We all know that Stephen King is a prolific writer, so it’s not surprising that so many of his works have been adapted into films and television series, and it’s less surprising that some of these adaptations are often forgotten. There was an urge to do more and adjust everything because his work was hot and in 1993 we were blessed with a two part event to do that The Tommyknockers. It doesn’t quite rank among King’s worst TV shows on most listsbut there’s certainly an argument that it was the biggest disappointment.
Tommyknockers It’s possible the adaptation was doomed from the start because of the source material, and that comes from the author himself. King wrote the novel under the influence of hard drugs and finds it too long and unfocused, even if there’s a solid core premise in all those pages. It was the last full book he authored before seeking help and cleaning up his life, but King also referred to it as a “cry for help.” King usually prefers to show his work as a miniseries or multi-episode show because he often has a lot to say, but here he felt that the adaptation of Tommyknockers was actually too short as not enough of the good parts came out and the people who made it I didn’t understand what the text was about. Given his thoughts on the book and other interpretations of the material, it’s not that surprising.
I hope we all enjoy this bright green color because there are plenty of those here.
What is The Tommyknockers about?
This story is mainly about Jim Gardner (Jimmy Smits), a local poet and town drinker who everyone calls “Gard”, but it begins with his lover Roberta Anderson (Marg Helgenberger) or “Bobbi” walking her dog and stumbles upon a huge find buried in the woods behind her house. She’s also a writer, and the idea of two writers living together amounts to either the occasional wonderful creative ping-pong or a stressful nightmare.
We get to know several other characters surrounding Haven who have their own interesting relationships and issues, but things pick up speed when this newly unearthed relic begins to affect everyone in strange ways. Some improve their eyesight, some gain the ability to read minds, and most residents begin developing futuristic inventions that create spectacular things out of ordinary parts. However, things take a dire turn when the toll of these new gifts begins to show and the people of the small hamlet must start hiding their secrets and keep outsiders at bay.
Only Gard is immune to the effects of this mind-altering structure the city is now digging up, due to a metal plate that was stuck in his head from a skiing accident at a young age while trying to impress a girl. Our hero will have to break his addiction and prove he’s more than just a city drunk if he wants to save Bobbi and a few others along the way. Meanwhile, Hilly Brown (Leon Woods) makes his brother Davey (Paul McIver) disappear while a magic trick goes awry — luckily Grandpa Ev (EG Marshall) is there — and Joe Paulson (Cliff DeYoung) is about to get a rude awakening for himself his ongoing affair with Nancy Voss (Traci Lords).
There are some solid sections in this presentation, and I’m not just talking about two of the main characters trying to make it in the mail room. However, this leads to a wonderful scene in which television uses a dating show host to playfully convince Becka Paulson (Allyce Beasley) that she should kill her husband. This subplot was adapted from a previously published King short story and fits quite well. I also love the interactions and puppy love between Ruth Merrill (Joanna Cassidy) and Butch Dugan (John Ashton), but something about the way his character, a victim of his endless craving for Coca-Cola, goes out is cheesy, but extremely entertaining. I can understand that.
The acting isn’t the worst part of this series, at least not in the lead roles (there are a few amusing stinkers). Several characters deal with a great loss or struggle to overcome their dependency on something, and those painful moments are fittingly applicable. Plenty of well-known performers from the period are here and put in solid work, but some of the more interesting personalities are either shelved or killed too soon.
There is a lot of potential in the first episode. What we see starts out good and then gets a bit silly. Part of that is because of the story, a little bit because of the visual effects, and a little part because of some exaggeration, but honestly, a lot of it works until they fully uncover the alien ship. The last twenty or so minutes collapse in spectacular fashion, with no explanation of the aliens’ plans and a series of questions better left unanswered. Gard’s sacrifice is important and must be done, but there’s no resolution for the other characters, and the ending with his poem is a bit cheesy. It also doesn’t help that the aliens look silly.
The visuals were certainly made for TV and apparently not much of the budget went into that part of the production from the start. According to an article about the show in Fangoria No. 123 in a piece called Tommy knockers at the doorDue to the current weather in North America, the project was filmed in New Zealand and location costs were high, especially when it came to moving equipment and materials. Some chemicals had difficulty passing customs, and other cost-cutting measures resulted in certain visual effects being done differently. King himself has said the production felt cheap.
Overall, filming was apparently rough and hectic, as several last-minute changes were made towards the end of filming and most cast members were never given a full copy of the script. The show too fired director Lewis Teague after just two days on set. He seemed like a safe bet when Teague made King’s Know And cat eyebut John Power was brought in to finish the production, which changed the overall course of the miniseries and possibly pushed it further from the book.
The Tommyknockers lack the charm of other King adaptations
Compared to the novel, this version of the story was much more brutal and had a higher body count. Also, we don’t get to see how the outside world reacts to the events in Haven, and we lose several characters and stories that had to be excerpts from a shorter television adaptation. As King is known for his horror, the book manages to convey these elements better. The first part of the miniseries never really reaches spooky proportions, but there are moments when it tries to nail some of the body horror aspects. I remember watching it as a kid and feeling a little uncomfortable with some of the scenes. However, part two is less spooky and gets more campy towards the end, with fewer moments that stand out for the better.
Some viewers saw the Vidmark release of Tommyknockers, which was an edited version of the miniseries, cutting the runtime by an hour and dropping multiple characters and minor storylines. This is probably the worst way to look at the story that says anything. Tommyknockers Perhaps it’s the most disappointing adaptation, but that’s because people other than King see good core ideas here that just haven’t been executed well. James Wan is obviously one of those people, like him want to remake the movie.
The Tommyknockers was adapted into a televised event following the success of IT A mini-series, and it’s hard to imagine that it would have made it to the big screen in this state without its previous success. But King was hot and IT was big, which meant this probably looked like a bull’s eye to ABC, so they rushed it. That was most likely the main reason Tommyknockers suffered, and some were impressed that the film almost worked. Unlike many other King TV adaptations, this one lacks bite and a certain charm, but it’s difficult to capitalize on great ideas from such a flawed creation.