Screenplay: Matt Venne
Director Mick Garris
If there is anything that has become clear from the numerous adaptations of Stephen King's work, it's that television and novels are not interchangeable mediums. What works for one won't necessarily work for the other. Having never read King's original "Bag of Bones" novel, I can't judge the new A&E miniseries on whether it closely follows the original text. However, the origins of "Bag of Bones" do seem to have a significant hand in the problems that hold it back.
When we first meet Pierce Brosnan's Mike Noonan, we quickly learn that he's an acclaimed novelist and that he loves his wife, Jo (Annabeth Gish). Mike even insists that Jo write the last lines of his novels and he credits her with giving him his ability to write. For Mike, life is good… so you know that won't last long.
Jo is horribly killed in a freak accident; which sends Mike on an emotional downward spiral and wipes out his ability to write. While dealing with recurring nightmares about Jo and his increasing paranoia that Jo was cheating on him, Mike eventually decides to head down to Dark Score Lake, a secluded town where he and Jo owned a summer home. I say "eventually," because it takes quite a bit of time for the story to actually get moving.
To Brosnan's credit, he's able to convincingly portray a deeply troubled man unable to deal with his grief. The problem is that the miniseries spends so much time submerging itself in Mike's emotional problems that by the time the first hour is over, nothing much has happened. A long period of relative inactivity may have worked in King's novel, but it makes for some extremely tedious television.
One of the bright spots was Matt Frewer in a very restrained role as Mike's brother Sid, who quickly disappears from the story after Jo's funeral. Less interesting was Jason Priestley's smarmy book agent, Marty; who has the nerve to approach Mike about promoting his new book just after he put his wife into the ground! And that is not a euphemism, Marty literally brings it up at the funeral. Mike's lack of a sustained reaction to that was one of the more unbelievable aspects of the miniseries. The supernatural we can buy. Marty escaping from his raging insensitivity without even a harsh word from Mike? Not so much.
Speaking of the supernatural, Mike soon becomes half convinced that his wife can communicate with him via unanswered phone calls and the ring of a moose's bell. We can see that Mike is desperate enough to want to believe in it. But for all of the time that is spent on building up Mike's grief, it still feels like a major leap in logic when he's suddenly so willing to give himself to what could easily be a delusion.
By the time something supernatural finally does occur, Mike is all too ready to accept it on face value. There are hints that something odd is occurring even before Mike arrives at Dark Score Lake. In his dreams, Mike witnesses a young girl (Caitlin Carmichael) run out of his summer home moments before all of the windows shatter. Later, Mike gets a call from his caretaker that the windows of his summer home have been shattered from the inside, just as it happened in his dream. For whatever reason, Mike is suddenly convinced to visit the home for the first time in years.
Soon enough, Mike encounters the young girl from his dream, Kyra Devore, as she walks down the middle of the street in her swimsuit. Mike returns Kyra to her mother, Mattie (Melissa George); a young woman who is a big fan of Mike's novels. The local color consider Mike to be a celebrity while they fill him in on Mattie's near pariah status after she killed her husband for trying to drown their daughter in Dark Score Lake. They also note that Mattie's former father-in-law, Max Devore (William Schallert) is suing her for custody of Kyra in some extremely awkward exposition.
Schallert portrays Max as a cartoonishly evil rich person without giving the character any real threatening qualities. Max drags Mike into his latest custody attempt by forcibly deposing him. And even when Mike skillfully avoids making Mattie look bad, Max's barely existent sense of menace makes him seem as if he stumbled into the wrong story by mistake. Come to think of it, why do so many of the main characters in "Bag of Bones" have names that start with "M"?
The other running subplot involves Sara Tidwell (Anika Noni Rose), a young black singer from 1939 whose music and portraits are waiting for Mike among Jo's things. Mike even has a vision of himself back in 1939 watching a performance by Sara and her band. It's broadly hinted that Sara's spirit may also be haunting Mike's cabin alongside his wife's ghost; which sounds like a wacky sitcom that just hasn't happened yet.
Mike eventually becomes convinced that Jo's ghost wants him help Mattie and he ends up having erotically charged visions of Jo, Mattie and Sara that end with the women becoming zombie-like versions of themselves. It's unsettling the first time, but running the same occurrence three times in a row killed the effect. For all of the buildup, "Bag of Bones" ends on an extremely weak cliffhanger that seems no different than Mike's earlier visions. It also makes a strong case that "Bag of Bones" should have been adapted as a two hour miniseries with all of the useless padding left out of the adaptation.
Near the end of the second hour, Mike refers to the title of the miniseries by bringing up something Thomas Hardy once said about the most brilliantly drawn character in any novel being nothing more than a Bag of Bones compared to the dullest human being walking the Earth. Mike adds that he feels like a Bag of Bones himself, without the energy or talent to do what he was born to do.
It's hard to think of a better epitaph for the first half of this miniseries than that. Judging from this installment, "Bag of Bones" has the ambition to be a great TV event, but it lacks the drive to pull it off. Hopefully the second part of this story will mitigate the weaknesses in the first part.
Crave Online Rating: 6.5 out of 10.