Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book to Movie: Battleground (2006)

The Night Shift short story, Battleground was adapted as the premier episode for a TNT television miniseries based on the short works of Stephen King. Battleground was the only story from Night Shift adapted for the 2006 television series. The other seven episodes were drawn from the book of the same name or a King collection entitled Everything’s Eventual.

The story unfolds on screen with Jason Renshaw carrying out the hit on the owner of Morris Toys, Hans Morris. Renshaw returns to his apartment to find a package from the Morris Toy Co. waiting for him, just as the short story began.

The action in the apartment unfolds much as it did in the short story. The tiny plastic soldiers have surprisingly effective weapons including helicopters, bazookas, RPGs, and cannons. They shoot it out in the apartment before Renshaw is forced out of the apartment, out on the ledge. In the short story, Renshaw meets his end as he climbs from this ledge onto the terrace.

In the TNT show, the battle continues and Renshaw actually defeats the troops. As he is relaxing in his hot tub, the special surprise makes himself known. In the short story, that was the thermonuclear device. In the screen version, it is a commando who is deadly.

The battle takes them out of the apartment, into the elevators and elevator shafts before Renshaw meets his end, much as he did in the short story, only in a different location.

In my review of the short story, I remarked that this story very closely resembled Richard Matheson’s Prey. This was not lost on King or the producers of the series. The screenplay was written by Matheson’s son, Richard Christian Matheson. A fleeting homage to the Matheson story appears when one of the rockets fired by the toy soldiers blows up a replica of the troll doll from the adaptation of Prey that appeared in Matheson’s television anthology Trilogy of Terror.

I recall reading a review of the miniseries that the screenplay very closely resembled a Twilight Zone episode entitled Invaders which was co-authored by Matheson and Rod Serling. In that episode, an old woman living alone on a frontier, does battle with miniature aliens from a miniature flying saucer. The episode contained just a few lines of dialogue at the end of the episode. Battleground contains just a couple lines of dialogue from a computer.

Unfortunately, the screenplay makes the weaknesses of the short story glaring. As I’ve stated many times, to enjoy horror fiction, one must be able to suspend belief. However, the author should not create a scenario whose real circumstances make it entirely improbable.

What is absolutely unbelievable is that a battle such as the one that takes place in Renshaw’s apartment would go unnoticed and unreported. Renshaw fires dozens of rounds into the floor of his high rise apartment which would have certainly passed through to the apartment below. There are multiple explosions. Shots are fired outside on the terrace and explosions are detonated inside the apartment. Despite all that noise, Renshaw is able to relax peacefully in his hot tub after the battle is fought.

Renshaw’s end in the short story comes much sooner, so it is plausible that authorities had not yet arrived before the miniature nuclear detonation. However, Renshaw’s respite makes that impossible in the film adaptation.

The special effects were top notch. As someone who had a large collection of plastic toy soldiers when I was a kid, it was cool to see them brought to life on the screen, looking as green and drab as they do in real life.

William Hurt turns in an acceptable performance that was not nearly as strong as Agnes Moorehead’s in similar circumstances in the Twilight Zone. The action scenes move nicely and the story builds to a nice climax. However, I can’t get by the improbability of it all and that ruins it for me.

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