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I recently started reading Under the Dome, and I’m maybe four hundred pages into it. Out of all the Stephen King books I’ve read, Under the Dome has to be the best so far. It is grand in scale, and I love the characters. So, the moment I found out there was a Tv show, I was giddy with excitement.

I’m going to spend the rest of this review telling you all whether or not it lives up to Under the Dome, or if it’s a good show in general. Like I said before, I have not finished the book. I’m still in the process of reading it, but I just really wanted to review this Tv show. So, please excuse me if I don’t know all the characters, or I can’t tell you all the differences. I’m not a very attentive reader, so there’s your warning.

I will mention this right now. This isn’t an ultra-faithful adaptation of Under the Dome. This is obvious within the first six minutes. (I took notes while watching it.) But you can skip the next nine paragraphs if you don’t want to hear about the comparisons I made with the book and the show. Afterwards, all I’ll discuss is whether or not the show is good. So, feel free to skip to 10 paragraphs from now.

They changed the characters a lot, and I think that they took an interesting change with the characters. For one, Dale Barbara’s/Barbie’s character (portrayed by Mike Vogel) is rather different from the book. In fact, most of the characters are different from the book. Rusty Everett, the physician and husband of one of Chester’s Mill deputies, is a fireman in here. And Chief Duke Perkins actually called him a meathead.

Considering the fact that he was my second favorite character in the book – next to Barbie – I was really surprised by this choice. But knowing Brian K. Vaughan (who’s written for Lost, one of my favorite shows, and also wrote a TON of amazing comic books that I love) was handling this, I had faith it was for a good reason.

I think the changes they’ve done with the antagonists, however, was really for the best. Okay, we all know Big Jim and Junior Rennie were the bad guys. So, I’m not spoiling anything. But, in the book, practically everyone knew they were the antagonists. And they were made out to be amazing fakers and that’s what made them dangerous. I didn’t get the impression of that in the book. Maybe this is because I got to see what they were actually thinking, but this wasn’t aided by the fact that 90% of all of the characters saw Big Jim and Junior for what they were.

In the Tv series, on the other hand, I was very impressed with the way they’ve handled their characters. I could see why people thought they weren’t a threat, and why Big Jim would be a successful car dealer. Big Jim is portrayed by the talented Dean Morris, and I think they casted him perfectly. Dean Morris ( from Breaking Bad ) is one of those actors that can be charming and deadly all at once. I think he should get a lot more lead roles, since he’s one of the few actors I think can hold his own next to Bryan Cranston. (Which is saying something.)

Perhaps the two biggest changes in character, though, is the change in Barbie’s and Angie’s character. Let me explain. Barbie, in the book, is a drifter who became a short order cook at a local diner in Chester’s Mill. He’s former military, highly trained, but when the girlfriend of one of the town’s infamous jerks tries to make a move on him… things start to go by the wayside of things. The friends of said jerk (including Junior Rennie) ambush Barbie as he’s closing the diner, and he manages to kick their ass despite the unfair advantage.

Junior cries to his Dad about it, and his Dad makes life miserable for Barbie. So, the book starts with Dale about to leave Chester’s Mill. His plan goes awry when the Dome drops into place, and a plane crashes into it. And he was so close to leaving the miserable town!

In the Tv series, Dale is… well, he’s not so innocent. The Pilot episode begins with Dale burying a dead body, and we see him yelling into a phone, worried about Chief Perkins catching him. That’s as different as it could possibly be, if you ask me.

The other change is the fact that Angie McAlister is not killed in the first few minutes. In the book, Angie’s killed by Junior Rennie pretty quickly. It appears like she’ll be a main character here, and I thought it was an interesting change. It’s not a bad one, but at the same time, I’m wondering if this is the show’s way of showing the viewers from the get go that it’s definitely not the same as the book.

And I think it’s a good way of doing that. Her character certainly seems more interesting than in the book, and I guess now people have an attractive young woman to look forward to seeing.

Okay. Now I’ll write about the actual show. I’ll try to keep the comparisons to the book out, but no promises. I like it when people adapt books into movies or Tv shows. I know they fail often, but the thing is, they make it a lot faster paced.

And Under the Dome is no exception. Within the first eight minutes, the Dome drops, and most of the main cast knows about it by the twenty-four minute mark. I thought this was a smart decision, and the tension feels truly real here. Since this isn’t an ultra-faithful adaption, I had no idea what could happen.

Another nice touch made by the show is making everyone completely silent from the other side of the Dome. I thought this really ramped up tension, and made everything feel surreal. I mean, you can see people on the other side mouthing words, but you don’t actually hear it. It’s a very creepy feeling, and it only enhances the claustrophobic feeling of being a bug in a jar. (Which is essentially what they are.)

