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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 131 minutes
• Audio commentary by Mick Garris and Ron Perlman
• Interviews with Mick Garris and Stephen King
“You know that 704 page Stephen King book? Yeah, let’s squeeze that into a two hour telefilm. With the sterling track record of all the other King adaptations so far, there’s no way we can lose!”
Ron Perlman, Tom Skerritt, Steven Weber and Charles Durning
Desperation isn’t your typical desert town. It’s creepy, full of dangerous animals and completely empty except for the mutilated corpses lying about on every street corner. Okay, so it is your typical desert town, but it also has an evil demon from deep inside the Earth named Tak that likes to inhabit the bodies of passing tourists.
Time to phone home, kid.
Unfortunately for Tak, there are no retarded boys who love Chef Boyardee to possess and he has to settle for humans who break apart in a few short hours. To ensure he always has a human to ride around in, he possesses the body of the town’s sheriff and invents reasons to pull over several out-of-towners and lock them up in jail. Now they’ll have to team up with each other and God if they want to get the hell out of the Midwest with their lives.
This film sat on the shelf for a long time until ABC unceremoniously dumped it in May, airing the entire thing on one night. Apparently no one involved with the extra features for the DVD had any inkling the network so rightfully disliked the film.
If you listen to the commentary track or watch any of the interviews, you might be dumb enough to be convinced that Desperation is a terrific success and a fantastic adaptation of the source material. You only have to watch 30 seconds of the actual film to know this isn’t the case.
Oh my, so clever.
The extra features become perversely enjoyable in a way once you realize how bad the movie is. It’s like when a friend wears a particularly dumb outfit or has something disgusting stuck in their teeth. Sure, you could tell them how bad they look, but wouldn’t it be more fun to let them go out looking like a moron and then laugh behind their back? The people responsible for the special features on this disc probably felt the same way when it came to Mick Garris and Stephen King.
The commentary track and interviews are fun if you’ve ever wanted to hear people talk about a turd as if it’s the second coming of Christ, but are ultimately useless if you’re not after that type of thrill. Ron Perlman is the only one with much of anything interesting to say, but he’s barely in half of the film and as a result he runs out of things to say quickly.
Adapting a Stephen King book into a film certainly isn’t easy. A great number of his books consist of nothing but internal monologues by the principle characters. Nothing short of a narrator is going to be able to transfer that to film. Therefore it becomes doubly important with any adaptations of his work that you make the motivations of the characters extremely clear and understandable.
Sure, take the easy way out of having to watch this film.
Desperation has a large ensemble cast and only two hours to work with. In light of the circumstances, King and Garris decided to make the character arcs completely clear by beating the audience in the head with them and then power bombing them through a table. It’s amazing that King himself wrote the screenplay for the film given how bad it is.
A large part of Desperation is the religion element. It’s essentially a story about God and the mysterious and often cruel ways he works. It’s nothing original but it works well as a typical good vs. evil story, except King apparently felt that the God element wasn’t developed enough and really needed several giant monologues to come to life.
The majority of the film is spent with a little kid delivering his thoughts on God while adults call the kid a moron for believing and challenge him to spirited religious debate. Once in a while a mountain lion will jump through a window and maul someone, but that only provides a brief respite from the sermon.
Oh God, how can I resist the allure of a Wings alum?
The only part of the film that does work well is the initial villain. Ron Perlman does a great job as Collie Entragian, the small town sheriff possessed by Tak. One minute he’s cavorting and joking with a motorist, the next he’s throwing them in a cop car and yelling at them while throwing out bizarre pop culture references. Too bad that Collie’s body breaks down because the film loses any momentum it had as soon as Perlman abruptly disappears.
Ultimately, Desperation is a film that will please no one. If you haven’t read the book, you won’t even understand half the things that were haphazardly thrown into the movie. If you have read the book, then you’ll just be disgusted as how poorly it was adapted. Perhaps if the filmmakers had cut out some of the more superfluous elements that there simply isn’t time for, there would have been more screen time devoted to the core plot elements that actually are important. Less time spent on sex statues, more time spent on Tak.