by Patrick Bromley
It's been a long road to get Stephen King's 2006 novel Cell to the screen. Shortly after it was published, the book was optioned by Dimension Films with Eli Roth attached to direct. He ended up not doing it. Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote a script. It ended up not being used. The movie was shot in 2014, a full two years after the first cast member (John Cusack) was announced. It ended up not coming out. It was picked up to be distributed by Aviron Pictures in 2015. They ended up not putting it out. It was scheduled to premiere at FrightFest in 2015. It ended up not screening.
Now it's 2016 and Cell has appeared on VOD and iTunes ahead of its limited theatrical release in July with no fanfare, no marketing, no word of mouth. It's a movie tree falling in the movie woods.
Cell is a textbook example of the problems of adapting King's work -- or any pop author, really -- to film. It has no take on the material; no point of view. The screenplay, adapted by Adam Alleca and Stephen King himself, merely stages beats from the novel without really considering whether or not they work in the context of the film -- in other words, stuff happens because it happens in the book. Characters are introduced simply because they are characters from the novel. Those same characters disappear because they disappear in the novel. We don't spend enough time with them for their fates to mean anything at all, and those viewers who haven't read the novel will likely why they made an appearance at all.
All of this leaves us with the characters. If we're going to follow a group of survivors through yet another zombie apocalypse -- and that is what this feels like, despite trying to add a few new elements to the proceedings (including some potentially interesting developments that are dropped almost as quickly as they are introduced; this movie can't establish its own set of rules to follow) -- they better be some goddamn interesting survivors. They are not. Cusack pitches his performance somewhere between sad and sleepy to being with, so no amount of increasing hopelessness about ever finding his son can change him. He does have one decent monologue in which he talks about leaving his family in which signs of the old Cusack resurface, but for the most part it's another disengaged performance that's in keeping with his DTV work. Most of the other actors are given roles either too small or to underwritten to register. Only Samuel L. Jackson (who, it should be stated, appeared with Cusack previously in King adaptation 1408, a much better movie) makes an impact. He hasn't been given a part to play despite being based on the book's most interesting character, but at least he's trying.
It's weird, because as a lifelong King fan there was a time when any new King adaptation -- whether in theaters or on TV -- felt like an event. Even the bad ones. But between A Good Marriage and now Cell, we seem to have entered a period in which Stephen King movies are more like afterthoughts. When Cell failed to make it to movie screens in the first few years following its release, perhaps they should have let it go. The material no longer feels relevant, its execution cheap and lifeless. Cell is one of those books I sometimes forget King wrote, suitably adapted into a movie that's even more forgettable.
I really enjoyed the book until about halfway through, where I thought it lost its way somewhat. But I will say that I don't think it's so much that he was railing against cell phones as a thing rather than use their utter ubiquity to try and do something scary with them. The very fact that we ALL have them means that everyone would be affected were something unpleasant to be done using them. I like the idea a lot, but the execution in the last half of the novel lost the thread, personally speaking.ReplyDelete
I'll watch the movie & hope there's things to like about it, but we'll see.
Samuel L. and the surprising bursts of violence are about what there is to like. It's basically Walking Dead with fast, human maniacs. I can't speak to the source material but I would bet ANY other ending would have been better than this films ending. For a minute I thought it was ripping off the awesome "The Signal" (2007) but it looks like "Cell" was written the year before.Delete
The Signal was really good. And no one I know has seen it..Delete
I LOVE that film. I know PB is on board with it as well.Delete
I also liked The Signal very much. Very interesting and surprising movie.Delete
Sad to read that Cell isn´t working. Incidentally yesterday I saw the review video from Chris Stuckmann who ripped Cell apart and awarded it with his worst rating, a big fat F.
I remember I really liked the book. I can´t remember the ending but wobbly endings are a common King problem, the worst in recent memory is the one in the otherwise first rate Under the dome.
Oh, how the ending of Under the Dome broke my heart. Maybe the strongest example of his problem with endings, because I was so on board with the rest of that book.Delete
The ending of 11/22/63 is wonderful. It's heartbreaking and sweet and just about perfect. Of course, I believe King's son, Joe Hill, helped him write it, but still.Delete
I also thought Revival's ending was good. He captures that Lovecraftian hopelessness well.
AGREED re 11/22/63 - I've never really thought of King as BAD at endings (though now that Patrick mentions it...) but that's one of the greats for sure.Delete
The book was like 2 separate stories pasted together. The only way to successfully adapt this is most likely to depart from where it goes and turn the second half into something else. But that takes too much work and imagination for how these type of films are produced.ReplyDelete
Cusack is just starting to look like Joan Crawford..i can't wait until they pair him with Nick Cage...the hair spray budget alone!ReplyDelete
Ask and ye shall receive!!Delete
I was really surprised to see this just pop up on iTunes - I'd heard about it and then nothing and then there it was - weird and, yeah, sad to see a Stephen King book-based movie garners SO little fanfare these days.ReplyDelete
Incidentally, The Cell was the first book I bought for my e-reader - maybe we'll get a timely story from King about those!
"phones have become so woven into the fabric of our everyday lives that to make a movie in which cell phones are the primary source of fear feels hopelessly out of date and out of touch"ReplyDelete
Like the app in "Terminator: Genisys"?
It all sounds like something "The X Files" did better with "Blood" in 1994.
Personally I absolutely loved the book to the point where I couldn't actually put it down.The plot was great, the characters were described in such detail and the ending was brilliant but the film...Oh ho ho the film.In my opinion it was absolutely terrible.If there was a thing such as giving it no rating I would definitely be giving it that.It was confusing, it didn't follow the plot line, it missed out ESSENTIAL parts of the story and none of the characters apart from the main character was portrayed right!Don't even get me started on the ending.Altogether I hated the film, it was cheap and it needed more money putting into it and it just needs redoing altogether, if they do decide to do that in the future I suggest contacting me I have quite a few good ideas on how to make Cell into a great film but that'll most likely never happen.Nevertheless as a massive Stephen King fan I suggest this film should be remade PROPERLY.ReplyDelete
That ending... I wont be able to sleep trying to figure that one out. It sucks sooooo bad that i will see the sun come out while making imaginary endless remakes of that ending until i'm pleased.ReplyDelete
Wow, its like no one "gets it" There was a reason there was trouble making the movie and no fanfare. Does anyone even understand the implications? Its not an old man coming out against cellephones/technology he doesnt understand...its about suppression and sabotage of this movie because of whats being prophesied in it. 5G. Do you understand? HAARP. The US Space Force. Cell towers in space. The with of 5g Broadband opens up all sorts of potentials. Including frequencies that CAN manipulate people even into schizophrenia, psychosis etc. This is the fruition of decades of science and behind the scenes engineering. We had to do it though. Because China and Russia were. We couldnt be beat by their space weapons. We can manipluate weather, moods, and so much more and only non ionizing thermal effects have been studied so cell phones themselves even if they dont broadcast at 28hz will likely hive you brain cancer. But hey...dis on this movie and have some more popcorn because your all too young, ignorant or naive to understand todays reality. Here's to wishing you more of the entertainment driven propaganda youve been raised on... good luck!ReplyDelete
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