King's Highway pt. 15: The Langoliers

I'm a sucker for a good time travel story. The novella "The Langoliers" from Four Past Midnight is a good time travel story. 

The made-for-TV movie is not.

Actually, there's plenty to recommend it, and it's not the time travel that sinks this one. Wha There are few more faithful adaptations of an original King story than this, so you'd figure I'd love it since I love the novella, but the movie is a textbook example of what happens when you translate a story to screen and do not condense or compartmentalize the material. (An essential act of story-to-screen transcription, if you ask me)

The movie has been referred to it as a Twilight Zone episode stretched out to 4 hours. While it's actually only 3, it's a reasonable description.

And that TZ episode is undoubtedly "The Odyssey of Flight 23." With a dash of "The Arrival."
The other story it reminded me of was "A Matter of Minutes" from the 80s Twilight Zone. (The one with the Grateful Dead doing the theme song)
Adapted by Harlan Ellison from a story by Theodore Sturgeon, who, it must be mentioned, wrote this:
God bless him, and thank you Jeff for the image.
I do not suggest it's derivative, only that these other stories came to mind. 

Anytime I read a work of King's during this period (this came out in 1990, which means it was likely written in '88 or '89), I imagine the day-to-day reality of those Ace Frehley years: Tony-Soprano-esque yet not Tony-Soprano-esque, laying golden eggs by the dozen at great cost to his peace/stability of mind and family. Considering Four Past Midnight came out right after this period, it's hard not to cross-reference to his commentary from On Writing. "I was not in shouting distance of my right mind."

If I was King, I'd perhaps get tired of people projecting "Oh he must have been addressing his addiction/ recovery" on every-and-anything from this period, but there are times when he introduces a character or situation that seems to be commenting so explicitly on his own journey through addiction that you can't help but notice. So, I do here but don't want to make too much of it: the black-bearded character - passed out during most of the events of the novella (not in the movie) - seems to me to be a recovery talisman of a kind.

(If you're interested, see ch 9.4 for more on this, and the 2nd or 3rd last paragraph from the very end. Then, if you like, consider how this character provides an interesting side-narrative for a story on the idea of time-eating-itself.)

King's substance-abuse years (and his recovery from them) are an ongoing subtext during this period of his writing from 1980 to 1990-ish, the same way the traffic accident in 1999 and his recovery from that inform his work from 2000 on. How could they not?

Along these lines, one of the things I like about King's work is that there will always be a writer around somewhere. It's a fun thing to look forward to; at some point after I start something new by him, a character will turn around and say Oh, who, me? I'm the writer of mystery novels....  

Dean Stockwell of God-so-many-damn-shows-but-Brother-freaking-Cavill-from-Battlestar-most-particularly, plays that part here:

How do you know that God is on your side, Doctor?
 Speaking of casting, here's Maximum Overdrive's Frankie Faison as Don Gaffney:

This guy has been in everything.
And David Morse as Captain Brian Engle:

This guy is going for the King-adaptation record. Though he appears to have slowed down considerably in recent years. (JULY 2013 EDIT: They should've cast him in "Under the Dome.")
The story itself is about a "tear" in time-space, and a plane that goes through it. Hijinks ensue. The Langoliers, so named after one character's sublimation of parental abuse and expectation, arrive to eat time, and here is the most interesting part of the novella, but not the movie.

Maybe because the Langoliers look like this in the movie.
As the characters arrive at the conclusion that they have moved through time and that the past is a sterile world, as "dead as a used paint can," the Langoliers finally arrive on the scene. They are time-space termites that decimate lingering elements of The Past so The Present can roll on and on. Further hijinks ensue. As mentioned earlier, the novella does a better job of wrapping it up; the movie ends with a Breakfast Club moment where Alfred (who seemed a lot younger in the novella; actually, all of the characters seem sanitized/ compromised in their movie incarnations vis-a-vis the novella) leaps into the air, fist-raised.

The f/x switch from the bad-computer-graphics of DOS to stock footage of planes; very sloppy.
A few mentions are made of the Mary Celeste. Interesting reading, if you're so inclined.

I wasn't very invested in the Nick/ Laurel relationship. Nor the little-girl-with-psychic-talents aspect. Not that they came across badly (though it's weird - some of Nick's dialogue comes across way better in the movie than the book, whereas the Nick/Laurel romance does not come believably at all. That "Daisies! Daisies!" bit at the end especially. I know this won't make sense to a lot of people, that' ok)

King cameo:

Mainly, the movie just doesn't pull it off. The f/x are bad and inconsistent. Bronson Pinchot gives an eccentric but not quite convincing performance. It's easy enough to put some things to the side in the novella (one example - when they discover the left-behind accoutrements of all those not present after The Event, from dental fillings to surgical pins to dentures to wigs, no one asks But why are there no clothes?) but the movie sits a little too long in some of its mistakes, if that makes any sense.


  1. If I may paraphrase Dr. Henry Jones Jr.:

    Bronson Pinchot ... why'd it have to be Brosnon Pinchot?

    1. Just saw this comment now! I wonder if you've left others back here "in the stacks" that I've missed. I need to do a comprehensive sweep. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong for blogger, but everytime I change/ update my settings, nothing ever happens. I have a lot of formatting issues, as well. I'm just not a computer guy, no matter how much I try. But, we soldier on, as best we can...

      Next time, Balki Bartakomous, it will take more than children to save you!

    2. Good God, reading this review again, I was way too nice. This movie sucks balls, as JFK once said.

    3. Oh, it's abysmal. In the epic Bryant-ranks-all-King-movies post I wrote earlier this year, it clocked in at #53/71. Amazing to think it landed even THAT high.