Nightmares & Dreamscapes: The End of the Whole Mess (TV)
Starring Ron Livingston, Henry Thomas
Directed by Mikael Solomon
Written by Lawrence D. Cohen
Throughout the history of King adaptations, there are many people who come back time and again to do his work – writer, directors, actors. And usually, the more they work with his material, the better they do it. Though sometimes they just never get it right. Still, hearing that this latest episode of Nightmares & Dreamscapes would be written by Lawrence Cohen, who's adapted King on three other occasions (Carrie, IT, and Tommyknockers) was heartening. The director, Mikael Solomon, has also been in King country before, with the 2004 re-vamp (ha ha) of Salem's Lot. And while I wasn't a fan of that adaptation, I will admit it looked good.
So these choices were good news… as was the casting, which so far in the series has been pretty spot on (for the most part). "The End of the Whole Mess" stars Ron Livingston (Office Space, Sex in the City) and Henry Thomas (ET, Legends of the Fall, Masters of Horror). Both actors are great, down-to-earth, and adorable – and are very convincing as the big-brained Fornoy brothers, Howie (Livingston) and Bobby (Thomas).
Cohen did a really excellent job of molding this story, which is especially great given the fact that the original story is written in a sort of journal form. Cohen skillfully adapts Howie Fornoy the freelance writer into Howie Fornoy the documentary filmmaker. This allows a smooth transition from page to screen while maintaining its original integrity. As the episode starts, we learn that Howie is making his latest documentary about "the end of war, the degeneration of mankind, and the death of the Messiah."
Livingston plays Howie with a self-deprecating Everyman kind of charm and a genuine humanity that makes him so damn attractive and likeable as he tells the tale of his brilliant younger brother Bobby and Bobby's magic discovery. And Thomas, still nearly as fresh-faced and cute as he was years and years ago in ET, portrays Bobby and his intimidating intellect sweetly and earnestly. It's not hard to see why his brother loves him so much… or why anyone would.
Bobby is one of those super geniuses that finish high school by age 10. But it takes him longer to find his niche, his passion. He does, via the extremely depressing realization that people are just plain mean. Here, Cohen has skillfully replaced King's mostly made-up terrorist and world war activities with real ones in a deviation from the original source material that made perfect sense and actually made the story more relatable.
Bobby, troubled down to the bottom of his soul, decides to search for the answers as to why people are so cruel to each other… and in the process finds the little miracle town of La Plata, Texas, where for some reason people don't maim, rape, and kill each other hardly ever. There, after much research and calculating over three years, Bobby and his crew discover that – like the old saying – it is something in the water. Bobby believes his discovery, which he refers to as "pacifist white lightening," is the cure to the worst disease mankind suffers: meanness. He compares the human race to wasps. Not a very flattering comparison, but often not far from the truth. And all they have to do to stop it all is dump a couple thousand gallons of this calmative into a volcano about to blow, and voila! Instant peace-in around the world. And because Bobby believes it, wants it so bad, and he loves his brother, Howie agrees to help him.
Of course, if everything went as it was supposed to, this would hardly be Stephen King, would it? So, of course there are some pretty hefty side effects. But this isn't a bloody, gory, or big evil horror story. This is a really touching, character driven, and emotional story. The horror is subtle; it's in the discovery that with the best intentions you can destroy exactly what you're trying to save.
The choice to adapt this particular short story at this time was a stroke of genius. It's even more relevant now than when it was written. And Solomon, Cohen, Livingston, Thomas, and the rest of the people involved really turned out a fine product. They handled it tactfully, thoughtfully, and with talent and integrity. It looked good, it sounded good, and it felt good.
Kudos to the people involved with this installment for proving that it's possible to adapt a work and make it your own without sacrificing anything on either end. Changes were made, but they were made wisely and well. And what wasn't changed was filtered through the vision of the filmmakers with great skill. I've even forgiven Solomon for being involved with the Salem's Lot remake based on his deft handling of this story, which I've always had a soft spot for.
(And on a less serious note, I always knew the end of the world would begin in Texas!)
4 1/2 out of 5