January 2nd, 2010 – First time viewing.
The only reason that I sat down to watch the film adaptation of “Needful Things” is because I had just finished the novel (written by Stephen King) and felt compelled to see it brought to screen. As with many transfers to film, a lot of books that get the cinematic treatment are not only vastly different from their original source but also are far inferior in almost every way. “Needful Things” is no different. On a purely comparative basis, the movie lacks much of what made the book so much fun. Taken purely as an early 90′s horror/thriller film, parts of it actually work.
“Needful Things” takes place in Castle Rock Maine, typical small town America. A new shop opens up named “Needful Things”. Once it does, the town descends into chaos as tensions between people escalate and violence ensues.
I’ll start with what I didn’t like. What makes the book so delicious is Stephen King’s characters. He’s great at this. No matter what story he’s telling, it’s his ability to flesh out his central characters that wraps you up into the thick of things. There is a slow burn that happens in the book that is impossible not to like as things go from great, to kind of great, to good, to not so good, to bad, to worse, to really horrible, and then to hell. One of my major complaints is that none of this happens in the movie. We get the typical intro scene for each character and then we are supposed to understand why they start to fight with each other. The climax scene is completely ridiculous because all of a sudden we are introduced to characters we’ve barely seen and are supposed to have a vested interest in why they are doing what they are doing. It almost feels like the hostility between characters was conjured up not five minutes before the cameras began to roll. With a running time of 120 minutes, part of this could have been a time constraint to set everything up before the climax (lord knows there is a ton to cover from the book) but I’m pointing my finger at the poorly constructed script written by W.D Richter and the atrocious directing by Fraser Clarke Heston (who? exactly.). A proper adaptation would have yielded a very entertaining slow burn thriller. Instead, watching “Needful Things”, which was released in theaters is no different than watching a made for TV movie.
In terms of what I liked, Ed Harris, Amanda Plummer, and J.T. Walsh created fantastic on-screen representations of their characters from the book. Where the script lacked in pacing and set-up, it excelled in the characterization of these three roles. That or, these actors prepared for the roles by reading the book beforehand. Even with the brutal screenplay, and pretty terrible acting from lots of the supporting characters, watching Max Von Sydow‘s Leland Gaunt manipulate the town is kind of fun. Add to that a few montages that worked and Ed Harris’ monologue at the end of the movie and you have a decent thriller.
The Bottom Line: 2.5/5. While I do have more dislikes than likes from this experience, “Needful Things” is not a horrible movie. Flawed yes, and as an adaptation, pretty bad, however as a stand alone thriller, it is still watchable in that, if it’s on TV why not give it a chance sort of way. If ever you do give the book a shot, I would highly recommend that.
Has anyone else read “Needful Things”? Seen the movie? What did you think? Additionally, does anyone else ever get Max Von Sydow confused with Donald Sutherland and/or Ian McKellen?
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