always felt a little ludicrous to me, but also very funny and showed how crazy those two were. I actually had an actress in my mind for Rogette while reading the book - Marian Seldes.

I'm telling you, when that chick gets angry, she is the scariest-looking person on the planet. The other lady is great in the role, though, and she has a great look with that black hair and costuming. 

I admit that Bag of Bones was probably a hard novel to adapt. Much of it centered on Mike alone and his inner monologue which is not only difficult to translate to film but it also would have been very boring to watch Pierce Brosnan get scared at ghosts for a couple hours. Some scenes were great, like the dream sequence of Mike and Kyra at the fair but other important scenes were either watered down for TV or hyped up too much to make them more exciting.

A couple random comments: Rogette kissing Max in the bathtub before she killed him? Ew! She's supposed to be his daughter! They don't say that in the show but for people who've read the book and know that fact, this was a very weird little scene. Also liked the reference to Lisey's Story when Mike mentions "Booya Moon." Liked Mattie's death scene - that bullet wound in her cheek was horrendous. Did not like the scene where Mattie Devore appears to her daughter formed out of water. Too silly for my tastes.

On the whole, though, "Bag of Bones" was a complete failure. There was too much information that they tried to cram into the last two hours and the result was something very sloppy. This book is really so much better than the miniseries made it out to be. I know that must be annoying to hear, but I have mad love for this novel - it is probably my favorite book, period - and I think the story is so beautiful and heartbreaking and this adaptation does it no justice. Mick Garris, you are hereby banned from adapting anymore of King's work. Leave it to Frank Darabont, because believe me, he does a helluva better job than you.


  1. I'm with you, Michele! Garris needs to be permanently banned from adapting any further King stories. He's just not up to the task.

    I actually enjoyed "Bag of Bones" more than I expected to -- I think this is maybe the best work I've seen from Garris, although I'm grading on a severe curve. Saying something is leagues better than "Riding the Bullet" or "Desperation" isn't inherently a compliment.

    So many of the elements of the novel were either curtailed or outright omitted. I understand that time constraints make adaptation difficult, but it seems to me that Garris and his screenwriter left out a lot they really ought to have left in.

    But, hey, that's just me. Or, in this case, us. Call me crazy, but I don't think it's a bad thing to be discerning. I don't think it's a bad thing to expect and demand better quality out of projects like this. Stephen King is one of the best and most popular writers in modern history, so why shouldn't we expect and demand better out of the people who get put in charge of translating his works for the even-larger audiences that television and film can bring?

    The fact is this: we live in an age where television can provide us with shows as varied and yet still as awesome as "Mad Men," "Game of Thrones," "Breaking Bad," "Boardwalk Empire," and "Homeland," just to name a few that are still active. Look to the not-so-distant past and you can find plenty of other examples.

    In that age, something like "Bag of Bones" simply does not make the grade.

  2. Yeah I was super disappointed with Bag of Bones because I love the book so much! I love Pierce Brosnan but I thought he was too old for the role of Mike Noonan. I hate Melissa George with a passion so I hated Mattie and have never been so glad to see someone die (I know you guys I'm a terrible person) I also hated the cheesy part at the end where Mattie appears out of the water.

    I think if they want to make a miniseries out of a book that has 500 pages of source material they should devote a minimum of three nights too it. Yes I know in this day and age that is a lot of time to devote to one miniseries (I also have the attention span of a toddler so I sympathize) however they omitted so much important/creepy stuff that really the miniseries was confusing. Had I not read the book I don't think I would have had any idea who Rogette was supposed to be or why she killed Max. My sister had not read the book and got confused at those parts so I had to explain it to her.

    Fun Fact: Sarah was played by Anika Noni Rose and that is in fact her singing. She started out on broadway in Dreamgirls then played the same role in the movie. She is always the voice of Tianna in The Frog Princess (I am movie obsessed)

    1. London, I hated the wife too! And I hated her stupid voicemail message over and over again. She is a horrible actress and I am sorry, pretty gross. Who in the hell casts these things!? I wanted to feel sympathy for her and for Mike but when that bus hit her I cracked up!

  3. I don't think three nights is too much to ask at all. If you're a network like A&E, you presumably develop a project like this because you think it can deliver viewers. So why not try and capture those viewers for longer?

    The thing to do here would have been to take a little longer, milk the story for all it's worth, and air it as a genuine miniseries: something like 6-10 one-hour episodes, one per week for consecutive weeks. Run it like a series, in other words.

    I'm sure money was the reason that didn't happen. I'd guess someone at A&E determined that they could deliver -- regardless of the actual quality of the final product -- X number of viewers on a Stephen King project if they got an A-list star, and could make X amount of profit at that level of viewership if they only -- ONLY -- spent X number of dollars.

    That's the business. They got my viewership, and when it comes out on DVD, they'll get my dollars, so I guess that means I sorta forfeit any right to complain too much about it. And I won't. It's hard to blame a business for acting like a business; it'd be irresponsible of them not to.

