Turner Network Television has put a hold on their production of THE TALISMAN, a proposed mini-series based on the novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub. This is only the latest of several failed attempts to film the epic collaboration between two of the horror genre’s biggest heavy hitters.
When it was published in 1984, The Talismanseemed like a natural for adaptation to the big screen. The novel is an epic tale of Good-and-Evil about a twelve-year-old boy named Jack Sawyer whose quest to find a mystic talisman (which will save his mother’s life and destroy the enemy out to destroy him) takes him in and out of an alternate world called “The Territories.” Despite the horror-heavy resumes of both authors, the book is more of a boyhood fantasy-adventure, with deliberate echoes of Mark Twain (note the hero’s last name); its broad scope and imaginative elements seem tailor-made material for a Hollywood blockbuster.
Unfortunately, the book has defied adaptation. One problem is the length (644 pages in hardback) which makes it difficult to condense into a feature film. Another problem is budget; although a mini-series could do justice to the story’s page-count, the more limited financial resources of television mitigate against capturing the books visual elements. Several false starts for both feature films and television have been announced; the latest attempt by TNT, which announced last December that they were slating the film for the summer of 2008, was put on hold for budgetary reasons.
The project was to be produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Steven Spielberg, who has been trying to film the novel for twenty-five years. Richard LaGravenese (THE FISHER KING) wrote a draft for a film version in the ’90s; Mick Garris was brought on board to write and direct a four-hour mini-series in 2000. Subsequent attempts to make a film, with various writers and directors attached (including THE RING’s Ehren Kruger), fell apart at Universal, before Spielberg brought the project to TNT.
The Talisman earned a good deal of fanfare when it was first published, thanks to the linking of the names King and Straub. King’s best-sellers included Carrie and The Shining– vivid, shocking horror stories had been made into successful films. Straub, after a couple of subtle ghost stories (Julia and If You Could See Me Now…) had also reached best-seller status with Ghost Story, in which he employed a more graphic approach to horror, inspired by King. The two authors plotted out The Talisman together, then collaborated in a sort of long-distance baton race on the writing: one would write until he ran out of steam, then send the pages to the other, who would pick up the story and write until he ran out of steam, and so on. The changeovers were made regardless of chapter divisions, which created occasionally jarring changes in tone, not only mid-chapter but sometimes even mid-scene. Despite interviews at the time, insisting that readers would not be able to tell who wrote what, it was obvious, in at least some instances, when one author had handed the pen off to the other.
Despite this quirk of collaboration, the resulting novel synthesized some of the best elements of both writers’ work: the visceral horror of King and and the more subtle menace of Straub. The book was successful enough to inspire a sequel, 2001’s Black Note.