Notes from the Kraken: August

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Welcome again to We Have Always Live the Kraken, a pop culture blog transmitted directly to you from the belly of the beast. Here in the Notes we’ll show you this month’s posting schedule, but first here are some thoughts.

Stephen King has three works that stand above the others in terms of epic scope: the cross-country American apocalyptic The Stand, the decades-spanning horror opus It, and the genre-blending, dimension-hopping eight-volume series The Dark Tower. The latter two are getting film adaptations within the next month. This is both awesome and terrifying.

First, The Dark Tower. King’s deconstructionist sci-fi/fantasy/Western about the last of the gunslingers on a quest to save all of reality is damn near unfilmable–particularly the last few volumes, which combine a unique strain of meta (as King himself becomes an important character) with some truly insane plotting (*cough* Mordred *cough*)–but director Nikolaj Arcel is going to try, bringing the first in a planned multi-film-and-TV cross-platform series to theaters August 4th. From the trailer, this movie could be amazing or it could be really terrible:

The best sign that the film will in any way live up to the decades of expectations established by such a dense and long-awaited series (King only concluded the main series in 2004, more than 20 years after publishing volume one, The Gunslinger) is the casting. Idris Elba is a perfect (and progressive) decision to play the role of the iconic, taciturn Roland Deschain, and Matthew McConaughey’s dark charisma makes for a Man in Black worth following across the desert. More troubling: everything else, from the decision to blend elements from several books into one story to the unnecessary winking nod to fans that this film is actually a “sequel” to the novels. Director Arcel is an obscure Danish filmmaker with nothing like this on his resume, and the involvement of Ron Howard on the production side isn’t exactly inspiring, either, particularly given the film’s long and tortured journey to this point. Speaking as both a fan and a cultural critic, The Dark Tower really is special, at once grandiose and idiosyncratic, romantic and yet savagely critical of genre traditions. I feel a species of religious terror at the prospect that a story and people who once lived only in my imagined reaction to the page are going to be realized in someone else’s vision–and that, far from being either amazing or terrible, the film version of The Dark Tower will simply be… unspectacular. I suppose we’ll see.

The other major Stephen King release, this in early September, is an new adaptation of It. The original TV production is rather unjustly beloved (outside of a good Tim Curry performance as Pennywise); it’s a skimpy, by-the-numbers adaptation that hits the beats but doesn’t play the music, so to speak. The film is also seriously hamstrung by budgetary concerns, both in the casting of the adult versions of the Losers Club (nowhere near as good or believable as the kids) and in this version’s ending, where the heroes basically win by punching a poorly constructed giant spider prop to death. It is one of those novels that could only be properly filmed with a real theatrical budget behind it and in a post-CG period, so the time is certainly ripe for this new adaptation. This trailer is in some ways more promising than the Dark Tower preview:

But other aspects are troubling. It’s unclear so far how the decision to split off the film’s 1958 sections (a group of kids in Derry, Maine discover, confront, and appear to defeat a shapeless monster) from its 1985 portions (the kids return as adults to finish It off once and for all), which are planned for a sequel, will affect the work as a whole. A lot of the power of the novel comes from intercutting and overlaying those two parallel narratives in a highly complex fashion to comment on nostalgia, aging, and myth. And speaking from simply a film perspective, it would have made more sense creatively to film both halves at once, Lord of the Rings style, even if you were ultimately going to split them up. Also concerning is the behind-the-scenes shake-up that saw Cary Fukunaga (who, judging from his work on True Detective‘s first season, knows from omnipresent supernatural tension in a unique environment) leave the project in favor of Andrés Muschietti, whose only credit to date is the admittedly on-point horror film Mama (which is decent and stylish but not great overall). What leaves me wondering if this version of It will be any good at all are the stylistic aspects, which are always key when it comes to horror. While handsome, what we can see of the film in the trailer doesn’t seem like it really takes any inspiration from the 1950s teen horror flicks King was recreating (in a more realistic and emotionally complex way) in his novel. Beyond that, the idea of Pennywise striking fear through a series of tired jump scares does not fill me with confidence for the actual scary parts of this movie. And if It doesn’t turn out to be scary, that might put it behind even the old TV version, far below the original novel’s many vivid and terrifying set pieces on the list of which version of this story I’ll remember.

I’m keeping an open mind about both of these films, even as a die-hard Stephen King fan, and I’ll go into both hoping to see two of my favorite stories brought to life in an exciting and excellent way. And it’s possible that, even as they drift away from strict faithfulness, both films will find a place all their own in the cinematic conversation. But even if they both turn out to be garbage, as Stephen King adaptations so often are, as King has said, nothing will have been ruined. The books are still right there on the shelf, unaltered, waiting to be picked up once again.

Josh Kyu Saiewitz


From the depths of the Kraken, here is what we are bringing you this month.

The Life in the Kraken Podcast: Westeros Edition continues! Enjoy our weekly coverage of Game of Thrones.

Also, introducing this month the Life in the Kraken Podcast: Wubba Lubba Dub Dub Edition! We’ll be covering Rick and Morty season 3 every week, so *burp* t-tune in Morty!

That’s not all we’re ‘casting! Check out David and Kyu talking Baby Driver, George Romero, and what movies they would show to a visiting alien race in Episode 029. (Do not pick Independence Day. Aliens hate that.)

Meanwhile, David will continue his attempts to get caught up with the The Anticipated. Next up? Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s beloved (not counting the immediate backlash), music-infused ode to classic getaway movies. Check it out.

Matt is back with another edition of Hidden Levels, your guide to the overlooked, underrated, and just plain obscure video games worth seeking out.


Catch of the Week:

Each and every week the residents here in the Kraken will offer one recommendation for the week that we think you all would enjoy. It might be a movie. It might be a book. Who knows? This is your… Catch of the Week Month.

If any of this month’s recommendations interest you, feel free to click on our Amazon affiliate links below. We get a small kickback on anything you buy at no extra cost to you, and that money goes toward sustaining and improving the site. Thanks!

Kyu: Timing…

is everything. Especially in comedy. That’s what makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine such a joy to watch. The third major workplace comedy from creator Mike Schur (he was a producer on The Office and co-created Parks and Recreation as well as this show), B99 shouldn’t work. A goofy, character-driven sitcom that’s also a light hearted police procedural, the show should seem in poor taste, given how rarely it touches on the real issues facing the NYPD, from racist policies like stop and frisk to incidents like the death of Eric Garner. Can cops really be lovable right now? The answer seems to be yes, thanks to an excellent cast, and also timing. Which I mentioned at the beginning of this entry but here it is again, timing I mean. The point is: Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s pitch-perfect editing, particularly when it comes to scene transitions (and even more especially in their fantastic cold opens, which never fail to cut to the opening titles at the opportune moment–only Archer and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia do it better or more consistently), as executed by some top-flight comedy performers (particularly Andy Samberg, but also a phenomenal Andre Bragher as the stoic Captain Holt), results in a shockingly warm and fuzzy (and funny!) show that just happens to be about New York police officers. Some light serialization and real character development seals the deal, making the Nine-Nine a place neither perps nor viewers can escape–at least until all four seasons (to date) have been binged.


Keskel:

I’m recommending Death Note, by the director of Attack on Titan and High School of the Dead (and the often underappreciated Guilty Crown). It’s a popular and much beloved anime that is being adapted by Netflix into a live action movie. Also, according to all of my experiments building an anime recommendations engine using My Anime List data, Death Note is the evergreen recommendation.


That’s it for this month. Visitors should note that August is the breeding month here in the Kraken. Those who do not wish to participate should wear the provided ponchos while on floors three, seven, and eight.

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