Anybody been watching Under the Dome? I had been hoping to do a little amateur recapping, having enjoyed the book so much, but my experience of doing just one recap for Fairfax put me off that. Bloody things take way too much work to do for free. Still, having watched three episodes now, I reckon this series looks like the goods. You can never tell when you're watching an adaptation of da King's work; they can be great, they can be abysmal. And his direct involvement doesn't guarantee the project is going to go either way. (Yes television miniseries adaptation of The Shining, I'm looking at you).
Dome, however, is right up there with his best. The novel is definitely top five, partly because it allows him to do one of the things for which he is justifiably renowned – building a sandbox and getting down to some serious play. I think only Salem's Lot could rival Chester's Mill as one of his greatest standalone creations, a small world fully realized on the page. But King has calmed down as a writer, and as a man, over the years, and I think he does even better work in Chester's Mill than he did in ol' vampire town.
Does the TV series faithfully reproduce this? No. The story isn't as compressed and denatured as it would have been if squeezed into a feature film, but there are still important elements of the book missing from the screenplay. The novel is an allegory for the wretched state of the American body politic. The partisan affiliations of the main players are not just upfront but vital to the narrative. (As a side note, Murph can rest assured that even though King is an old-school fiery liberal, and Big Jim Rennie is a Republican villain of the darkest hue, the politics of the Dome are not that simplistic or ham-fisted. Dale 'Barbie' Barbara and putative hero of the story is something of a naïve liberal, while Julia Shumway, is the sort of common sense conservative who recalls the prosaic glories of Eisenhower).
None of this really appears in the TV series. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Different formats, different purposes. Big Jim is every bit as engaging a villain on the small screen as he was on the page. Tellingly, he's also more complex and even likable. Perhaps this is because filmed narratives are cooperative ventures and require more creative imput than the lone author, with all his attendant biases and blind spots. There have been a number of times so far in the series where Big Jim has stepped up and done exactly the right thing at precisely the right moment. And yet he is very obviously A Bad Man.
Barbie too seems more complex, but in a different way. King is a big fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series and you can see him paying homage to Child's character while writing Barbie. They're not mirror images of each other, but there are enough points of contact to hear the echo of Reacher's story in Barbie's. Former soldiers, mystery men, travelers, trouble. Having laid down the foundations of character, however, King took Dale Barbara off in a very different direction. The TV producers then took the wheel and appeared to give it another turn. The Barbie of this series is a much more mysterious, conflicted and possibly compromised man than the un-alloyed hero of the books. I still can't figure out what his story is, and I'm beginning to doubt that it will play out the same way it did on the page.
One reason for that is the way the Dome – which has been rendered with some lovely special effects work, by the way – appears to have cut the town off completely here. I won't give away any spoilers other than to say that communication through the Dome is easier in the book and this has significant narrative consequences. It also features prominently in the development of Barbie's character and revelations about his past.
It would probably be a useful experience for a young writer, especially a young screenwriter, to examine the ways in which the book and film versions of this story diverge, and to ask why. What purpose is served by, for instance, linking Dale Barbara to Julia Shumway through the death of her husband; the murder of her husband, really, by Barbie. The short answer is obvious. It creates tension as we wait for Shumway to uncover the connection, especially as she grows closer to Barbie. What I don't know, is what the producers and screenwriters are going to do with it. Maybe they'll circle back to Barbie's back story in the novel. I can almost imagine a way of doing that, but not without giving away massive spoilers for the next couple of episodes or anybody who hasn't read the book.
The other question I'll look forward to seeing resolved over the next couple of months is whether the producers have the cast iron nuts to kill everybody who needs killing in the way that King did. If you think you lost a bunch of your favorites during the Red Wedding and you really didn't cope, you might want to stop watching now.