Haunting audiences for decades on screen and a tad longer through the written word, Stephen King has a legacy like no other. His work will go down in history as some of the greatest pieces of literature and adapted fiction of all time. There is no way around this. It is a fundamental fact that brought the likes of Misery, The Shining and Carrie into the houses of millions and the minds of more. Stephen King on Screen revels in this historic conclusion, one of the last great writers of his generation and still going, albeit at a bit of an inconsistent state and tone in his recent works. Still, everyone has their slumps and for King, whose seminal On Writing may be a particular peak of non-fiction, the focus is very much, and rightfully, on his fiction literature.
Daphné Baiwir takes to adapting, presenting and procuring several snippets for this documentary. That is, in effect, what they are. Stephen King on Screen is a collection of short scenes inspired by the ominous intentions King could write so well and then cuttings of interviews with directors and stars who tackled his work. Bottles of American Grain traded over counters which have broad iconography relating to the best of King’s work and little more than that are all it is. Those fictionalised scenes, the broadness of the “master” and other selections of non-specific pieces makes for a strange and fractured piece, most of it out-of-sync with the intention of a documentary. Pretty poor in its performance and even less interesting when the talking heads are around.
Even when those experts are chatting away, prattling off a list of titles King did indeed write and involve himself with, there is not enough time here to look into all of it. Naturally, it starts with Carrie although much of what is said needs fact-checking. Stephen King on Screen is difficult to take at face value when much of it feels as though it is not all there. Selecting a few of the highlights, pushing through a brief and often dull explanation of each film from those who give a tangible link between the movies, is not worth the time it takes to get through to the interesting, modern adaptations. Recalling spoiler-heavy experiences with movies is not the same as understanding their impact and value as art. Stephen King on Screen is firmly in the former.
Stuffed with wafer-thin understandings of what appears on screen and almost no contrast to what was written on the page, Stephen King on Screen mulls over its collection of experts and brings about almost nothing of interest. Remarkable, considering how much is set to be offered up by those most intimately involved in the adaptive process. Instead, they talk of being put into the skin of the lead characters, of anecdotes which involve throwing scripts across rooms as they all hail the horror master. Rightly so, but that is all Stephen King on Screen is. No particular or new nod to behind-the-scenes intrigue, no real, deeper understanding of the impact of these works, just a half-hearted study of where they came from and what they still offer audiences. Dive into King’s work without the hand-holding of a poor documentary whose breakthroughs are trying and failing to convince an audience King’s work was little read until it popped up on the big screen.