Thursday, May 03, 2007

186. Ratings Game Redux 7:
The Amazing Adapted Man

At some point when I was a kid, I looked up the word "Juggernaut"--if only because I already knew astro-NAUTS were the coolest humans alive,* and could not get out of my head the stunning image of Jason and the Argo-NAUTS fighting living skeletons and monsters sown from the Hydra's teeth; I figured a "Juggernaut" had to have something going for it. And boy was I right. According to my 1948 edition of The Winston Dictionary, with "Pierce School, Philadelphia," imprinted on it--which of course I still have at my side today; I mean, how much damage, really, can I cause by infantilizing only myself? Please treat that as a rhetorical question; I think I already know the answer, and I'm getting jittery just trying to avoid it.

Anyway. This was the dictionary my Dad's sister Rita--rest her--used when she went to secretarial school, and the one I kept handy as a young nerd while reading. It informed me that "Juggernaut" derives from "Krishna, or his idol: sometimes, Jagannath ... dragged in yearly processions on a great car." It is also "anything demanding blind devotion and self-sacrifice"--and the Winston is also quick to note that this definition is due to "the former belief that worshipers cast themselves to death before the car of Jagannath." This is the kind of dictionary filled with those small, finely drawn illustrations you can still encounter; and for "Juggernaut" we get something very much like the image above.

Well, aside from indulging in the desire to mention my old Winston, I bring up this word simply because I wanted to introduce my latest contribution to the "Ratings Game" in our local paper, the Galesburg Register-Mail: "Three Best Film Adaptations of Stephen King Works." "Thinking" about how to begin, I naturally sank into the comfort of cliche, and wanted to describe King as a Krishna-esque car of blind devotion-doom. I won't elaborate--much. I do think the image works, even though it creaks with age--and could probably not squash anyone, despite the oblique Christine reference. I suppose for me, King is a "former belief"--but persistent: Despite his many flaws--and all right, mine, as my reading habits "change" (read: dwindle to nothing)--I continue to be, if not happily, then at least willingly--albeit sporadically--run over by the Kingmobile. Like many a lapsed member of a highly ritualized religion,, I continue to obey the forms, while the dogma slumbers uneasily, quiescent but ponderous, in the dingy file-room of memory.

So here be the three--revised since submission; and that, Best Beloveds, is how the little busy bee doth--or something like that. And all culpa is mea for excluding other King adaptations that manage to satisfy the urge to mortify the flesh--and how; but, as always, the Ratings Game involves a trinitarian faith of hurts-so-good restriction. "Please, sir, may I have another?" "No."

The Shining (1980)
The one King so famously hates--shows you how much he knows, even about him. Kubrick demolishes the horror film and uses the bricks to wall in the Torrances, like Poe mushing through deep powder.

Misery (1990)
Rob Reiner knew you should play Pulp Gothic as broadly as you can get away with it--and was smart enough to hire James Caan and Kathy Bates, who can get away with plenty.

The Dead Zone (1983)
David Cronenberg respects the material, perhaps King's best short(er) novel, painting Johnny Smith’s decimated portrait with an uncharacteristically delicate touch, while Christopher Walken marches Smith down his own Green Mile, each step as inevitable as a ticking deathclock.

* ... and rarer every year. Wally Shirra--and is it just me, or wasn't he just that much cooler because he never lost his kid-name--the only astronaut to fly Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, just left us. Gone outside for good and all.

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