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Desperation (Script)

Draft date: 1997, Written by Stephen King

PLEASE NOTE: This review was written many years ago back on our old site, so some of the info may seem dated as of now.

A few years back, famed horror author Stephen King had the bright idea to release two 500+ page companion novels, mainly to ensure that readers could stand and look between the two scratching their heads while trying to figure out which one to get. For hours at a time. For those less informed, the choice was easy. You see, one of the books was called The Regulators, written under the name Richard Bachman. Those that didn’t know who the hell this was moved right on to the novel with Kings name on it, whereas informed readers knew that Bachman was a pseudonym King wrote under for a while. Apparently, the publishing company thought it’d be a hoot to release a ‘lost’ Bachman book. Regulators did not do well, due in large part because its companion, Desperation, was far superior in story and mood than The Regulators, even though both books featured the same characters. Neither had the same situation or story, however, and some characters’ personalities were completely turned around. Still, most agreed that Desperation was a better book and much more worthy of a big screen adaptation.

When the announcement came recently that Desperation is to be made into a feature length movie I did my usual moaning and groaning when I realize there will be yet another less than adequate King movie coming my way. But this is a little different. For one thing, Mick Garris is slated to direct. This is a monumentally good thing since Garris did the unthinkable and made a pretty damn good version of The Stand, a book no one thought would ever make a good film. He also went on to serve the King on many other adaptations all of which are better then most King movies.

When Daniel and I met with Garris at the Blair Witch Webfest back in 2001, he assured us that the feature-length version of Desperation would pull no punches and stay as faithful to the book as possible. So when we acquired a copy of the script I was very eager to check it out to see if it could live up to my expectations as a movie.

The draft I received is dated 1997 and is written by King. I can only assume it’s gone through many revisions since then, which is not altogether a bad thing.

For those unfamiliar with the book let me give you a quick rundown; the book (as well as the script) begins with two friends in Ohio. One of them is involved in a bad bike accident, and is almost killed. The other is unharmed, and prays to God his friend will be all right, promising to do anything in return for this one favor. Cut to a few years later, far away from the lushness of Ohio, to the unforgiving desert of Nevada. A couple headed to New York are pulled over by a local town cop. All seems fine at first but when a large bag of pot is found the two are promptly thrown into the cruiser and hauled off to the local jail.

And there’s something very wrong with this particular officer of the law.

His skin seems to be having a vicious argument with the rest of his body. It wants to rid itself of its skin, and seems to be winning. He also has a small speech impediment that causes him to say “TAK!” quite a bit. Oh yeah, and he wants to kill them both.

Only one of them makes it to the town jail alive, only to find a strange assortment of imprisoned people, all with similar stories. One is Daniel, the boy mentioned above who’s friend was almost killed, along with his parents and an old man from town. They soon realize there’s no one left alive in this desolate Nevada town, aptly named Desperation, and they must fight for their lives while trying to figure out what this thing is that so desperately needs to keep them alive, but is all too willing to kill whatever gets in its way.

As the script moves on we are introduced to three other characters. There’s Johnny, the hotshot author who’s touring America on his Harley. Johnny’s assistant Steve who’s about 70 miles behind him, driving a Ryder truck used to store the bike, and a hitchhiker he picks up named Cynthia. They all end up in town, but it’s Johnny and the boy Daniel who are the main focus for most of the story.

So there’s your back-story. It’s condensed and spoiler free, just like you like it. So, what did I think?

This being the first script I’ve read, I was surprised at how quickly I became enveloped in the unfolding story. It may have helped that I was familiar with the story to begin with but it’s undeniable that it sucks you in pretty quickly. From the first scene to the last, you are almost endlessly pelted with gore of some sort, be it the cop, Collie, who slowly disintegrates for most of the first act, to rooms full of dead and rotting bodies. This aspect of the script is great for a fan like myself because the book is full of images just like this and it’s good to see that, at least in this draft, most of the original horrific content is maintained. More importantly, however, is the action.

If this movie gets done the way the script reads, it’s going to be full of action almost all the way through. I’m interested in seeing the camera work that will be needed to keep these shots interesting and fast paced. Garris has worked on full-length movies, but most of his resume is television, which has it’s own limitations on creative content, and generally lacks the same cinematic feel as a motion picture. I’m confident in his abilities to keep the story moving but the film is going to need a great cinematographer to live up to what’s on these pages. There are wide, sweeping shots of the desert, streets lined with coyotes at parade rest, and detailed descriptions of scenes of the China Pit, the mine where most of the evil is centered. It would be a shame to see some of these scenes filmed with conventional methods.

The characterization is full and textured for those at the forefront of the story. We get some deep insight into Johnny and Daniel’s personas, and Steve (along with his hitchhiking friend Cynthia) has some good scenes where he’s given more depth, but not enough to slow the story down. One thing that’s quite noticeable is the way most of the other characters are ignored, which could make for some debate as to the validity of their presence in the final draft. I can imagine studio execs getting rid of some of the lesser-developed characters pretty quickly, which could serve to severely taint the final product. Hopefully in later drafts these people will be given a little more to do or say, if for nothing else but to keep the whole tale intact.

There are a few points I feel should be changed to keep the pace of the story up. The history of the China Pit is examined in close detail but it all takes place in the second act causing some of the speed with which the story is progressing to lessen. However, if the film is kept close to the script I’ve read, it may be almost necessary for the story to slow down at this point, so as not to over load the audience. The first time I read it I didn’t like the second act at all and felt most of it should be put at the very beginning of the film. Upon my second reading I realized that it does serve it’s purpose, but it will only do this if it’s pulled off with the right amount of tension and mounting fear.

Now for the main issue I had with this script, and to a lesser degree with the book as well.

Daniel is a very special kid, and he seems throughout to have a close report with the Almighty. There are many references to biblical situations, not said outright but very much implied, that some people could take issue with. I personally did not find it offensive or problematic to the story since it’s a very straightforward Good vs. Evil story. What I think will be the issue is that Hollywood, when making horror movies at least, tends to shy away from the entire question of the existence of God. You will come out of Desperation(if it’s made as-is) believing that God helped them out of these horrible situations. Not some “greater power” or human will, though that does help, but God, the big guy himself. This could be a bitter pill for some people to swallow, and it worries me that the studio behind it may try to tone down all references to Him in order to try and fend off any controversy. It’s hard to tell though. He’s portrayed as a very cruel God, and his actions are left for us to figure out for ourselves, which I think most studios don’t want to deal with when it comes to horror films. Desperation is very much a horror movie, there’s no doubt about that, and I feel any attempt to tone down or remove anything major from the script could do no good for it in the end.

Ultimately, it comes down to how much sway King has in Hollywood. If he’s able to insist that the script keep elements some could find offensive (be it the gore factor or the many religious undertones) this could end up being one of his first straightforward horror film adaptations that doesn’t let down his die hard fans. I’m not saying it’s going to change the face of horror or win much critical acclaim, but it could certainly end up being a movie horror fans come to treasure as a rare treat from the master of the craft.

3 ½ out of 5

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Johnny Butane