11.22.63 Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Directed by various
Written by Stephen King, developed by Bridget Carpenter
2016, 439 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on August 9th, 2016
James Franco as Jake Epping
Sarah Gadon as Sadie Dunhill
George MacKay as Bill Turcotte
Chris Cooper as Al Templeton
Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald
Lucy Fry as Marina Oswald
Kevin J. O’Connor as Yellow Card Man
Nick Searcy as Deke Simmons
Sadie Dunhill welcomed in the 1960s with a new job in a small Texas town as a high school librarian. Principal Deke Simmons and his secretary Miss Mimi made certain that she felt welcome and they happily introduced her to Jake Amberson, English teacher and eligible bachelor. Jake and Sadie seemed to hit it off immediately and if such a thing as love at first sight exists, they had found it. She met his squirrely brother Bill, who was living in Dallas, and the three of them got along famously. Not everything was perfect however, as both Sadie and Jake carried secrets. She was running away from an abusive husband who refused to grant her a divorce. Jake stood by her side through a difficult time and later confessed his own private matter. He told her his name was Epping not Amberson, that he did not really have a brother – and that he was actually a 21st century time traveler trying to prevent the future assassination of President John F. Kennedy. All things considered, she took the news pretty well.
For the past four and a half decades, audiences have been treated to the bottomless well of entertaining stories from the imagination of author Stephen King. His contributions to the horror community are unparalleled and his legacy extends into other genres, often delivering some of his best work with quiet character dramas. He has tackled many dark topics ranging from supernatural creatures to reflections on the evils that men do. A ridiculous number of his works have been adapted to film, attracting some of Hollywood’s top talent. Not every title is a home run, but his batting average is unsurpassed. It is not surprising that King occasionally borrows from himself, as with the apocalyptic plagues of The Stand (1978) and Cell (2006), or an uncanny automobile found in Christine (1983) or From a Buick 8 (2002). Many characters and locations overlap in several books, and in the case of his classic novel The Shining (1977) he wrote a direct sequel three decades later called Dr. Sleep (2013). More appealing than any of these recent variants however is the novel 11.22.63 (2011), in which he inverts many of the concepts he explored in The Dead Zone (1979). Both novels feature an English teacher given the power to prevent a national tragedy through knowledge of the future. Johnny Smith and Jake Epping are not that different in terms of mild-mannered protagonists on a mission, although one is trying to protect a politician while the other must become an assassin.
11.22.63 takes a high-concept story and fills it with characters and images that welcome readers into a nostalgic place, begging to be brought to the screen. Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights) has done a stellar job developing this novel into a television miniseries. The success of 11.22.63 is largely due to the decision to spread the content across eight hour-long episodes, allowing the story arc to form at a pace that is neither rushed nor overextended. The luxury of being able to focus on the finer points of the plot while adjusting some content for dramatic purpose makes this one of the best adaptations of King’s work in recent memory. Working closely with co-executive producers J.J. Abrams (Super8) and Stephen King himself, Carpenter tackles the problems of having much of the action play out as a series of interior monologues without giving into the lazy solution of expository narration. Aside from providing the main character an assistant to bounce ideas off, the majority of the tale remains faithful to the source. Legendary production designer Carol Spier (Dead Ringers) creates a world that is immediately authentic and inviting by including countless little details that add to the reality of the environment. Cinematographer Adam Suschitzky (Little Ashes) brings everything to life with his inspired lighting design and camerawork.
James Franco (Freaks & Geeks) stars as Jake Epping, the Everyman pushed into a strange new world on a noble quest. Franco is earnest and charming in the role of reluctant hero as he tries to nurture a loving relationship while keeping his long-term goal on target. Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis) is delightful as Sadie, and brings a deep sincerity to the character that is crucial if she is to become the best thing in Jake’s life, past or present. Franco and Gadon are perfect together and fun to watch as they explore new love on the dance floor or in the halls at school. The most significantly beefed up role for the series is Bill Turcotte, who becomes an aide to Jake while surveilling Oswald, and George MacKay (Captain Fantastic) is really strong as the eager to please yet quick-tempered Bill. The always welcome Chris Cooper (Breach) plays diner owner Al Templeton, the man that sends Jake on his journey. Cooper is one of those actors able to deliver a lot of exposition without it sounding forced, as though he is simply having a conversation. Rounding out the principal cast is Daniel Webber (Deceit) as Lee Harvey Oswald, and the actor does a fine job keeping you guessing whether the notorious man has murder in mind.
Time travel has long been a popular notion and although it has its detractors, there are countless films that call upon the concept to entertain the masses. The Star Trek franchise uses it as a crutch when the writers are painted into a corner, while The Terminator series uses it as a springboard. There are more noble reasons to employ the gimmick; love is a common one, as in films like Back to the Future and Somewhere in Time. Many discussions on the subject inevitably lead to the fork in the road of either going back to kill Adolf Hitler or saving JFK. By setting the time portal in 11.22.63 to 1960, King brilliantly allows the time for Jake to become acclimated to his surroundings and it is nice to see him grow as a character over the three-year wait for his decisive moment. We are given the opportunity to become familiar with his surroundings and root for him to succeed, but he quickly discovers the past doesn’t want to be changed and will actively resist his efforts. Genre fans will be happy to see Kevin J. O’Connor (Lord of Illusions) as the Yellow Card Man, a prophet of doom familiar with Jake’s situation. Stephen King manages to keep his material grounded in reality no matter how fantastic and when the right creative team gets involved in adapting it for the screen, magic can happen as it does in 11.22.63.
Video and Audio:
The project was shot digitally in a standard 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks every bit as beautiful as one should expect. There are strong shifts in the tone and color palette between time periods with a warmth bestowed upon the past as nostalgia seems to do. Colors and black levels are solid and there are no issues of compression to be found.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is strong and makes nice use of the rear channels whenever something ominous happens. This is not to say they are inactive the rest of the time--quite the contrary, as there is a very nice mix that works the surround channels in a subtle, unobtrusive way.
The disc includes multiple subtitle options including English, French and Spanish for anyone in need.
Key members of the cast and crew, including King, Abrams, Carpenter and Franco discuss bringing the book to life in the criminally short featurette When the Future Pushes Back (15 minutes). There is a lot to say and what we do get is very well done, but would benefit from a greatly extended running time.