Release Date(s)2022 (January 30, 2024)
Studio(s)Yellow Veil Pictures (Dark Star Pictures/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
Stephen King is a phenomenon not only of the literary world, but the cinema world as well. He’s written over 60 novels and 200 short stories. During the last five decades, his books have sold over 400 million copies and more than 80 movie and TV adaptations have been made of his work. This output and interviews with filmmakers associated with them comprise the substance of the documentary King on Screen.
The film features directors and other filmmakers discussing how they translated King’s tales onto celluloid, noting that what works on the written page doesn’t necessarily work on screen. It begins with an extended aerial view of director/actor Daphne Baiwir driving on a narrow road through a forest, suggesting the opening of The Shining, until she arrives at a shop named after the one in King’s story In the Tall Grass. Inside, she encounters people, props, and images reminiscent of other King tales. This prologue, beautifully filmed with an almost dreamlike quality, is a novel way to start a documentary. King fans will likely delight in recognizing references to particular King works.
The filmmakers speak enthusiastically about how they first encountered King’s books and how much they enjoyed bringing his stories successfully to the screen. Among them are Frank Darabont, Mike Flanagan, Mick Garris, Greg Nicotero, and Vincenzo Natali. Darabont is most prominent, as he discusses how he came to direct numerous King projects, including The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist. Missing from the documentary are directors Rob Reiner (Stand by Me, Misery), Brian De Palma (Carrie), John Carpenter (Christine), and David Cronenberg (The Dead Zone).
The author himself is seen only sporadically and no interviews with him (of which there are many) are included. This initially seems to be a major oversight, but the point of the documentary is for the movie makers to have the spotlight shine on them. Many recall first encountering King’s books and becoming hooked. Some regard having worked on an adaptation as an honor and privilege.
A consensus among the talking heads is that “Stephen King writes human beings,” and then puts them into highly stressful situations. In the 1950s, horror films were mostly focused on monsters attacking big cities. King, in contrast, writes primarily about Maine’s small towns, making his characters and locations very relatable. He illustrates “the darkness that lurks in the heart of America.” A case is made that his female characters are exceptionally well written, with Carrie, Misery and Dolores Claiborne singled out for their strong women.
Film clips from the King movies are interspersed with the interviews to give the documentary some visual pizzazz. These include excerpts from Misery, Stand by Me, The Mist, It, The Stand, and The Shining. That last film is discussed at length because of how disappointed King was with it. With Stanley Kubrick directing, King and his fans looked forward to a first-class, faithful adaptation but, by putting his personal stamp on it, Kubrick made changes to the detriment of the characters.
In the aftermath, King philosophically reasoned that no matter their film adaptations, his books would always be available as written. He later granted permission to have many more of his works made into films, letting the chips fall where they may. Among his favorite adaptations are Carrie, The Dead Zone, Stand by Me, and The Shawshank Redemption. King is shown in some of his cameos in movies made from his books and in his role as a dim-witted farmer in one of the stories in the anthology feature Creepshow (1982).
The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile get a lot of coverage, with only brief attention to other titles. Not surprisingly, Maximum Overdrive, the box office bomb that King directed, isn’t even mentioned. There’s some behind-the-scenes, on-set footage for a few films, but no extended scenes to show how well or how poorly King was adapted. A better balance of film clips and interviews would have made for a more interesting documentary.
TV provided an opportunity to adapt King’s longer works in mini-series format. The Stand, a remake of The Shining, and It are singled out as including more of the originals than the movie adaptations did. In fact, The Shining on TV was truer to the original story than Kubrick’s feature, and King considered the mini-series superior.