    Nope, my blame all goes to Mick Garris and Matt Venne, who are precisely the type of people a slender budget gets you. And even then, I don't blame them for taking the work: I just blame them for not being better at it. Sorta like I blame the person at the drive-thru for not putting the ketchup in the bag despite me having asked for some.

  4. I was starting to feel like I was too harsh on this movie, but you're right, Bryant! King provided something that was very involved and emotional (and at times brutal) and I didn't see any of that in the miniseries. Garris's work seems to be mostly about the action while Darabont always manages to get the emotional side and really make the characters come to life.

    I do demand better results when it comes to King (and maybe a little more for Bag of Bones because it's my favorite!) and it's not wrong to ask for it because he and his work deserves it. So many adaptations of his have been mediocre at best because the filmmakers seem to just pick out the parts that they think are important and those which would translate the best to film than those parts which are central to the story.

    Just because King is a popular author doesn't mean you can just take any of his books and make a movie out of it. They deserve to be taken seriously, and really, when all the right material is right there in front of you, how can you screw it up this bad? Look at The Green Mile. Almost every line of dialogue is taken verbatim from the book and every major action is there. Get the right actors to play the roles and really go for the guts and you've got something that is so effective, you can make grown men cry while watching it. I took my father to see The Green Mile with me at the theater and he was seriously tearing up at the end. That's what should have happened with Bag of Bones.

    All the relationships in this miniseries were unbelievable. Mike and Mattie barely spent any time with each other. Mike's grief over his wife was short-lived at best. His intense writer's block? Not even there. Sara's wrathful and vengeful spirit was watered down to make her the sad victim, which she was, but she was also angry and unforgiving. Ugh. There's just so much more that should have been there that Garris didn't even touch on.

    Somebody needs to go back and do this movie the right way. How long did they spend filming this? Three months? How much of that time was just spent on effects? And London is right, too. Much of the miniseries was confusing to those who didn't know the story, I was explaining a lot of stuff to my parents when they were watching it with me.

  5. The best way to sum up the movie is to recap the scene toward the end in which Rogette beats Mike's ass for a while before he is finally able to get the upper hand and stab her.

    To be clear: Mick Garris actually filmed not one, but TWO scenes in which JAMES BOND gets his ass whipped by an elderly woman. He sorta gets away with the first one. Rogette sucker punches him off of a cliff, and while I have a tough time imagining that frail old woman packing enough of a punch to knock 007 down, I can suspend enough disbelief to roll with it.

    However, the climactic fight between Mike and Rogette is laughable almost beyond belief. I'm shocked that Brosnan -- or his agent -- didn't simply look at Mick Garris and say, "Fuck you, there's no way I'm getting beaten up, even temporarily, by an old woman."

    Sorry, but if you are a director and you cast someone who once played James Bond in your movie, you simply cannot film a scene like that. Even if George Lazenby had been playing the role, it would have been a bad idea. Not for Mick Garris, though; that's how daft that dude is.

    As for Brosnan himself, I thought he did a solid job in the role. He must have needed to make a fast mortgage payment or something, though; this is the cinematic equivalent of a payday loan.

  6. I watched this one over the course of like 4 nights (my husbands been working late hours haha) but I didn’t really like it. I thought a lot of the wording, or scenes were “odd” and not acted out right, or not written right. I haven’t read the book, not sure if I will now after watching the movie. It was a bit predictable. I agree that the first part was pretty slow.

    I felt that the old man and his sidekick of an old hag were ridiculous and made me not want to watch further. But of course I wanted to find out how it ended. I just thought it was silly that this old grandma was fighting this guy like a professional. Lol

    I agree about the scene where Sarah dies. It was so lame how she yelled out her curse.

  7. @Kat: DO NOT judge the book based on this crap, please! It is really such a terrific story and it is written beautifully - you won't even believe how much they messed up the book after reading it for yourself!

    1. Michele,
      My question is, why do they screw so many of King's novels up when they make movies out of them? I do not understand it! He is an excellent bestselling novelist why can't they do him justice, especially his longer novels. I mean The Shining casted Shelley Duvall, huh?


  8. Is the book a full book or just a story in one of his books?

    I've read a few of his books, and so far I'm not really a fan of his writing, I'm not sure what it is exactly...but I do plan on trying to read The Shining soon.

  9. I'm gonna forget you said you're not really a fan for right now and give you the benefit of the doubt. :) I know he's not for everybody, but Bag of Bones is different even for him so I think it'd be more appealing than others to non-fans.

    It's not a story, either, it's a book. Little long at 700 pages, too!

  10. I'm a stickler for doing the novel justice. Including modern day technology and modern day music was clever, but I remain neutral about that. What I was peeved about was the crucial details that they switched around. For instance, they switched around the way Jo was killed (along with the lack of realism to it) as well as something more crucial toward the end.

    Pierce Brosnan was a good choice for the role of Mike Noonan. Nevertheless, it could have been better for its miniseries status. Switching things around and then not delivering on them is not good.

  11. Pierce Brosnan in this film is very realist, and he is very cute!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. What episode was Marian Seldes in?

    1. She wasn't in it, I was saying that I thought she would have made a great Rogette.