Wookiee Hut TV Series Reviews presents:
'Salem’s Lot
Kelly M. Grosskreutz

Starring: Andre Braugher, Daniel Byrd, James Cromwell, Rutger Hauer, Rob Lowe, Robert Mammone, Samantha Mathis, and Donald Sutherland

Director: Mikael Salomon

Rating: Lambda Class Shuttle (packs 'em in, fails to deliver without password)

This review is for the two-night miniseries that TNT aired in June of 2004. It does contain spoilers for this miniseries, the novel bearing the same name by Stephen King, and minute ones for the fifth novel in Stephen King’s "Dark Tower" series.

There are times I find myself asking why I bother watching cinematic adaptations of books I love. There are other times when I also find myself wondering if the adaptors even bothered to read the original source material. This is one of the times I’ve been wondering both of these things.

’Salem’s Lot the novel has a spot in my Top Ten Favorite Stephen King novels. ’Salem’s Lot the miniseries is not going to appear in my Top Ten Favorite Stephen King Adaptations. In fact, it might be one of the worst adaptations yet. And before anyone concludes that I hated this movie because they didn’t adapt it word for word and scene for scene, that conclusion can be tossed right out of the window.

I watched this movie with my parents. Neither of them had read the book. There were so many inconsistencies and things that didn’t make sense that it seems the entire movie was spent with one of them (usually my father) to start pointing out how the current scene wasn’t making any sense, or wondering why a character was doing something that appeared to be completely stupid. Nine times out of ten, my reply was, “It wasn’t like this in the book. This is how it was in the book.” I’d then relate how it happened in the book. The response to my explanation is pretty much summed up with, “Well, that makes more sense. Why didn’t they do it that way?”

The biggest problem I had with this movie is the changing of the main characters' personalities, so that’s what the majority of this review will focus on. I still don’t understand why the filmmakers felt the need to do this? In the book, Ben Mears, Jimmy Cody, and Mark Petrie were all likeable people. But in this movie, Jimmy turns into a sleazeball, Ben seems to care only about himself and becomes quite duplicitous, and Mark is now a hoodlum. Another character, Matt Burke, is all of a sudden African-American and gay. The first part isn’t that big of a deal, but looking at the logistics of the movie’s plot, there was no reason to make him gay. It did not add to his character development. It has nothing to do with the story. It seems this little bit was added just so the filmmakers could refer to it a few times in the script, be able to point to Matt, and say, “See, look, we have a gay character, and he’s pretty cool!”

The most prominent victim of character assassination, however, was Father Callahan. In the book, Callahan is an alcoholic Catholic priest who is having a crisis of faith. He gets drawn into the struggle against the vampires, but when he has the chance to defeat Barlow, the head vampire, he fails because of his lack of faith in God. He does manage to save Mark’s life, but is forced to drink Barlow’s blood. Horrified by what he has become and knowing he is unclean in the sight of God, he flees ’Salem’s Lot, and his role in this story is done.

In the movie, Callahan is a Catholic priest in the midst of a crisis of faith. He does confront Barlow and save Mark’s life. The confrontation ends in the same manner, with Callahan being forced to drink Barlow’s blood. I do have to admit that this scene with Barlow and Callahan was probably the best scene in the entire miniseries. However, it is at this point that the source and the broadcasted product drastically part company.

For some reason, Callahan now becomes pure evil. There is no begging God for a second chance, no leaving town wailing about how he is unclean and a sinner. Now he is Barlow’s loyal assistant. His first act in this role is to go kill off Matt, who is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. He then continues to prove himself evil and completely without morals, thus giving the movie makers an excuse for Ben to show up in Michigan years later and kill Callahan. I thought the original ending was much better, with Ben and Mark, who have been living in a place far, far away from ’Salem’s Lot, returning to the town and finishing off the town and any remaining vampires.

This in itself wouldn’t have been so bad, I guess, except I am also a fan of the Dark Tower series. In the fifth book of that series, Callahan appears, having finally been granted a second chance by God to do the right thing. Far from being the loyal vampire thrall, he has become a vampire slayer. So one can imagine what ran through my head when I saw the evil Callahan of the miniseries.

Why do I even allow myself to hope that they will actually do a decent adaptation? I ask myself that question, and then I remember that there have been a couple, an example being The Shawshank Redemption. I think this analogy best sums up what searching for a decent Stephen King cinematic adaptation is like: searching for a diamond in the waste. The majority of the time it feels like a futile search, but I still keep hoping that the filmmakers will get it right and my search will be worth the time and effort. With TNT’s version of ’Salem’s Lot, I definitely struck out.

Reviewed September 20, 2004 by Kelly M. Grosskreutz.

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