To House –
I'd pay five times cover for your Dark Tower Series   
    
 And to Schieman –
What if you found yourself sleeping in your bed
   

After sitting through the impossibly fluffy Hearts in Atlantis you may ask yourself why such a vacant motion picture needed to be made – and made with Oscar caliber talent no less. The answer does not justify the film itself but it will at least explain its existence. Few people know this but I am prepared to reveal a deep dark Hollywood secret to the world: I'm not clear on all the details involved but basically, evil incarnate, the devil, and a clown with razor sharp teeth got together, spoke to a few heavy hitters in the industry and long story short – If one out of every fifteen productions (television or feature) are not based on or creatively identified with a Stephen King work then some unspeakably nasty things will happen to the movie business. This explains allot, doesn't it?

First things first. Stephen King, the perennial bestseller and the master of horror, is a national treasure. His books are almost always good if not predominantly great, and can be at times arguably brilliant.And just in case one of them leaves you a bit flat – not to worry- there is another along the way within a few months.

As a general rule – and anyone who reads knows this (No, Archies do not count) – the book is better than the movie. If you have you're favorite one exception in mind then good for you – take it home and polish it – the rule stands. Having consumed a sizable portion of King liturgy, I can give the man the benefit of the doubt that Hearts in Atlantis is a heartfelt and moving book which simply did not get adequate treatment when translated to film. Although Mr. King has been praised in recent years for finding some genuine soul in his writing with works like Atlantis and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, he has been equally criticized for what is essentially writing on fumes. Rehashing old stand-bys of past terror and reintroducing them in less than imaginative ways (Dreamcatcher, Bag of Bones). While I personally have not touched a Stephen King book since wrapping up 1994's Insomnia, I can honestly say that I found Hearts in Atlantis evocative of half a dozen King stories and all together familiar and tired.

The story goes like this (Older King story in parenthesis). An adult Bobby Garfield (David Morse, soft spoken and striking as usual) is confronted with his past after the death of a childhood friend (It). His youth, the focal point of the movie, consists of a nostalgic look at America in the innocence of its pre-technological age but with brutality lurking in every corner (The Body – filmed as Stand BY Me). His mother, a memorable Hope Davis, is inattentive to his needs and vicious bullies torment his group of three friends (The lead child is played by Anton Yelchin who doesn't turn me on – mind you most young boys do).

A strange older man (Anthony Hopkins) moves into the room upstairs and seems to be able to get inside peoples minds (Needful Things). The man whispers strange phrases while in a daze and can predict the future (uncannily like The Dead Zone). Finally, the old man is being pursued by eerie and unexplained beings known only as the Low Men (Insomnia) who want to control his power (Firestarter).

Sure those are all decent ingredients individually but the movie does not have the time, nor does the usually reliable William Goldman's script have the depth to flesh out any of the storie's multiple plot points. Watching this movie is like standing off shore and seeing large gray clouds gather and rumble but without a drop of rain falling, let alone the anticipated storm. The strange thing is that a good director normally has success bringing a King book to the screen (Note Frank Darabont's one two punch of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption or Kubrick's The Shining).

Scott Hicks doing directing honors here helmed a wonderful movie called Shine a few years back, which took in seven Oscar nominations. Other than that he has really added nothing to his craft. In fact, his last outing, Snow Falling on Cedars was dead on arrival, so perhaps we can just chalk up Shine as the sun “shining” on a dog's posterior and send the gentleman back to Uganda as punishment for this cinematic blunder. Hicks being a Uganda native and Hopkins being from Greta Britain hurts a story where King surely intended it to be a red, white, and blue slice of Americana. There is something unsettling about the proper Englishman play-calling football legend Bronco Nigertsky as he trudges yard by yard through the trenches to win a game. The scene doesn't fit as it is and has some laughable “relevancy” toward the end of the movie. His strong yet dainty accent betrays the credibility of the character. In fact, the whole movie feels like an outsider imagining what growing up in America must have been like.

Compare the warts and all yet poignant relationship of the kids in Stand By Me to the clich



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Jordan Hiller

About the Author Jordan Hiller

Gender: Male
Jordan Hiller is a lawyer, author and has been the head film critic for bangitout.com since 2001