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Case Number 10078

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Stephen King's Desperation

Lionsgate // 2006 // 131 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 27th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson has learned his lesson: no more reopening of cursed mines. Nothing good ever comes of it.

The Charge

In this town, there are no accidents.

Opening Statement

Earlier this year, ABC unveiled its newest Stephen King book-to-telefilm adaptation, with a small-screen treatment of Desperation King's story of a demon-happy Nevada mining town and how the Judeo-Christian God just totally rules.

Facts of the Case

When Peter and Mary Jackson are stopped on the side of the road by a gigantic police officer in the middle of nowhere, they know something's up. The officer is Collie Entragian (Ron Perlman, Hellboy), a hulking brute with an odd facial tick and a tendency to sneeze blood.

The Jacksons are piled into the back of Collie's cruiser and brought to the town of Desperation, a seemingly abandoned mincingly town. What dawns on the Jacksons, however, is that something much worse has gone down here, and the enigmatic cop is involved.

Indeed, Desperation has been overrun by an ancient evil, and a hodgepodge of stragglers will find themselves thrust into the middle of a Biblical test of wills. Our players include disillusioned author John Marinville (Tom Skerritt), John's pal Steve (Steven Weber, Wings), comely nomadic redhead Cynthia Smith (Kelly Overton), and the Carver family. Young David Carver (Shane Haboucha), the penitent boy of faith, will find himself the central player in this supernatural showdown—but will this thrown-together group of strangers be able to defeat the pure menace that is Tak?

The Evidence

I read this book. I liked it a lot, but remember thinking it would be awfully tough to bring it into the visual medium. While I don't recall every detail, what sticks with me was how cerebral the storytelling was. King's Desperation is a very emotional book, and its narrative flow is propelled by the changes within the characters. There are flashbacks and internal monologues and some truly wiggy moments toward the end which are played up by King as potential hallucinations or brain-screws. Plus, the main bad guy, Tak, does much of his mayhem f-ing around with people's minds. Again, good book, but the movie…

…not so good. A lot of the elements from the book made it to the movie translation, and fans of the reverential nature of the story (King is very literal in the Good vs. Evil dynamic he sets up) won't be disappointed; David Carver prays and shepherds his flock so much you expect him to take a stroll on the lake next. Perlman is great as Collie Entragian, though he bows out after the first act and his presence is missed. Finally, there are some great jump scares and limited gore work and director Mick Garris uses an inventive—and off-putting—tactic to show an important flashback sequence.

On the flip side there are just too many things that didn't work, effectively handicapping the 130-minute experience. First was the pacing, which at times felt like it was going at the speed of a beached whale. The film moved briskly at first, driven mainly because of Perlman and his weirdo cop and the general mystery of the town's fate, but when we shift gears to the band of heroes, it's suddenly exposition-ville. Seriously, Desperation felt like it was made up mostly of characters sitting around talking about the plot. Worse, there was little action aside from the occasional cougar attack and a sweet chase where one character progressively loses limbs. Even the climax, a kick-ass scene in the novel, feels half-baked.

The character development, so key to the book's success, felt abbreviated, despite the lengthy runtime. Skerritt's Marinville has it the worst, starting out as a militant self-preserving atheist then abruptly turning his life around. The mechanism of that change is explained, but it just doesn't have enough emotional oomph to validate such a 180. Another bummer is the lack of feeling I had when good guys would bite the dust. That's probably more linked to the lame, almost laugh-out-loud methods of their dispatch ("Oh God! A bird!!!").

Desperation is one of my least-favorite King-to-tube translations. It's not as bad as The Langoliers, which sucked all kinds of livestock ass, but it still falls short of being worthwhile. Unless you're a huge fan of the book and you're clamoring for the moving pictures treatment. I'm a fan, though, and was disappointed.

Lionsgate has made a decent effort importing the film to DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer holds up well, though some of the night scenes are plagued with grain (and don't ask about the lame CGI). The 5.1 mix didn't envelop me, its attention turned toward the front three speakers throughout. For extras you get a commentary with director Mick Garris, Ron Perlman and producer Mark Sennet and a 10-minute featurette with Garris and Stephen King.

Closing Statement

Like the book, disliked the movie. Ho-hum.

The Verdict

Back to the cursed mine shaft with you.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 80
Acting: 75
Story: 65
Judgment: 68

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Horror
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Director's Commentary
• "Postcard from Bangor, ME" Making-of Feature
• Trailers


• IMDb

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