King on Screen was filmed by director of photography Marc Koninckx. There’s little information available as to cameras and lenses used. The film is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The lengthy opening sequence is beautifully shot and highly atmospheric, as an unidentified young woman drives into “Stephen King country.” There’s an air of strangeness as she encounters unusual images and people. The color palette is vivid, with deeply saturated hues, particularly the bright green trees seen in an overhead shot and reds on various objects. Interview footage is shot traditionally as numerous filmmakers sit and comment on aspects of King’s stories and films. Complexions are rendered naturally. Source material varies from actual film clips, which are sharp, to on-set footage (grainy). Details in hair, men’s whiskers, and clothing are well delineated. Posters and King-related memorabilia behind the interviewees are somewhat blurred but easy enough to make out.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. The opening is virtually silent except for Nicholas Pike’s eerie score. Comments by the interviewees are clear and distinct as each discusses a particular film or theme in King’s work. The stereo effect is most pronounced in the introduction, which plays like a mini-movie.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release from Dark Star Pictures include the following:
- Making Of – Shooting Maine (Short) (:48)
- Making Of – Shooting Maine (Full) (6:01)
- Making of First Trailer (1:43)
- Cutting Room Extended Interviews:
- Craig Baxley (1:01)
- Dan Attias (2:08)
- David Carson (2:24)
- Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kolsch (1:17)
- Frank Darabont (3:48)
- Fraser C. Heston (1:36)
- Fritz Kiersch (2:55)
- Greg Nicotero (3:31)
- Jeff Beesley (3:07)
- John Harrison (4:16)
- Josh Boone (1:09)
- The First Trailer (3:22)
- Deleted Shot from Introduction (:43)
- Long Commentary of Introduction (23:29)
- Introduction Commentary with Daphne Baiwir and Sebastien Cruz (11:34)
- Photo Gallery (:02)
- Official Trailer (1:48)
- The Strange Case of Jacky Caillou Trailer (1:37)
- Summoning the Spirit Trailer (1:29)
- Saturn Bowling Trailer (1:30)
- Megalomaniac Trailer (1:47)
- The Passenger Trailer (1:24)
Making Of – Shooting in Maine – Accompanied by dramatic music but with no narration, director Daphne Baiwir is seen acting in and directing the opening sequence of King on Screen. There’s no explanation of what we’re seeing—lots of activity on set before the camera rolls. Attention to detail is impressive. The shorter version contains highlights from the longer version.
Making of First Trailer – The crew is shown filming a scene that will appear in the movie’s prologue.
Craig Bailey Interview – He speaks about working with Tabitha and Stephen King on the mini-series Kingdom Hospital (2004).
Dan Attias Interview – Attias discusses the difference between directing a TV series episode and a feature film.
David Carson Interview – Christine (1983) and It (2017) are compared in terms of their dependence on supernatural factors.
Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kolsch Interview – The co-directors of Pet Sematary (2019) offer their thoughts on the 1986 Stephen King-directed Maximum Overdrive.
Frank Darabont Interview – Director Darabont speaks about getting permission from Stephen King to make a film of the short story The Woman in the Room (1984). He also discusses the Dollar Baby Program, set up by King to encourage budding filmmakers.
Fraser C. Heston Interview – Heston discusses how the devil is portrayed in King’s books, especially Needful Things. Heston directed the movie adaptation (1993). He also comments on how Max Von Sydow approached the role of Leland Gaunt.
Fritz Kiersch Interview – Working with children on Children of the Corn (1984) is the topic of this brief interview with the film’s director.
Greg Nicotero Interview – Make-up artist Nicotero speaks about the richness of characters in Stephen King’s stories.
Jeff Beesley Interview – The director of Dolan’s Cadillac (2009) speaks about the importance of sound mixing in that film.
John Harrison Interview – The director of the TV horror series anthology Creepshow talks about making the music for the show’s episodes.
Josh Boone Interview – The creator of the TV mini-series The Stand (2020-2021) speaks about King’s character-based stories and films.
The First Trailer – Clips from King on Screen, narration, and brief interview sound bites are presented in rapid succession.
Deleted Shot from the Introduction – A masked, hooded figure in the foreground stands against a wall as the woman in the prologue (Daphne Baiwir) walks down the street toward the camera. As she approaches, the surreal figure opens a melon to reveal it’s filled with black rot.
Long Commentary of the Introduction – Every shot in the opening is a reference to a Stephen King story. It was shot in Maine. A cursor points out details in specific frames as the narrator explains which stories are suggested by objects, characters, settings, or actions.
Introduction Commentary with Daphne Baiwir and Sebastien Cruz – The commentary is conducted in French, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Some close-ups were shot in Belgium but most scenes were filmed in Maine. Director Baiwir, who also plays the woman in the introduction, speaks about difficulties of filming. Because several scenes depicted her driving and Baiwir doesn’t have a driver’s license, other drivers had to stand in for various shots, including a female driver who wore a red wig. Actors from various King adaptations are identified.
Photo Gallery – Behind-the-scenes still photos are shown in slideshow format.
Director Daphne Baiwir assesses King’s work through the medium of adaptation, referring to insightful thoughts from almost all of the directors who have converted his written words to film. It’s established that his imaginative plots and multifaceted characters account for the author’s huge popularity. King on Screen gives movie makers a chance to speak about the joys and challenges of adapting the work of one of America’s most successful authors.
- Dennis Seuling