Review Date: October 7, 2012
Released by: MGM
Release date: August 27, 2002
Widescreen 1.85| 16x9: Yes
I was about eleven when I started getting into Stephen King. Starting with the hardcover of The Stand`s re-release in 1990 waiting for me under the tree every Christmas, without fail, was Stephen King`s latest hardcover along with a few paperback copies of his older books. I`m still a pretty prolific reader but I was positively voracious back then; I consumed novel after novel as if I were a famished castaway and they were Snickers bars. As I got older, though, I became disillusioned with the over length of his books, his penchant for sliding into page after page of purple prose and his tendency to pilfer wholesale from his past successes. I still collected King novels, but I didnít read them as insatiably as I did when I was younger.
As this fall season approached I once again felt the itch to revisit some of Kingís work. Iíve read a lot of his top-tier novels, Pet Sematary
for example, over and over again so I decided to try one of his B-stringers. I settled on Needful Things
, a novel I havenít read in at least ten years. Actually, while itís never been one of my favourite adaptations, I`ve seen the film version of Needful Things
far more than I`ve read the book. Naturally when I finished with Kingsí tome (not bad, though I realized I remembered very little of it) I wanted to take a cinematic stroll down the streets of Castle Rock. I took the Needful Things
DVD off the shelf, blew off the dust and popped it into my player.
Is the town of Castle Rock worth returning to? Cinematically, at least, the answer is a resounding: ďno!Ē
The town of Castle Rock, Maine, is abuzz with gossip. A new store, Needful Things is opening. At first it looks like Needful Things is going to be the same kind of cozy antique store youíd see in any number of small towns all across the United States. Looks can be deceiving. The storeís proprietor, Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow
) truly makes good on the ad copy for his store; he offers each member of the town something their heart deeply desires for what seems too good a price to be true. Caveat emptor. Brian Rusk (Shane Meier
) for instance, is sold a minor condition Mickey Mantle baseball card thatís unbelievably autographed and personalized to him, for the bargain price of 95 cents...and a favour. That favour is slinging turkey shit on the drying laundry of town firebrand Wilma Jerzyck (Valri Bromfield
). Wilma automatically assumes the vandal is Nettie Cobb (Amanda Plummer
), a mousy waitress who killed her abusive husband years earlier and now lives alone with her dog, Raider, a dog Wilma canít stand.
And so it goes, Gaunt selling the townspeople their hearts desires in exchange for vicious pranks and acts of vandalism designed to inflame the pre-existing rivalries. Town selectman Danforth Keaton (J.T. Walsh
) and Deputy Norris Ridgewick (Ray McKinnon
) are set against each other. Even the clergy of Castle Rock is not above Gauntís manipulations; Catholic priest Father Meehan (W. Morgan Sheppard
) and Baptist Reverend Willie Rose (Don Davis
) are driven to blows and wind up rolling around in the street trying to murder each other with gardening implements.
The one person who is above temptation is Sherriff Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris
). In an attempt to tear him down, Gaunt seduces Alanís fiancťe Polly Chalmers (Bonnie Bedelia
) with an offer she canít refuse. Polly suffers from terrible arthritis in her hands and Gaunt offers her a charm that completely alleviates her pain...then he physically seduces her. Having the one person whose loyal he could depend on set against him, Alan alone must combat the result of Gauntís machinations as the townspeople simultaneously reach their breaking points and Castle Rock erupts in an orgy of violence.
From first reading, one can tell that Needful Things
would be a tricky novel to adapt. Like a lot of Kingís work, itís dense with characters and, being billed as ďthe last Castle Rock story,Ē itís loaded with references to a lot of Kingís other works set in his fictional Maine burg. Changes were going to have to be made, including deleting or altering a major subplot involving Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherlandís character in Stand by Me
) running guns for Gaunt. Some of the changes are understandable in streamlining the story to make it more cinematic; the way Gaunt turns Polly against Alan, for instance, would be difficult and require a lot of scenes of exposition to pay off a plot point thatís really not that important. Other changes, though, actually hurt the credibility of the story. Making the Jerzycks turkey farmers that live outside of town stretches the credibility that Nettie could have reached their rural home in the timeframe the film establishes. The ending of the film, while not fantastic in and of itself is still a definite improvement over the anticlimax that concludes the novel. The ending of the novel was particularly upsetting considering the book is a weight 700+ pages. To someone who hasnít read Kingís novel, though, the finale and its distinct lack of fireworks will probably still be a disappointing end to a lengthy film (for its genre).
