I have written previously about my passion for the works of Stephen King, and also of my love for David Cronenberg’s 1983 adaptation of The Dead Zone. (You may wish to read that article before continuing here.) The film, which stars Christopher Walken in one of his most iconic roles, regards everyman Johnny Smith, who, after he awakens from a five year coma, has the gift (or is it a curse?) of second sight.
Hulu.com recently made the movie available for online viewing and embedding, so what is a King aficionado gonna do?
Why bring it over here for you, of course.
if you’ve never seen this little gem, you are in for a treat.
I just finished Stephen King‘s brand new gargantuan opus Under the Dome … and boy are my arms tired. Kidding, but at nearly 1,100 pages this is his third longest (heaviest) book, behind IT and the revised version of The Stand. It is also an unbelievably quick read — I did it in just under two weeks. All of the old book critic clichés come to mind here: a gripping, unrelenting, fast-paced page turner that will keep you up until the wee hours …
But all those descriptors are spot-on. This is Classic King. This is Old School King. As much as I loved the newfound maturity of recent SK novels like Bag of Bones and Duma Key, this book is truly a return to form. A massively populated epic that is instantly reminiscent of the aforementioned classics IT and The Stand.
From the first chapter, when a mysterious dome descends on the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine (situated between Castle Rock and Derry — probably not the most ideal locale for R&R), to the last chapter when all is explained, Under the Dome is at once pulp fiction, high art, an exposé of small town life, an introspective treatise on societal breakdowns, a morality play about the dangers of religious hypocrisy, a scathing metaphor of the Bush/Cheney cabinet, and just a damned exciting story, rippingly well told.
Taking inspiration from an old James McMurtry song, Talkin’ at the Texaco (“It’s a small town, son, and we all support the team” — see the video below), Under the Dome is about how fear strips us of our masks. On the day the dome comes down, Chester’s Mill is populated with less than 2,000 residents — we come to intimately know about 100 of them, including our hero, Dale Barbara (nickname: Barbie), an Iraq vet working as a short order cook; Julia Shumway, editor of the local newspaper; Jim Rennie, a car salesman and Second Selectman of the Town Council …
Speaking of Mr. Rennie, a pompous, manipulative, Bible-thumping, scripture-spouting, power-hungry blowhard — the hissable villain of this melodrama — it’s been awhile since Mr. King gave us a truly memorable bad guy. At least one who could compete with the likes of Randall Flagg (The Stand), Pennywise the dancing clown (IT), Greg Stillson (The Dead Zone), Annie Wilkes (Misery), I could go on and on here … but Rennie ranks with the best worst of them. Given Rennie’s political leanings, this is Greg Stillson made over as a small town Dick Cheney — a megalomaniac who doesn’t mind his second banana status as long as his clueless superior can play scapegoat. It’s also easier to pull the strings when you’re behind the curtain.
Speaking of religious hypocrisy (a subject about which I am also wont to rant), many of King’s previous works have touched on this subject. From Carrie’s maniacal mother Margaret White, to The Dead Zone’s Vera Smith, to The Talisman’s Sunlight Gardner, to The Shawshank Redemption’s Warden Norton, religious zealots have often filled villainous roles in King’s oeuvre. That’s not to say that King (who was raised a Methodist) doesn’t simultaneously embrace Judeo/Christianity while exposing some of the dangerous, pulpit-pounding, garment-rending poseurs who are often center stage. Mother Abagail from The Stand was a divine prophet cut from an Old Testament cloth — in fact, portions of that epic novel played like an old fashioned tent revival meeting (can you say, Hallelujah?).Under the Dome is no different — faith in God is never ridiculed, but those who misuse the scriptures for selfish gain are painted with ghastly scarlet H for Hypocrisy.
King has also showed us small town life before, and how otherworldly elements can bring out the worst in the best of us — ‘Salem’s Lot, Needful Things,The Mist, Storm of the Century — and Under the Dome ranks with those: its Our Town meets Lord of the Flies meets The Twilight Zone.
Simultaneously introspective and extremely visual — the vivid and dramatic imagery played tall in the HD screening room in my brain — Under the Dome was recently optioned by Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks Television, who will produce the film adaptation as a miniseries for HBO. That’s great news (… let’s just hope Spielberg has better luck tackling it than he has the eternally languishing film version of The Talisman).
For King fans this is a no brainer — if you have not already done so, run, do not walk, to your local bookseller and pick up (with a grunt) Under the Dome. For those who have never read King before, this is not a bad place to start. Is it his best work? No … but I would put it in the top 10. Maybe even the top 5. For a publishing phenomenon like King — 60+ novels and short story collections, truly our modern-day Dickens — that is high praise.
Under the Dome will get under your skin. Highest recommendation.
BOOK GRADE: A
The James McMurtry video below might as well be the theme song for Under the Dome — it is called Talkin’ at the Texaco (incorrectly titled Small Town), and deals with the everybody’s nose in everybody else’s business of small town life. Have a listen.
For an interview with King about Under the Dome, click here.
Stephen King‘s new epic-sized novel Under the Dome won’t be released until November 10th, 2009 — just under two weeks away as of this writing — but that doesn’t mean the wheels of the promo machine aren’t already spinning. Indeed, the Amazon/Wal-Mart/Target price war (each are offering the $35 novel for under $9.00) has been all over the news.
