Bag of Bones
Director Mick Garris
Starring Pierce Brosnan
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
I was fortunate in that A&E repeated the showing of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones throughout the week. As much as I wanted to see the show when it first came on, I was unable to stay from nine to eleven on a work week when I have to get up at 4:30AM. Simply put, my health demands I get to bed early on work nights if I want to make it through the week and not end up back in the hospital. Anyway, when an acquaintance told me that the television mini-series had been repeated on Tuesday night, I checked out the schedule for Bag of Bones on the Internet and discovered it was being replayed on Friday night, too. That meant I could stay up late and then sleep in the next morning, which is exactly what I did.
The mini-series, directed by Mick Garris, is based on the Stephen King novel, Bag of Bones, which was published well over a decade ago. Surprisingly, it took Mr. Garris five long years to get the financial backing needed to make this adaptation. The project first started out with the intent on being a feature film, and then over time, the script was rewritten for the small screen. Thank goodness A&E was willing to fund this project, or it wouldn’t have happened.
Now, I’ve been a big fan of Pierce Brosnan since his Remington Steele days on television. Let’s face it the man is exceedingly handsome, suave, debonair, physical, and he looks great in a tuxedo. No one was more upset than me when he was offered the role of James Bond and then the producers of Remington Steele decided to hold him to his contract for another year even though the show was discontinued. When Pierce finally got the role of Bond several years later, it was a match made in heaven. He literally became the character like a man donning an expensive tailor-made suit. There’s no doubt in my mind that Pierce Brosnan was the perfect choice for the role of Mike Noonan in Bag of Bones. I’ve seen the strong, dramatic acting that this man is capable of doing in other films and knew he could handle the performance without any question. The fact is Mr. Brosnan has simply gotten better with age.
Was Mick Garris able to pull off the adaptation from novel to television?
Yes, he was.
Unlike the previous television networks, A&E gave the director pretty much all the freedom he needed to make this mini-series a success. True he had a small budget and a tight shooting schedule, but he got the absolute most out of each dollar spent and each day on the set. The quality of the cinematography and production design is certainly much better than in Desperation. There’s a touch of class with this production that clearly shines through. Like Pierce with acting, Mr. Garris is getting better as a director as he gets older.
Now, what viewers need to understand is that Bag of Bones is not a horror novel, though there are elements of the supernatural in the story. Stephen King wanted to write one great book before he turned fifty and Bag of Bones was what he created. It’s the same with the television movie. Though there are strong elements of the supernatural in the mini-series, it’s not really a horror movie.
The TV movie centers around successful Maine author, Mike Noonan (played by Pierce Brosnan), who experiences a mind-numbing tragedy when his wife, Jo, is unexpectedly struck by a bus while he’s autographing novels across the street in a bookstore. Annabeth Gish (I remember her in the television series, Flash Forward) plays his lovely wife. The movie has to establish rather quickly just how much the two of them are in love with each other, and I think it succeeds. You could see these two people together, enjoying their lives with each other and being totally happy. That makes the death of Jo more shocking and disturbing for those who haven’t read the novel. Pierce Brosnan performed a magnificent scene when he found his wife lying in the street dead. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one will see the grief etched on his face as clearly as day. I don’t think he was acting here, but rather displaying the actual grief he’d felt when losing his first wife to cancer. I mean the scene made me cry, too. I knew what he was going through, and I believe that’s when I bonded with the character.
The plot point that propels the story forward, however, is when Mike Noonan discovers his dead wife was pregnant. Since Mike couldn’t have children because of a low sperm count, he begins to suspect Jo of having had an affair with someone. Jo had also been spending a lot of time at their summer house on Dark Score Lake. Over a period of time, Mike begins to wonder if that’s where her lover lives and decides to visit the place for an extended period of time. The time frame was much longer in the novel. I think it was a couple of years. It’s also important to note that since Mike was a fast writer, he had several novels stashed away in a safety deposit box in the novel. In the movie, however, he only had one old trunk novel that he gives to his agent and publisher to keep them happy during the period he’s unable to write.
Once Mike arrives at his house on a lake, he soon finds himself involved with a young lady and her daughter (Mattie & Kyra Devore played respectively by Melissa George and Caitlin Carmichael). Mike manages to save Kyra’s life by pulling her out of the highway before she can be hit by a car. After he does, he finds out that Kyra’s grandfather is Max Devore, the most powerful man in the region. Max is attempting to get custody of Kyra by claiming Mattie is an unfit mother.
Since Mike Noonan has problems of his own to deal with, he really doesn’t want to get involved in Mattie’s situation. Things, unfortunately, don’t work out as he desires. When old-man, Max Devore (played by William Schallert – no, not Captain Kirk) pressures him to testify in front of a paid-off court official about the traffic incident, Mike takes Mattie’s side to piss the man off. Of course that makes an enemy of Mr. Devore and his female assistant, Rogette Whitmore (played by Deborah Grover). The assistant seems to be even more evil than the old man.
While all of this outside stuff is going on, Mike’s experiencing supernatural events at his house on the lake. He knows his wife is there with him, but there’s also another spirit, Sarah Tidwell, who wants him to seek revenge for her death.
In time, Mike discovers that Tidwell (played by the lovely and talented Anika Noni Rose) was murdered in 1939. That’s when all hell begins to break loose and Noonan finds out things about his own family’s past and how it ties into the singer’s death and Max Devore’s unusual family tree.
As I said earlier, Bag of Bones isn’t a scary novel and neither is the movie. Director Mick Garris throws in some supernatural aspects regarding Mike Noonan’s dreams about his wife and Sarah Tidwell, the spirits in his summer house and how they often communicate with him by ringing a bell that’s hanging from a moose’s head over the fireplace. There’s also a very strange looking tree near the lake that’s shaped like a woman’s body and offers a jolt or two in the show. In many ways, the novel and mini-series are actually about Mike Noonan coming to grips with his own grief over the death of his wife, the past that catches up to him by the end of the movie, and how his family inadvertently brought on some of the tragedy he experiences. In the book, he falls in love with Mattie Devore, but not so in the movie. She’s simply a piece of the bizarre puzzle that deals with Sarah Tidwell.
I feel that Mick Garris did a fantastic job on condensing a long novel into a two part mini-series. Though the entire show is four hours long, over an hour of it is nothing but commercials. I hate commercials, especially seeing the same ones over and over during a four-hour period of time. I want to buy the DVD of Bag of Bones when it comes out in 2012 so I can watch the movie without all the interruptions. I mean just when you’re getting involved in the storyline, the movie breaks for a Geico commercial you’ve already seen ten times before. It takes away from the mood that Mick Garris is attempting to create.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, Mick Garris and his crew did a fantastic job on the cinematography and made Nova Scotia (this is where the Jesse Stone series is shot) look like Maine. I thought most of acting was top notch, especially with regards to Pierce Brosnan, who had to carry most of the film on his shoulders. I have to admit that Deborah Grover as Rogette Whitman gets the trophy for the creepiest performance in the series. Whenever she was in a scene, she pretty much stole it from the rest of the actors with her strangeness. She needs to play in more horror movies.
One last thing I enjoyed was Matt Frewer performing as Mike Noonan’s brother. I kept thinking I knew Matt from somewhere. It turns out he played the Trashcan Man in The Stand mini-series. During that series, he shot a scene in the old Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, where I was working at the time. This is a very talented actor who needs more roles offered to him.
Though this review is too late to help promote the A&E mini-series, it might encourage people to pick up the DVD of the movie when it’s released in 2012. I’ve found that a TV mini-series is often better when watched without the commercials.