It is my unfortunate duty to inform the viewing public that if you are a fan of Stephen King or for that matter, good book to film adaptations, then you need to stay far away from Mick Garris’s Bag of Bones. In fact, do yourself a favor and stay away from anything done by Mick Garris. He has finally cemented the fact that he should no longer direct anything. If he wants to produce, that is more than fine, but as a director he fails the audience, the novel, the screenplay, the actors, and pretty much everything else involved in the project.
In interviews you can see that Garris is a huge fan of Stephen King and horror in general, however he would work much better as a producer than as a director. Part of being a director is understanding that some things that work great on the written page would feel out of place, or worse, look silly in a film. As much of a fan of Stephen King as I am; I understand that a lot of his work is cerebral and not necessarily needed to be shown in a visual medium. For a novel to work on film, there needs to be a concession that certain points should either be taken out, or hinted, instead of shown full on, especially if budget constraints hinder you from showing it in a realistic fashion. With The Stand, it was the hand of God, with The Shining it was the topiary creatures, with Desperation it was the soul sucking vultures. Garris has had more than enough chances to prove his ability to make a good Stephen King adaptation and he’s fallen short every time. Bag of Bones turns out no different.
Bag of Bones is the story of Mike Noonan, played by Pierce Brosnan, a popular novelist, who is stuck with a fit of writer’s block after his wife his killed suddenly. Mike finds out that his wife was pregnant at the time of her death, a secret that she had not revealed to him, and he decides to go to their summer home in Maine, a house on Dark Score Lake named ‘Sara Laughs’. Once there, Mike becomes entangled in a custody battle, a haunting at the lake house, and a curse brought on by Sara Tidwell, a blues singer who disappeared in Dark Score many years before. A lot of the novel takes place in Mike’s thoughts and quiet moments inside the lake house. And herein lies the biggest problem of the film. I don’t think Brosnan is a bad actor, but he is not an actor who can carry a film with long periods of nothing but himself in a house, emoting to the walls. Bag of Bones is a 2 part miniseries that is close to 4 hours long, and Part 1 is a lot of nothing but Mike crying about his wife, or when the supernatural starts, laughing heartily that his wife is communicating with him. Jack Nicholson was overacting in The Shining and it worked based on the character’s decent into madness, however Bag of Bones isn’t telling that type of story. Brosnan doesn’t make Mike Noonan a sympathetic character at all, he plays him as smarmy and watching it you almost pray for scenes without him in it.
However, when you do get scenes outside of Mike, none of the other characters are fleshed out as anything more than small-town caricatures. Stephen King is nothing if not a master of building a character, but Garris can’t even connect the audience with the main character, let alone the supporting cast. So you end up not caring about anyone in the film and while the secrets unfold and the paranormal grows stronger, there is no sense of dread or importance to anything. This is a story that depends upon the audience to care about the characters; the story is not a spectacle. I can’t blame the actors, they were never given time to breath. Most of the film is taking place trying to build up suspense within the house, which it fails at, and then the last half tries to rush the entire story into an hour. With a miniseries you are afforded the time to let the characters grow. If you can’t do that in four hours then the problem is yours, not the source material.
And that is my biggest problem with this film. I came into it with low expectations and still I was incredibly disappointed. I don’t like having to come down so hard on Garris, but if he’s going to direct another Stephen King adaptation, and I know he will, I would really like to be proud to watch it or recommend it instead of sinking down into my seat just hoping it ends. When Mick Garris does direct another film, these are some things I’d like him to keep in mind.
First: I like nods to other Stephen King stories, but if you can’t even get the one you are making right, why don’t you spend more time on that instead of yelling to the fans ‘See, see, I love Stephen King, I’ve read his stuff, can’t you tell?’. There was more detail and work put into the viral website for Bag of Bones than you actually see in the film itself. If you really love Stephen King, your focus should be on bringing people who don’t know him into the world he created, and hopefully making them interested in reading the book. If I watched this movie without knowing the novel, I would have no desire to ever read it.
Second: Know your weakness and know your strength. With Mick Garris is his small grasp on special effects. There is a scene with a tree that is shaped like a woman, if this wasn’t enough, Garris felt the need to put a CGI Sara Tidwell face on to the tree, which looks so ridiculous, I was embarrassed for the film. When you already understand what he’s trying to convey with the image of the tree, there is no reason to put a literal face on it. Your job is to help the actor’s bring this creation to life, and you betray them by telling the people watching it that they are too dumb to understand a symbol.
Lastly: Listen to the reaction from fans. I’m not saying this because I hate Mick Garris, but I’d like to see him do this well. There is a point where constructive criticism becomes only criticism. I want to see these books adapted to where it stands with the novel not against it, and after all these chances, it hasn’t happened yet. It must be a dream to be able to film something you are such a fan of, but it’s not fair to ruin it for the other people who love it just as much as you do.
The tagline for this movie was Beware the Lake. You’d do better to be wary of this film.