Saturday, October 1, 2011

Movie Appraisal: Salem's Lot (2004)

'Salem's Lot, as I've mentioned before, is my favorite Stephen King novel. It has a fantastic story, kind of obviously taken from Dracula, one of my favorite books ever, and it really works in my opinion, not only as a vampire story, but also as a good horror story in general.

That being said, this television miniseries movie is not the best Stephen King movie that there ever was. It has a great cast and decent writing, but there are downsides and I will get to them, don't you worry your little anonymous reader head. Trust me on this, I am going to rip this movie apart by the freaking seams. The cast those, like I mentioned, is very good, with Rob Lowe starring. Now, Rob Lowe had also been in the miniseries adaptation of The Stand as well, and honestly... well, although he has a good name, the character of Ben Mears is a fairly bland and uninteresting character. Donald Sutherland also stars as Richard Straker, a new man who comes to the town of 'Salem's Lot to open an antique store with his business partner, Kurt Barlow, who is played by Rutger Hauer.

Let me say that those two actors, although in my opinion very fine actors, seem to have such odd performances in this. Donald Sutherland plays a character who in the novel is mentioned many times as being "hairless" and "smooth" as evil snarky Santa Claus, which is such a strange way to play that role. James Mason, in the previous version of the movie, did such a better job as Straker. Rutger Hauer, on the other hand, plays Barlow, the sadistic vampire, as an incredibly suave gentleman vampire. Now, in the novel he is a monster and in the previous movie he was a Nosferatu type of vampire, but here he is simply Rutger Hauer... and he isn't bad, but it is a little inexplicable the way he plays the evil vampire.

Also, James Cromwell plays Father Callahan and I'll have a lot to say about his performance and the writing surrounding it later on in the review.

Now, I have reviewed the 1979 movie and the novel, so you can tell that this story is close to my heart. I love vampires, I love what vampires used to be. I Am Legend, the novel, not the 2007 movie starring Will Smith, is a fantastic novel which makes me so happy. Dracula by Bram Stoker is my second favorite book of all time. Amazingly well written and full of a whole bunch of great scenes and characters, but I digress... this is not a review of vampires or of Dracula. I guess what I'm saying is that old-style vampires are close to my heart, so this movie becomes both incredibly awesome and incredibly disappointing.

So, besides the actors I mentioned, most of the characters and actors are incredibly tough to watch. The acting is certainly not amazing. There may be a gem of a performance here and there, but for the most part the movie is fairly rough around the edges. It really tries very hard to show the scope of the novel and succeeds in the first half of the miniseries. It has a great build-up to everything in much the same way that the novel has. There is a lot thrown in about the movie being set up to be a haunted house story, just like the novel, and then throwing that aside and becoming crazy vampiric midway through. And this is all good. There are a lot of good things to this movie too. It does have some legitimately frightening parts (as frightening as a television miniseries can get), and really gets the setting right, which I applaud.

The problems arise because of miscasting and strange performances. This can mostly be seen through Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, and James Cromwell. I love these actors, but for one, in the original novel Father Callahan is not a bad guy... ever. This even creates a problem when 'Salem's Lot connects to The Dark Tower series in which Father Callahan, the alcoholic Catholic priest, is one of the biggest heroes of the series. As for Hauer and Sutherland, why weren't their roles just swapped? The ancient vampire of Barlow was much more suited for someone of Sutherland's talents and experiences, while Hauer playing Straker would have been amazing... because simply looking at Rutger Hauer, you can easily become a little unnerved.

Now, some of the scenes are fairly well done and compare favorably to the 1979 version and fit well with the novel as well. Danny Glick coming to Mark Petrie's window comes to mind as well as some of the later vampires. Now, one character I haven't mentioned is Doctor James Cody who is my favorite character in the novel and is... well, partially amazing here and partially a terrible human being. His character is also changed from the novel and it is for the worst unsurprisingly. I think the actor who plays him, Robert Mammone, is absolutely fantastic in the role, but had to deal with a less than stellar script. I was so excited to see Jimmy Cody's name attached to a Salem's Lot movie, but in the end it was more disappointing than surprising.

The plot follows the same one I've written twice over in two other reviews, with the only difference coming in actual characters that appear (This miniseries has a lot more characters than the 1979 movie, and much better acting besides as well.), and the framing device used in the miniseries, that was also used in the novel, but in a very different way. In the novel it was used as, I think, an homage to Dracula. Here it is used to showcase the villainy of Father Callahan and the characters of Mark Petrie and Ben Mears.

The main two characters, and the main female too, are still as bland as they have always been, and out of the main cast of characters only Andre Braugher's performance of Matt Burke had any real impact on me. I thought casting him to play a character that in the last adaptation and in the novel was white, was a great move. I thought he added real acting talent and a surprising addition to a story with, and I hate to say it like this, very little diversity. Now, I could care less about diversity. Whatever floats people's boats, but I think it was a ballsy move that a ton of people probably didn't like, but I thought it was excellent casting. It really seemed to me that they were casting out of the character himself rather than out of preconceptions... and I really like that. I'll be talking about Andre Braugher again in an upcoming review, again praising his performance. He is an incredibly underrated actor.

Anyway, I like this movie because of the source material... I mean, hey, I own it and everything. But on it's own merits, it really isn't very good. Some of the acting and scares are decently well done, but in the second half the acting starts falling very flat and the choices of how the plots moves just seem confusing and nonsensical to me, a fan of the original work. I wouldn't recommend it over the 1979 version unless you are looking for better acting or cinematography, which you very well might, and you'll find those things here. But besides that, you should probably avoid this less than stellar television miniseries.

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