Fight, Fight, Fight
Today I am writing to you again about the unending war of books versus film. In this letter, I am going to be pitting Tommyknockers against each other.
The book was written by Stephen King and published in 1987. It was a rare dip into science fiction for King who has since stated that he thinks it is an awful book. So, we’re off to a good start.
The straight to TV multi-series was released in 1993, broadcast on ABC originally and directed by John Power.
The gist of the story is a small town uncovers a metal object in the woods. This metal object turns out to be a long-buried spacecraft. The spacecraft releases gas when disturbed which affects people, initially by making them creative and inventive, although some do become extremely violent. What is actually happening however is that the gas is turning people into creatures similar to those on the ship.
The main character, Gard, a poet, is mostly immune to the spacecraft due to a metal plate in his head. At the conclusion of the story, Gard fights his way through the transforming townsfolk into the ship and manages to get it to take off into space. This kills most of the transforming townsfolk (the FBI and CIA kill a bunch as well) but stops the ships influence from spreading.
What was changed
The tv series has a lot of the spirit of the book it is ultimately different in a multitude of small ways, as is often the case with adaptations.
Name of Constable McCausland is changed to Merrill in the TV series.
Becca is told of her husband’s infidelity by an image of Jesus, in the TV series she is told by a talk show host on TV.
David Brown is teleported to an alien planet in the book, but in the TV Series, he is teleported to the spaceship.
Gard has parts of his personality missing. In the book he has strong left-wing views, this never comes up in the tv series.
Bobbi has a sister who briefly papers in the novel, she does not appear in the tv series.
Bobbi, who unearths the craft initially, has different motives in the book to the TV series. In the TV series, it is simple curiosity that drives her. in the book she is driven by the alien’s influence over her.
Butch’s fate is different, he kills himself in the book due to brainwashing, in the tv series, the spaceship somehow messes with a soda machine and kills him. This is kinda funny.
In the novel, the ship emits a radioactive gas that affects people. In the TV series, it emits a psychic emanation. In the novel, the gas changes people into aliens but in the TV series it sucks out all their energy.
The depiction of the effects is also more gruesome in the book, with people’s teeth, hair and sexual organs effectively dropping off. Their blood turns green and goes all gloopy and their skin turns see-through. In the TV series, some hair drops out as well as a couple of teeth. Possibly this was caused by budget.
Becca is killed when she takes murderous revenge on her husband in the book, however in the TV series she survives, but goes insane.
In the book, people going insane and violent is pretty much the norm after long enough exposure to the gas, but in the tv series, only Nancy becomes psychotically violent.
The nature of the government officials is different, local, state and federal government is shown as corrupt and totalitarian in the book, whereas in the tv series some of the officials suck and are dysfunctional but largely the organisation itself is benign.
The treatment and fate of Bobbi’s dog is way worse in the book.
The aliens are dead in the ship in the book. In the TV series, they seem to be in hibernation as some wake up and attack.
Bobbi’s fate is different, in the book she is killed by Gard when she cannot free herself from the alien influence, in the tv series Gard manages to get through to her by appealing to her love for her doggo and her sympathy for David Brown. She frees herself and survives.
The ending changes drastically, the spaceship leaves and everyone is ok in the tv series. In the book the ship leaves and sets a massive fire doing so, this fire kills a ton of people. In the book those who survive the fire die later from the gas, but in the tv series, the ship leaving lets everyone go back to normal.
I can see why some changes were made budgets are a real thing and it’s a lot cheaper to do cool stuff when you’re writing a book rather than creating a visual medium. So, things like the level of damage done to the townspeople, the ship causing an epic fire as it leaves etc all make sense to be missing.
I also understand why this story was toned down for a tv audience. The book was very violent, Bobbi’s experiments are just one example where both people and animals were horrendously abused and so I can defo understand the tv peeps getting squeamish there. I also understand why they took out suicide and the epic levels of violence.
What I do not understand though is after removing the suicide they replaced it with a murderous soda machine. Funny yes, tonally jarring, also yes.
Overall, I’d say the tv series is a PG-13 interpretation of the book and while I might not love it, I do get it.
Lastly, King says he was inspired by the HP Lovecraft story The Colour out of Space and you can totally see that stories influence here.