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?
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
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
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
Compare the warts and all yet poignant relationship of the
kids in Stand By Me to the clichéd robotics of the kids
here. The young ones are natural actors especially the stunning
Mika Boorem but they are just not given much to do. Someone
should inform Mr. Goldman and Hicks that children do allot more
than run backwards and splash each other in the surf for fun
and they are allot deeper than this shallow bunch. Considering
that this is a movie about the preciousness of childhood (hence
the allusion to the utopian city of Atlantis) there is a surprising
lack of powerful sentiments of childhood beyond what you would
find in the average Kodak commercial.
At times it feels like the oldies soundtrack is carrying the
burden of the movie. The rest of the movie is just a troubling
enigma. A jumble of Kingisms (the Low Men put up strange encoded
signs on telephone posts when they are closing in) that King
readers can imagine being affective on the page but are reduced
to unsubstantiated oddities in a film like this. Key relationships
are left open and the assumptions we are asked to make about
them is asking us too much. The credit from the audience must
always be earned. Hearts in Atlantis is a leap of faith with
nothing on the other side.
So that no one needs to make this type of mistake again, here
is a breakdown of a good number of the "Maine" man's
work that has been captured by the camera.
To get there faster: the great | the
good | what the hell? | the
The Green Mile (1999) - Originally a serial publication by
King. Haunting prison drama with a super natural touch. Sam
Rockwell as an insane prisoner will blow your mind
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - A short story written by
King titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Everyone
has seen it so there is no need for description. You may be
chayav karait if you miss this one. The best Stephen King movie
that won't feel like one.
Misery (1990) - Rob Reiner directs Kathy Bates to her Oscar
winning performance as a deranged fan keeping her favorite novelist
as a souvenir.
Stand By Me (1986) - From King's short story The Body. Reiner
again handling King with real flair. The cast gives us the opportunity
to relish the blossoming careers of River Phoenix, John Cusack,
Kiefer Sutherland, Jerry O'Connell, and Corey Feldman (well,
his career was blossoming at the time).
The Shining (1980) - Kubrick and King mesh brilliantly in this
chiller about a snowed in hotel and the descent of a man into
madness. Unforgettable Jack Nicholson.
Carrie (1980) - A horror classic with Brian De Palma directing.
Starring a young Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, and William "Greatest
American Hero" Katt. Teenage angst taken to the extreme.
The Stand (1994) - TV miniseries based in King's epic about
post apocalyptic good versus evil. Received warmly by fans who
hold this book to be the Holy Grail of King's work. Also, it's
Ringwald and Rob Lowe in the same movie!
Needful Things (1993) - Overblown multi-character tale about
Satan moving into a quite town and slowly but surely destroying
it. The attraction here is the great cast (Max Von Sydow, Ed
Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, and J.T. Walsh to name
a few). Some frightening moments and a director's cut available.
IT (1990) - King's story about childhood friends who discover
the evil that is It in their small town and vow to band together
if It ever returns is utterly petrifying at points but a bit
uneven overall. Handled for TV with TV caliber stars but all
doing fine work, mostly out of their predictable genres.
Pet Sematery (1989) - Sickeningly scary book becomes the same
on the screen. Check it out for one of the last performances
by Fred Gwynn (Herman Munster).
Christine (1983) - The veteran camp/horror director John Carpenter
(same Birthday as me) is behind the wheel of this car from hell
chiller. Opportunity to check out 80's relic Keith Gordon (The
Legend of Billie Jean, Back to School) in a rare starring role.
The Dead Zone (1983) - Christopher Walken embodies all the
absurdity of this peculiar but often creepy tale about a man
who can foresee tragedies after he wakes up from a comma.
Cujo (1983) - Well handled story, which should have been more
difficult to adapt for the screen about a mother and son trapped
in a car and held captive by a rabid dog. Looks like King was
a hot commodity in 83'.
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)- Not based on a specific King book
but shares characters from Carrie. Teen angst taken to the extreme
again but this time for the Freddie Prinze Jr. era.
Apt Pupil (1998) - King short about a modern day Nazi recruiting
a young and devoted….pupil. Brad Renfro plays the Hitler
in training and Bryan Singer directs his follow up to The Usual
Thinner (1996) - Harmless slice of King brand terror as a gypsy
dishes some curse upon a few men and the words turn out to be
more than just talk.
Dolores Claiborne (1995) - Bates again playing the protagonist
but this time the film, the characters, and the morbid plot
is a bit too gloomy to move you. Some cringe-worthy moments.
Tommyknockers (1993) - Made for TV mini-series about an alien
craft's unearthing. Starring CSI's Marg Helgenberger.
The Dark Half (1993) - Classic horror director George A. Romero
(Night of the Living Dead) directs Timothy Hutton in a movie
about a writer with a strong and deadly alter ego.
Sometimes They Come Back (1991) - Short story made into feature
about a teacher (Tim Matheson) whose new students are suspiciously
reminiscent of the youths who murdered his brother many years
The Running Man (1985) - Finally! Schwarzenegger and King together.
Check out Arnold as a game show contestant where the game is
kill or be killed. Jesse the Body and old Family Feud host Richard
Dawson also appear.
Silver Bullet (1985) - I don't know anything about this movie
except that Corey Haim is in a wheelchair and werewolves are
Sleepwalkers (1992) - The only feature film written directly
for the big screen by King. About killer cat-like strangers
who seduce and destroy. If the idiotic story won't make you
nauseous, the incest will. King appears in funny cameo.
The Lawnmower Man (1992) - The only think King provided for
this virtual reality mess is the title.
Maximum Overdrive (1986) - King actually directed this junk
about trucks that have gone berserk. Emilio Esteves is the lead.
The Children of the Corn - There are seven movies and counting
rooting from this short story by King and only G-D knows why.
you aspiring writers out there:
Best Stephen King books still untouched by Hollywood: The Eyes
Dragon and The Dark Tower Series.
- Send Jordan your thoughts here