The characterization in this show is honestly quite something. In the first episode, I know these characters. I’ve read the first 400 pages of the book, but you should believe me when I say that most of these characters have been put through the ringer and changed almost completely. And I think they improved some of them. I especially liked the fact that they combined the role of First Selectman Andy Sanders and Chief Duke Perkins. Only readers of the book will understand this. But, it feels a lot more… tight?

I think the director of the first episode, Niels Arden Oplev, knows what he is doing. Everything is perfectly timed, and everything is clear. Precise. And unlike a lot of the modern directors, he doesn’t rely on expository dialogue too much. Tv shows and movies are a visual medium, and it honestly makes me cringe when the director and writers feel that they need to dumb it down for the audience.

I thought that this is a fine example of that, and it was definitely something to smile about. The final ten minutes, to be exact, was absolutely perfect. You’ll see if you watch it. I loved the ending.

Let me talk about the acting now. The two standout actors has to be Dean Morris, Jeff Fahey, and Alexander Koch. I already talked a little bit about Dean Morris, so let me talk about the other two. You may recognize Jeff Fahey as Frank Lapidus from Lost. I have to say, his portrayal of Duke Perkins is pitch perfect. Duke Perkins in the book was very interesting, but there’s subtlety and layers to Jeff Fahey’s acting that I thought was really great. Alexander Koch plays Junior Rennie, one of the two aforementioned antagonists from the book. (Mind you, Brian K. Vaughan could still throw us a curveball and make one of the teenagers the villain. He could pull it off, too.)

I think that Alexander Koch’s portrayal of Junior Rennie is awesome. As with the character of Big Jim, I think they changed his character for the better here. He’s a really bad guy. Disgusting, even. However, the thing that makes most people disgusting… is the fact that they could put on a facade and fool you. It’s what makes serial killers terrifying. They could be the guy/gal organizing the charity, he could be the guy/gal that serves you your food. You just never know.

And that’s what I like about this character now. I hated this character in the book. Absolutely hated him. But here.. Well, I still don’t like him. But the fact that it made me think twice is really something. The episode starts out with him confessing his life to a girl he’s held a torch for since he was in the 3rd Grade. And he’s dismissed immediately.

I’m not condoning his violent nature or anything like that. But I thought that this made his character a little more… realistic. I don’t think people are inherently evil. I just believe that there are “triggers” for every person, and for certain people, that trigger can be exactly the same as Junior Rennie’s trigger. And let me tell you. It gets pulled all right.

So, I think that portraying this character would be difficult for pretty much any character, and Alexander Koch pulls it off swimmingly. It’s fantastic to watch, and I look forward to future episodes to see how he takes the role to the next level.

So, let’s see the list.

1. Story: Interesting.

2. Characterization: Intriguing.

3. Acting: Top notch.

That’s the main check list I use when I watch anything. There are a few laughs in here, but I’m going to flat out tell you right now that this isn’t a comedy. Maybe a very dark, DARK comedy. But it’s important to know that this is a straight up drama. I came in expecting a drama, and that’s exactly what I got back.

Now, it looks like it’s only going to be a miniseries. After seeing this, I was kinda disappointed. It’s difficult to pack a thousand page novel into thirteen episodes, after all, and I’m afraid it might end up being rushed. There’s fast paced and there’s tripping over yourself and falling down the stairs. I really hope this show doesn’t trip over their shoelaces on this one.

So. This is definitely a show worth watching. It’s important that you know it’s rather different from the book, but really. It’s still quite good. That’s the point. Considering the show selection for summer ( I.E. Keeping Up with the Kardashians ), this is the Holy Grail of television shows right now. (Mostly because I’m not up to date with Mad Men. Catching up, though!)

I’m giving this show an 8.5/10. It’s a spectacular show. Not without its flaws, and I was really annoyed at certain changes from the book, but it is still worth watching. It was easy to forget about the annoyances and just enjoy the show. And that’s what shows are for, aren’t they?

So, if you have some spare time, Under the Dome could be the new show to watch during your summer vacation.

~Jian

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Comments
  1. Alas, I have no cable, so I can’t watch it as it goes, but I’m looking forward to it on video afterward. Glad to hear it’s good so far, if not faithful. Under the Dome wasn’t my favorite King book (that spot goes to Duma Key) but I thought it was quite interesting nevertheless. Though I wonder what the show will do with the end revelations…

    • J.A. Romano says:

      Haven’t actually read Duma Key, so I’ll definitely give it a shot. I’ve put Under the Dome on hold since I don’t want it influencing the current horror story I’m writing. (And it actually happens often, if I’m reading a book I really like.)

      I’ll probably finish Under the Dome by the time the series finale of the Tv series comes out so I can review both, and compare the endings.

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