The Tommyknockers

Year: 1993
Production Co: Konigsberg/Sanitsky Company
Studio: ABC
Director: John Power
Writer: Lawrence D Cohen/Stephen King
Cast: Marg Helgenberger, Jimmy Smits, Joanna Cassidy, Cliff De Young, Traci Lords

This film suffers as much from the curse of Stephen King movies as any, the director falling into the common trap of completely missing the human nuances that make King's novels so good even while the premises border on silly.

But it seems either a little more money was spent or there was more quality control than usual this time around, especially compared to the cheap, B grade crap of Children of the Corn.

Successful writer Bobbi (Helgenberger) unwittingly starts to dig up a long-buried spaceship on her country property, and whatever energy waves emanate from it not only cure her writer's block, they make her feel better and more inventive than she has in years – to a degree that turns out scary.

Before long it starts happening all over town, and only alcoholic poet and Bobbi's sometime lover Jim (Smits) – unaffected because of the steel plate in his head after a skiing accident – can see there's something wrong with the mental energy gripping everyone.

King didn't give any real motivation to the aliens for what their ship does to people (when Bobbi and Jim get inside it turns out they're long dead anyway), but he made up for it by making his book about the effects of their presence on the characters. With far less time to work with, this mini series doesn't delve into what made King's book great, and not telling us how the aliens got there or what they want everyone just feels cheap.

The climax, when Jim boards and flies the craft off to release the townspeople from their yoke of subservience, is where the constrained budget of TV really shows. It was the big chance to reveal the scope of the craft like Spielberg did with the Devil's Tower mothership landing in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Instead we get a few uprooted trees with lighted windows whizzing past before it's suddenly miles off in the sky.

Of course, it shouldn't be about the ship or the aliens. Like King's book, it should be a thinly veiled satire of the mob mentality that leads to everything from consumerism to Naziism. But without the necessary depth of character there's little else left but cheap special effects.

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