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Nightmares & Dreamscapes: Battleground (TV)

Battleground reviewStarring William Hurt

Directed by Brian Henson

Written by Richard Christian Matheson


If you don’t know by now, I’m a HUGE Stephen King fan. Beyond huge. Nearly obsessive. So every time there’s a mention of another King adaptation or project, I am filled with a mixture of such delight and dread I could nearly explode. Delight because I always hope it will turn out as well in fact as it does in my head, and dread because it almost never does.

When I heard that TNT was going to be doing a King mini-series this summer, I leaned almost most heavily on the down side of the see-saw, because the TV adaptations of King’s work have, for the most part, always missed the mark for me; some by a little (IT and The Stand) and some by a lot (The Shining and Salem’s Lot) for one reason or another.

I had a sliver of hope, however, since these adaptations would be several hour-long pieces based on various short stories, so at least the filmmakers have a smaller window to screw up in. The first episode that aired this Wednesday was “Battleground”, based on the story of the same name (which actually appears in the Night Shiftcollection, not Nightmares & Dreamscapes). This installment was done from a teleplay written by Richard Christian Matheson, son of genre titan Richard Matheson and a horror name in his own right, and directed by Brian Henson, who also a famous father: Muppet master Jim Henson.

“Battleground” stars William Hurt as contract killer John Renshaw, who at the start of the episode takes out target Hans Morris, CEO of a toy company, spraying blood all over a picture of Morris’ #1 idea woman, his darling mum. It’s bad news already that Renshaw decides to carry out his job in a room full of glassy eyed dolls… creepy. He then takes a souvenir (something he does on every job if his curio cabinet back home is any indication) and returns to his ultra-modern and supremely secluded apartment.

Once there, Renshaw received a mysterious package from the Morris Toy Company: an authentic looking army footlocker full of miniature soldiers, jeeps and helicopters. Plus, a sticker promises, extra surprises! Well, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what happens next. The tiny combatants attack Renshaw with all the precision of a well-trained battalion. Renshaw fights back, but how do you shoot a man who’s 1.5 inches tall with a regular gun?

The FX here are really quite wonderful with each diminutive soldier being an actual actor in latex mask filmed against a blue screen. On close inspection, the soldiers look just like the little green men so many of us played with as children, but their somewhat featureless faces are extremely unnerving. There’s a lot to commend here, apart from the FX. Matheson’s script is strong despite, some might say, the total lack of dialogue. I thought that was one of its strengths. It was ballsy of Matheson to write it that way — and even more ballsy of the director and execs at TNT to carry it out that way.

“William Hurt, always a deft actor, shines as Renshaw, the cold, calculating and determined gun for hire. And the actors portraying the soldiers were great too. My only quibble is the one “surprise”. From what I can remember of the short story, the episode differs only slightly. That slight difference is the only false note. And I’m not saying that as a fan peeved that they changed my idol’s work; the commando is, from what I can recall, an addition and a needless one. It comes across as hokey in an otherwise strong piece.

Still, given some of the terrible adaptations that I as a fan have had to stomach over the years, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of this offering. I don’t know if all the installments of TNT’s Nightmares & Dreamscapes will deliver as well as this one did; I suspect that will depend on the talent behind the scenes. But based on this episode, I think that I will definitely be tuning in next week, hoping that the men and women behind this project hold fast to the ballsy line they’ve drawn with their first piece.

4 out of 5

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Jon Condit