Let me go ahead and put my biases out there for the world to see: Stephen King is my favorite writer, and Bag of Bones is my favorite Stephen King book.
Also: Of all the filmmakers to try their hand at adapting King’s works for film and television, Mick Garris is my least favorite. I think parts of The Stand are very good, and there are things I like about his adaptation of The Shining. The rest I find to be bland and uninspired.
I really, really wanted him to rise above his previous efforts and make a good version of Bag of Bones. This is not me rooting against him; it’s me not expecting a whole lot based on his previous efforts. So far, unfortunately, my expectations have been met.
In Mick Garris’s Bag of Bones, all the subtlety and quiet foreboding present in the novel have been replaced with sledgehammer blows. Garris had approximately three hours (once you take out the commercials) to spin a haunting tale of love and loss and secrets and ghosts, and, at least in the first half, he’s fallen flat. This is not a story that required gore or over-the-top violence or any of the other things it’s hard to get away with on television. It’s a story that needed a deft hand, someone who knows how to build suspense through characters and locations and hints. Garris simply doesn’t have that hand.
Pierce Brosnan is miscast as Mike Noonan, a successful author whose life runs aground when his wife Jo dies suddenly and unexpectedly. In the novel, Noonan is a bit of a journeyman author, content to idle in the middle of the bestselling pack because he’s happy in life and in love. He’s a good, decent man, humble and immediately likeable. In the series, Brosnan comes across as kind of a prick, a guy who readily discusses publicity options at his wife’s funeral because “that’s what she would have wanted.”
His is not the only characterization that shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the source material. As Mattie Devore, Melissa George comes across as a giggling schoolgirl the first time she meets Noonan, a far cry from the troubled, cautious young woman of the book. Bill Dean, the caretaker employed to look after Sara Laughs while the Noonans are away, goes from being a friend and father figure as he is in the book to an old man who can conveniently spout exposition when the story needs to move along in the series.
Look, I understand that things get lost and changed and switched up when adapting a big book for the screen. I’m okay with that, as long as the spirit and tone of the book aren’t lost in the process. But when Garris changes Lance Devore from a headstrong young man who died in a tragic accident into a guy who went “Dark Score Crazy” and tried to drown his own daughter, it shows me that he’s missing the point. Bag of Bones is a story about ghosts, yes, but it’s about so much more; it’s about loss, and about the things we turn to in times of loss. It’s about the sins of the past reverberating throughout generations, and how acts of evil can have consequences for the guilty and innocent alike.
That’s what the book’s about, anyway. On TV, it just comes across as another trite little ghost story about things that go bump in the night.