The Tommyknockers (1998 Miniseries)

When oddities abound in a small Maine town it is usually either due to an ancient evil resurfacing or aliens visiting. In the case of Stephen King’s “The Tommyknockers” it is the latter. Plot in short: long ago an alien ship crash lands and the telepathic life-forms within die due to a lack of mental nourishment; they feed on peoples physic powers. So they bide their time influencing anyone who comes their way until they are able to infect enough people and revive themselves. Or that is the plan, anyways. A man named Gardner interrupts that process thanks to the metal plate he has in his head which enables him to deflect the alien brainwashing. So in the end Gardner saves the day: he frees the enslaved townsfolk captured by the aliens, captures their ship, and blows it up, sacrificing himself in the process, during a spectacular finish. Yup- the miniseries adaptation has it all.

Aside from the plot and the alien twist near the end, I thought the radical subtext was a clever insertion into a genre-infusing artistic work. For instance: thanks to the alien telepathy the townsfolk are able to build wonderful inventions which would change the face of the world if they were mass-produced; however, the frenzy of craziness attached to these inventions highlights how something (inventions) which was better than the past (pre-capitalist modes of production) can turn sour with free reign attached to it (the alien telepathy representing capitalism itself). Technology being the focal point of the series this subtext, though a bit “out there”, is proven through the gradual pace of the mental infection: just as it took time for capitalism to replace feudalism as the dominant productive mode, so does the destructive alien psychosis. However, when it does take hold it ensnares people into believing a false reality of their culture and mode of living with the only way out being that of violent revolution (as seen in the explosion of the allegorical-ship-protagonist). While I am sure Mr. King didn’t quite write Tommyknockers with the belief of Leftist revolution in mind, the content in-between the lines points to a positively progressive framework for interpretation. To a lesser extent this is seen with the concept of the alien ship itself: one could read the xeno craft and the carnage it leaves in its wake as a retelling of the history between Native Americans and Europeans; especially with the rich allusions to Native folklore and mythos surrounding the woods in which the ship is buried.

Forgetting about subtext, however, the mini-series itself is a fun watch. I didn’t find myself bored when watching (always a positive!) and despite its three hour run time (divided into two parts), I was able to sit through each section engaged and eager to see what happened next. With the narrative split between many of the townsfolk, yet each plot running parallel to the wider plot, I was never bored with any of the sub-plots since each plot was on the screen for a short, albeit fascinating, period of time. The net effect was to capture my interest without bogging me down in unnecessary details. So I would give this adaptation two thumbs up.  With the alternative being reading a gargantuan tome of a book, I think this is the more pleasant alternative (at least if you have other projects to attend to in this lifetime).

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