Directed by Mick Garris
Tomorrow night, December 11th, A&E launches the first part of a two-night celebration of Mick Garris’ four-hour adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Bag of Bones starring Pierce Brosnan as haunted writer Mike Noonan, Annabeth Gish as his recently deceased wife Jo, Melissa George as embattled single mother Mattie Devore, Anika Noni Rose as 1930’s singer Sara Tidwell, and William Schallert as evil millionaire Max Devore and featuring appearances by Matt Frewer (Trashcan Man from The Stand) as Mike’s brother Sid and “90210” alum Jason Priestly as Mike’s literary agent.
There’s probably no other filmmaker working today who has been as devoted breathing cinematic life into the written works of Stephen King than Garris. His latest effort is the supernaturally-themed Bag of Bones, which definitely demonstrates a new side to Garris as a filmmaker but unfortunately doesn’t quite succeed in the scares department too much. There’s no doubt that the drama and the performances are solid throughout, but unfortunately Matt Venne’s screenplay just never digs deep enough, which should no doubt leave many viewers feeling a little underwhelmed by the time the conclusion rolls around on the second night.
After luring viewers in with quiet period music, Bag of Bones quickly hits viewers with a series of jarring images foreshadowing what is to come and, in some instances, revealing the horrors of what has already happened, which definitely sets a nice mood out of the gate. We then meet Mike Noonan (Brosnan), a best-selling author with a loving and inspiring wife named Jo (Gish). After she meets an untimely death in a rather brutal fashion, Mike is left with a lot of questions and only his grief to get him through it all. Shortly after her death he develops writer’s block and begins to receive signs suggesting Jo’s spirit still lingers and needs to deliver to him some sort of message from the beyond.
Frustrated and haunted by the recent tragedy in his life, Mike decides to deal with the loss of his wife and his ability to write by taking an extended trip to their vacation house on the rather sinisterly named Dark Score Lake. Once there, he continues to believe Jo is trying to contact him from beyond while discovering she may have been up to no good herself at their vacation house while entertaining a mystery man. Mike also begins to experience flashbacks that start to uncover clues regarding another dead woman: 1930’s jazz singer Sara Tidwell (Rose), who seems to need Mike’s help for something.
As if that weren’t enough to contend with, Mike also gets involved with a local woman named Mattie Devore (George), whom he meets after rescuing her daughter from a potential car accident in the middle of the road. Mike’s unaware that his one good deed is about to unleash all sorts of issues in his life, including engaging in a war with Max Devore (Schallert)- a nasty old millionaire hell-bent on taking Mattie’s daughter away from her at any cost. Eventually these themes all begin to intertwine, and it’s up to Mike to figure out what his wife has been trying to tell him from beyond the grave and how that message will help a murdered singer from the 1930’s as well as Mattie’s quest to keep her daughter away from Max.
As a whole, there’s a lot to like about Bag of Bones. Garris makes forward strides as a storyteller here and gives us several great dramatic moments peppered throughout the mini-series coupled with an incredible looking movie to boot. Where Garris’ work in the 2006 mini-series Desperation was rustic and claustrophobic, Bag of Bones is lush and vivid with a very grandiose feel to it. The cast Garris has assembled for the project are all top-notch players, especially Brosnan, who has to carry the story squarely on his very capable shoulders and does so successfully. The supporting cast are all great as well (although I tend to enjoy Melissa George more when she’s not being all lovey-dovey in a project), and Garris does manage to deliver several great shocking and disturbing moments of violence in Bag of Bones.
What ends up being the biggest issue for Bag of Bones is the task of condensing King’s immense story down to a four-hour program (or really, under three if you take out the commercial breaks), which doesn’t give the director much time to establish anything beyond the main three storylines. While Garris’ passion for bringing Bag of Bones to life is clearly evident, it’s Venne’s script that really does the film the biggest injustice here. Sure the story hits a lot of the key moments from the book, but it lacks the depth and true soul of King’s original story.
The other problem is that in Bag of Bones King crafted a very interior novel with a lot of it taking place with Mike alone with his thoughts, and that’s some tough material to translate successfully to the visual medium of film. And while Brosnan surely holds his own in scenes where it’s just himself onscreen, there’s too much of his thinking out loud and some awkward dialogue from the supporting characters in other scenes that plays out like over-obvious exposition, which ends up deflating a lot of the mood Garris works so hard to establish in Bag of Bones.
Using basic cable to his advantage, Garris doesn’t shy away from some key gore and shocking moments of violence in Bag of Bones. While there isn’t a lot that’s truly scary about the story (hardened horror fans be forewarned), there are a few moments of brutality- a bus accident, a shooting through the head, a violent rape and drowning scene, decaying corpses and a violent stabbing- that give viewers just enough of the gore without going too far. But if you’re hoping for something along the lines of “The Walking Dead,” then it’s best you look elsewhere.
Overall Bag of Bones tends to skimp on the horror and focus more on the dramatic aspects of King’s story, which may leave a lot of fans out there feeling very underwhelmed by the mini-series as a whole. Garris’ craft can’t be faulted here though- Bag of Bones looks and sounds great and is definitely one of his stronger King mini-series adaptations to date. Garris gets some rather strong and heartfelt work out of his cast and delivers some stunning visuals, but Venne’s script never goes deep enough to ever truly get to the “meat” of the original novel, making Bag of Bones not much more than just a title in this case.
3 out of 5