Touted as King’s longest work since IT and the revised version of The Stand,Under the Dome (anywhere between 1080 and 1120 pages, depending on whom you believe) has been described thusly:
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away.
Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens—town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a selectwoman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing—even murder—to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry.
But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.
While comparisons to the “dome” plot in 2007’s The Simpson’s Movie are inevitable, early reviews are pretty much love letters across the board. Some are even calling this King’s “masterwork.” As a HUGE King fan — one who loves most all of his 60+ books — I find this claim dubious, but it has definitely upped my expectations. Like I wasn’t going to be at the bookstore on release day anyway — expect my review soon after.
Here’s a recent interview with Uncle Stevie regarding Under the Dome.
After getting a comment from a reader regarding my article King, Kubrick and The Shining, the question was posed: Stephen King says that the Kubrick ending (Jack’s 1921 photo) was used in an old Twilight Zone episode. Which episode is he referring to?
It took a bit of research, but what I found was startling. The 1960 Twilight Zone episode, The After Hours, stars Anne Francis as a customer in a department store who is looking to buy a gold thimble. What does this have to do with The Shining? Especially Kubrick’s version of The Shining? Plenty, although it is rather hard to describe without major spoilers. But from the ‘gray eye’ which opens the story (reminiscent of the The Shining’s first paperback edition), to the discussions between a customer and a sales clerk (which eerily mirror Jack Torrance’s conversations with Grady), to the quaint, orchestral dance hall music throughout, to the final shot, which practically screams that Stanley Kubrick took inspiration from this episode, visually and thematically, this is a prime example of how influential The Twilight Zone was and is. No, Richard Matheson did not pen this one, but series creator Rod Serling did — and both writers have left an indelible mark on our popular culture.
The ending of Kubrick’s film is different than King’s book, and many have offered theories and conjecture as to what Kubrick meant by the gimmicky, Twilight Zone-esque shot of Jack at The Overlook some 60 years before the movie took place. Did the hotel assimilate him? Transport him back in time? Or was it simply as Grady says: “You’re the caretaker, Mr. Torrance. You’ve always been the caretaker.” This episode may shed some light on those questions.
I’ve written at length about my passion for the works of Stephen King — including his novel (and John Carpenter’s film version of) Christine. The tale of a terminally geeky high school student who becomes obsessed with, and ultimately possessed by, a 1958 Plymouth Fury.
Well now, in what is sure to cause a rubber-burning squeal of glee from fanboys, comes a 1:18 scale, diecast model of the titular car, complete with working lights, steerable wheels, rubber tires, and detailed interior, exterior, and engine compartment … evil spirits and regenerative powers not included. This thing is pretty damn cool, and can be had for around $40. Check out the specs here. The model can be purchased at many online sites, including Amazon and diecastfast.com.
To quote Christine’s fictional owners: “Man, there is nothing finer than being behind the wheel of your own car — except maybe for …” Well, you know how the line goes.
Stephen King‘s short story Morality, released in the July 2009 issue of Esquire, the one featuring supermodel Bar Refaeli on the cover buck naked but for King’s prose writ upon her, is now available online.
I stumbled on this a few days ago and, as I was in a hurry to get somewhere and didn’t have time to read it, I merely glanced at the first paragraph. But King, damn him, sucked me in and I had to finish the story right then.
The story regards a married couple struggling in these economic times to make ends meet. Chad is a substitute teacher trying to get his first novel published. Nora is a nurse doing in home care for a retired pastor who’s had a stroke. It’s when said pastor George Winston, nicknamed Winnie, makes Nora a money making proposition that this tale takes off. Winnie wants to commit a major sin before he dies — he’s committed small ones in his life, of course, but has never joined the big leagues. And, since he cannot do much in his stricken state, he offers Nora $200,000 to sin for him by proxy.
That’s all I can tell you without major spoilers, but if you think this brief synopsis sounds a bit like the movie Indecent Proposal, you are correct. But while Winnie’s proposal is certainly indecent, the similarities end there. This isn’t King’s best short story (how could it be after 35 years of prolificacy?), but it did keep me entertained, surprised and riveted throughout. When I finished it, I realized I’d been reading a morality tale … you’d think I’d have guessed that from the title.
I’ve reported on this site before that director J.J. Abrams had acquired the film rights to Stephen King‘s Dark Tower series — although, of late, he’s been a bit preoccupied with a little film called Star Trek. While riding the advertising juggernaut of his new Trek film, Abrams was asked by IGN about any news on The Dark Tower front. Check out this short video for the answer.
While J.J. has never confirmed that he would direct any of King’s gargantuan 7-part series (which reads like an epic cross between The Lord of the Rings and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), I can’t see him only producing this thing. Originally, he was only going to produce Star Trek, but fell so in love with the project, he had to direct it as well. J.J. has spoken openly about what a huge Stephen King fan he is — even going so far as to admit that his TV series Lost was influenced heavily by King’s The Stand. That Abrams might go back and forth between directing Star Trek and Dark Tower projects over the next few years is pretty damn cool. How do I get a job with this guy?