Featured in King’s first collection Night Shift, “Battleground” was a taunt assault on the nerves that injected demonic toys with force and personality in a battle between the evils of Man and the supernatural. The origin of the sinister action figures are bereft of explanation, which adds suspense and wonder to the tale. In Richard Christian Matheson’s television adaptation for TNTS Nightmares & Dreamscapes, the suspense was further heightened by the scribe’s choice to exclude dialogue. The result was television history. Gauntlet’s overstuffed Battleground volume is a celebration of that history in words, photos, and art.
King’s original story and Matheson’s teleplay are the dark hearts of this collection, inviting a comparison of story structure, character, and theme. While King’s story retains greater immediacy and shock, Matheson’s script features suspenseful characterization and explosive imagery. Back-story, characterization, and dramatic context are achieved by action and images carefully orchestrated to record a savage battle between Renshaw the assassin and a box of toy commandos. (As an aside, it is ironic that Christian Matheson adapted a Stephen King story that was itself influenced by “Prey,” a short story penned by Richard Matheson, Sr., that itself appeared as a segment in the television anthology Trilogy of Terror).
The younger Matheson discusses his decision to eliminate dialogue and the subsequent challenges of the script in the “Introduction.” Michael Wright, TNT’S Executive Vice President and Head of Programming, discusses his attraction to the story and Matheson’s technique via a brief but informative interview by Tony Alberella. Alberella also questions Sam Nicholson, visual effects supervisor, Jeff Hayes, producer, and Lee Romaire. Each interview is an entertaining hybrid of remembrance and shop-talk, following the transformation of the King story from narrative to script to small screen.
Reflective essays by Bill Harber, executive producer, Brian Henson, Director, and actor William Hurt provide context and behind-the-scenes details regarding the production. Jeff Beal, Composer, also includes six pages of his original musical score. While a general feeling of self congratulation runs throughout the interviews and essays, this is to be expected in a tome of this nature. More importantly are the intimate glimpses into the art and business of television production, including the relationship between dreamers and technicians. Captivating storyboards round out the collection.
Gauntlet has been one of the few specialty presses to give such lavish treatment to the craft of scriptwriting. As with similar volumes of Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, and Charles Buemont scripts, Battleground presents an insightful and entertaining story-behind-the-story. The editor traces the genesis and evolution of an idea from written draft to pre-production to finished product. This said, it would have been interesting if the publishers had included the aforementioned “Prey” story and script for the Dan Curtis production as a comparison point for King’s story and the younger Matheson’s TNT treatment. Also noticeable is a lack of Stephen King commentary. Regardless, this is a literary love song to not only King and Christian Matheson but to the entire collaborative process.