Watching any Stephen King adaptation for the screen is an exercise in frustration, regardless of how well it is done; 11.22.63 may be the exception to this, but only because the King novel about JFK and time travel, with James Franco as Jake Epping, is a deviation from the horror master’s usual fare. The Rabbit Hole, which is the premiere episode of the eight part mini series on Hulu, proves that changes have been made to the basic plot…like about every single film made from a King book.
For some inexplicable reason the base year, the one that Jake returns to when stepping though the rabbit hole in the back of Al’s diner, is changed from 1958 to 1960. Presumably to keep the amount of time spent waiting for Kennedy to be shot by Oswald down to a more “manageable” three years instead of five.
Other changes from the book includes events changed (or at least their chronological order revised) and some things have been added. Like “King Easter eggs.” For instance; when James Franco (as Jake) goes back on his first mission, as he walks down main street a sign can be seen for Farnsworth Drugs.
Richard Farnsworth was the actor who played the sheriff in the 1990 film version of Misery. The film is actually referenced twice in The Rabbit Hole. Jake gatecrashes a Kennedy fund-raiser and is grabbed by security. After being questioned, he tells his main interrogator to let JFK know that he is his “number one fan.”
(There is also the almost obligatory mention of “Castle Rock.”)
Regardless of these “changes” to the original source material this mini series version of 11.22.63 does well in setting up the characters and providing enough exposition to pave the way for events that will play out in the series. The “yellow-card man” has made it from the book and only time will tell if the character’s significance will be changed from the original story.
Perhaps it helps that the novel was published, and read by this reviewer, back in 2011 allowing a lot of time to pass (See what we did there?) before being put up on the small screen as a mini-series. Certainly, this adaptation has started out to deliver very well compared to 1990’s It.
(In terms of casting, however, It easily holds the “Best Choice” award for whoever it was that realized that Tim Curry would be perfect as Pennywise the Clown.)
Franco, as the English teacher/writer who is in the middle of getting divorced, plays his part well and is easily the perfect choice for Jake Epping. His ability to project the “everyman” quality required for this role is perfect.
Speaking of everyman, Jake is easily the spiritual twin to another King protagonist (one involved in another presidential assassination) John Smith. Smith may have had a special gift, but in essence he was the “everyman” of his tale; a man who, regardless of his ability, was caught up in events beyond the pale. The question of time travel is also mentioned, only in that story it was a question of going back to kill Adolf Hitler.
In The Rabbit Hole Jake Epping decides to go back to 1960, instead of 1958, and major kudos should go to the set designers who have made the 1960s look alive. The cars, the buildings, the appearance of everything feels spot on.
Within the version of the onscreen world of 11.22.63 the changes to the novel are minimal to the storyline. The tale is still moving forward, albeit on what appears to be an expedited timeline, but Jake is following the plot as set out, overall. The series is showing that “time pushing back” thing very well despite being the first hour and a half of the eight part series.
Like most Stephen King adaptations for either film or television, it is better to forget any specific details of the source. Thus far the series is close enough to keep things interesting so that as this premiere episode ends, the next one is eagerly awaited.
Scottish director Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) does a splendid job on the opening episode. Bridget Carpenter, who is also an executive producer for this project also wrote the screenplay based on the King novel. Carpenter, who also worked on Dead Like Me and Parenthood, came to the project with pretty immaculate bona fides and it shows.
It is interesting to note that the phrase, “You shouldn’t be here,” is said by several characters, not just the “Yellow-Card Man” and it serves to not only freak out Franco’s Jake but helps the viewer get into that paranoid state of mind. As Al Templeton tells Epping in one of those expository flashbacks, “you never stop feeling like an outsider [sic].” The repetitive warning from YCM and the others helps to reinforce Jake’s status as outsider.
Thus far, this adaptation, in the guise of mini-series (versus the CBS full-blown series version of Under the Dome) manages to keep close enough to Stephen King’s novel that no alarm bells are going off. 11.22.63 airs Mondays on Hulu.
Sidenote: One bone of contention is that hat. Templeton tells Epping to wear a suit and hat, as that is what grownup men wear in that day and age. Epping gets a hat and apart from Jake and “Yellow-Card Man” these two appear to be the few 1960s male denizens to wear them.
This mini-series looks good enough to keep the interest level high and unlike the CBS “full” series, has not committed any major faux pas. With only a two-year difference between the book and the mini-series (1960 vs 1958) as the most blaring change to date, Hulu have started off on a relative high note.
Tune in to Hulu on Mondays and see how many changes may still show up and check to see whether the Stephen King Easter eggs continue.