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Interviews Save “King on Screen”

Written by: Matt Patti | September 4th, 2023

Film poster: “King on Screen”

King on Screen (Daphné Baiwir, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.

World-renowned author Stephen King has a knack for writing intriguing stories that make for memorable adaptations on the big screen. His books have gone on to be the source material of countless films, from The Shining to It (and so much more). Every year it seems we get a new batch of movies that use King in their advertising, à la “inspired by the mind of Stephen King.” Have one author’s books ever led to so many different movies?

With the sheer number of horror-thrillers adapted from King, one may forget the other movie genres that are also based off of his work. In director Daphné Baiwir’s King on Screen, we explore nearly all of the films King inspired, from horror classics to heartfelt dramas. While the documentary is technically flawed in many areas, the interviews it contains are intriguing enough to keep the viewer invested.

Frank Darabont in KING ON SCREEN, a Dark Star Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

King on Screen involves conversations with myriad different directors of King adaptations. It is fascinating to hear the insight of these filmmakers and their opinions on King and their own work. The cast of interviewees is extensive, including Frank Darabont, the director of The Shawshank Redemption, and Mike Flanagan—one of the best modern horror directors of today—who had the tall task of creating a sequel to the uber-popular The Shining with his 2019 Doctor Sleep.

Unfortunately, before we can get to the good stuff, King on Screen begins with a rather unnecessary short horror film. I can see what Baiwir was going for here, with the film-within-the-film containing several popular references to King adaptations. Sadly, though, that movie is poorly made, with egregiously noticeable ADR (automated dialogue replacement) and subpar performances … not quite the way you want to start a celebration of Stephen King.

Mike Flanagan in KING ON SCREEN, a Dark Star Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

Suddenly, a quite harsh, sloppy transition cuts from the underwhelming opening narrative to a barrage of interviews. So much is thrown at the viewer here in a short amount of time that it’s actually quite overwhelming, with dozens of people exclaiming how popular Stephen King’s works are in rapid succession. It catches the audience off guard, but then eventually we settle in.

The first topic after the onslaught of one-liners is an intriguing one: the misconception that Stephen King is a horror writer. Several directors agree that King is not a genre author, though some of his works definitely lean more towards the spooky side. They argue that King writes characters, not horror. While some stories focus solely on the central monster, ghoul, etc., King explores how people are affected by the scary things that surround them.

A still from KING ON SCREEN, a Dark Star Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

Several other compelling topics are featured in King on Screen, including how King helped some modern-day horror directors face their fears. The impact he had on pop culture as well as his bringing to light certain social issues in his works and ensuing film adaptations is also touched upon. The most intriguing subject matter in the doc, though, in my opinion, is King’s thoughts on director Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

King was not a fan of Kubrick’s 1980 take on his book. The adaptation is very different from King’s work in several ways, most notably Jack Torrance being mad from the start in the film, while having a slow descent into madness in King’s writing. King on Screen highlights the fundamental differences between King and Kubrick, both as professionals and as people in general, which is fascinating to think about.

Taylor Hackford in KING ON SCREEN, a Dark Star Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

During these quality, thought-provoking interviews, King on Screen suffers from technical flaws that I rarely see in a documentary. The audio levels are very inconsistent from interview to interview, there are audio pops and cracking between cuts, and sometimes the lips of the subjects don’t even match the words being heard. It’s a shame, because these issues do affect the overall film and are quite noticeable.

Even with its technical shortcomings, the interviews contained within help lift the overall movie. The opportunity to see a large cohort of directors who have worked on King adaptations speak about the author and his amazing stories is one that should not be missed, no matter how subpar some aspects of the film may be. The doc ends with the conclusion of its purposeless short narrative film, but by that point King on Screen has already delivered enough to warrant a pass on that misfire.

A still from KING ON SCREEN, a Dark Star Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.

Matt Patti has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films from a young age. He has lived in the Baltimore, Maryland, area since 2015 and is a graduate of Stevenson University’s Film & Moving Image program. Matt is currently back at Stevenson University, working as the School of Design, Arts, and Communication's Studio Manager.

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