This documentary on various Stephen King Adaptations fails to live up to the author’s work or dive deep enough to give any new insight.
PLOT: 1976, Brian de Palma directs Carrie, the first novel by Stephen King. Since, more than 50 directors adapted the master of horror’s books, in more than 80 films and series, making him now, the most adapted author still alive in the world.
REVIEW: Almost as prominent as the books of Stephen King are the film adaptations of his work. Everyone has their favorites (and their not-so-favorites) and they’re prominent as can be. Whether it’s at the top of the Netflix charts or the latest Scream Factory release, there’s never been an easier way to watch his filmography. His adaptations are varied, adorning best and worst lists alike. Yet there’s a charm to most of them and a throughline that, despite the various filmmakers involved, feel part of a greater universe. So a documentary based on anything King-related feels like a no-brainer.
King on Screen is a very strange attempt at celebrating the career of Stephen King and his film adaptations. Most of the information isn’t new and is provided by people that have talked about King in a million instances. Hopeful for new insight, I just kept waiting for an interesting revelation. If anything, it just feels like a masturbatory attempt by the director to highlight their own favorites, while dismissing others completely. This is further cemented by the strange fictional story that bookends the documentary. Given that it’s the director herself in the starring role, it’s hard not to view this as a vanity project.
I was appreciative of several of the interviews, as it’s nice to get some clarification on certain aspects. How did Darabont come to adapt three different incredible King adaptations? How was Flanagan able to convince King to have Kubrick’s The Shining be canon in the Doctor Sleep film adaptation? I was also surprised at how little time is spent on King’s Dollar Baby program. For the uninitiated, this is a program King set up for independent filmmakers to license his work for just one dollar. In fact, The Lawnmower Man was given a much more faithful adaptation by a student filmmaker that plays out just like King’s short story. But these moments makeup such a small part of the narrative, that they’re gone in an instant, moving onto something that is widely known instead.
There’s also a really strange segment that essentially just exists to bash Stanley Kubrick. And I don’t just mean his creative choices, they take a five-minute detour just to bash the man himself. Then when it moves on to bash the film, it’s hardly a fair shake. It almost felt like getting mad on King’s behalf. There’s also a whole aside from Frank Darabont about Night of the Living Dead that feels like its only included because the film is in the public domain. It’s moments like these that feel a bit strange in the grand scheme of things as they have little to do with King. This adds to the overall amateur feel of the entire narrative. Though the production value is great, utilizing a great aesthetic for the interviews themselves. I just wish the content matched.
I usually count myself as a fan of these career retrospectives yet this one rubbed me the wrong way throughout. From the jabs at Kubrick to the lack of any new information, this felt entirely unnecessary. But the most egregious exclusion is of the author himself. If there’s anyone I would want to hear talk about the adaptations, it would be King himself. He could provide so much insight into what he loved or didn’t love about them. Yet there’s no interview footage with King himself. I feel like his lack of participation should have been enough to prevent this from getting off the ground but I guess they were hoping it’d be more interesting. But without King’s input, this just feels like a hollow attempt at examining the films.
KING ON SCREEN is IN THEATERS ON AUGUST 11TH, 2023.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/king-on-screen-review/