One Needful Thing that this movie has is a strong cast. Ed Harris and Bonnie Bedlia return to the world of Stephen King having starred in Creepshow
and the 1979 version of Salemís Lot
, respectively. Ed Harris has been one of the best working American actors for most of his career and he has the relatively thankless role of anchoring this film. He classes the screen up every second heís on it, but the script doesnít really make him a central figure until late in the game. On the side of evil, J.T. Walsh goes balls out into camp from the first moment heís on screen. Some have criticized his performance, but I prefer an actor try too hard than not hard enough. At any rate, heís never less than entertaining, though he contributes to the problems filmís problem with tone (more on that in a second). Amanda Plummer makes a suitably mousey Nettie and Max Von Sydow, given far too little to do, chews the scenery. With his sharpened teeth and thick yellow fingernails he seems like heís always on the verge of breaking out in maniacal laughter. I donít think anybody would have faulted him for doing so.
I already touched on the problems Needful Things
has with its tone; itís simply all over the map. There are moments of comedy, and even pure camp. These elements share screen space with violence thatís reaching for blackly humorous but overshoots the mark and into the grim and unpleasant. And then thereís the attempted suicide of a youngster thatís handled spectacularly poorly and leaves an awful taste in the mouth that lingers throughout the rest of the film. From start to finish, the whole movie just feels glum and joyless.
There is an alternate version of Needful Things
broadcast on TBS in 1996 that runs 63 minutes longer. It adds more subplots and expands on existing ones. In doing so it clears up a few vagaries and resolves a few potholes but it doesnít significantly improve the film. If you like Needful Things
, the extended version will give you more of what you like. If you didnít like the theatrical version, its unlikely the directorís cut will sway your opinion.
Released pretty early in the DVD lifecycle when the home video market was hot and there was a mad rush to get content on disc, regardless of quality. MGMN was particularly bad for this and released many subpar laserdisc transfers. Needful Things
is great example of their lackadaisical attitude. Noise, noise and more noise plagues every scene. Even brightly lit day time scenes, of which there are many, are muddy with mosquito noise and haloing. Dark scenes can be downright unintelligible. About the only good thing I can say about it is that itís presented in its original, 1.85 ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. Even for 2002, this was below par.
Itís a measure of how lacking the video quality is when an audio track that just passable is vastly superior to the picture. Needful Things
has a typical Dolby stereo track. All the elements are fairly adequately mixed, though dialogue is occasionally hard to discern, especially during the quieter scenes. Thereís no shrillness or popping or serious defects to the sound. Yay for not doing a shit job!
The only supplement is a Theatrical Trailer (1:58) that promises a dark comedy far different from the dreary and unpleasant film thatís delivered. It does have a few clips from the extended TV version in it, for those with eagle eyes and the desire to look for them.
Neither Needful Things
nor the novel on which it is based rank in the upper echelon of Kingís work or adaptations. The Stephen King pedigree, the potential of the premise and the presence of Ed Harris and Max Von Sydow are the right ingredients for a good thriller but Kingís weighty and largely psychological novel unsurprisingly proved too difficult to effectively adapt. Needful Things
isnít good, and itís not particularly bad, either. Itís just kind of achingly pointless. Thank goodness the trend of rushing to adapt everything ever written by King is over. There are some stories that work best as books and should remain as such.
A mediocre movie is given a mediocre presentation on DVD: subpar video, passable audio and almost totally barren of extras. Thereís nothing needful about this thing and no amount of added footage or black magic can make it otherwise. Skip it.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - D
Sound - C+
Supplements - D
- Running time - 2 hours
- Rated R, 18A
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Stereo Surround
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Portuguese subtitles