Documentaries can focus on quite literally anything they want and convey the story they’ve set out to tell. It doesn’t have to be wrapped in a pretty package to fit a genre or subgenre, which gives the director the most freedom to just tell the facts they way they want and not get lost in the conversation of which box their film checks off. However, maybe, and just maybe, sometimes things should have a little more restraint and focus on some subsections of their career or story. Daphné Baiwir (The Rebellious Olivia de Havilland) falls into this unfortunate dilemma with her documentary focusing on the horror icon himself, Stephen King. It is easy to discuss, ad nauseam, King’s work and the countless (80 according to IMDB to be precise) adaptations of his work, even when the maestro himself has argued that he’s not so keen on the adaptations. While there are plenty of great King adaptations (despite what King himself says) there are plenty of obstacles that come with adapting such iconic works, and King on Screen touches upon this briefly while just overbroadly discussing the adaptations and dissecting of King of horror.
Before fully diving into the documentary itself, I must address the opening 10 or so minutes which are more of a short film setting up the following 100 or so minutes than a documentary itself. It is a treasure chest of King references that are thrown into this short story that gets the audiences into the mood for a first year introductory course on the maestro himself, that feels like a TA had a passion project they never got off the ground. It isn’t a documentary, but a Where’s Waldo or Who’s Who of references. While this stylistic choice is not the first time it has been done in documentaries, it certainly is a little unsettling.
Baiwir manages to get a few heavy hitters in for her documentary including Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep, Gerald’s Game, Hush), Mick Garris (The Stand and The Shining tv mini series) Greg Nicotero (Creepshow tv series), Dennis Widmyer (2019s Pet Cemetery), Vincenzo Natali (The Strain tv series, The Stand tv miniseries, In The Tall Grass), and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile). All these directors break down what draws them to King’s work and why they wanted to do the adaptations they did. However, the documentary itself focuses on Frank Darabont’s stories and what lead to some of the casting choices in some of the most iconic King adaptations we’ve seen thus far.
The largest issue with the doc itself is that it continuously skips around with multiple people giving stories and anecdotes, giving insight as to how King creates some of his characters from their perspective, but ultimately leaves the audience with more questions left unanswered than answered. While it is never discussed as to why King famously doesn’t like some adaptations of his works which are critically claimed (looking directly at Kubrick’s The Shining), it is touched upon why King has issues with that. However, King’s distaste for adaptions of his work doesn’t end there, and without King himself being interviewed to have some extra light shed on the subject, one of the biggest questions goes unanswered. While Baiwir does shed a light on The Shining in particular, it is one that has been vaguely answered before; some new insight or a short answer from King himself with some more in-depth answers would’ve gone far.
However, since the documentary is amply named King on Screen, it does address his adaptations, whether on the big or small screen, and what these adaptions and properties mean to the people who are associated with them behind the scenes. It is a great insight as to what these projects mean to the people behind the camera or behind the screenplay, but it just scratches the surface of what King means to so many people and how influential his work is and, more over, his opinions of the works themselves. While King on Screen showcases the adaptations of the maestro of horror’s works, it just scratches the surface of what contributions King has made to cinema and popular culture as a whole and how his works will surely live on forever.
In select theaters August 11th, 2023.
Available on Blu-ray and VOD September 8th, 2023.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.