I knew better. I did. James Franco and J.J. Abrams together? Hulu sponsoring and airing? Can’t end well. It just can’t.
But I couldn’t help myself. I sat through 11.22.63, the miniseries version of one of my favorite books of all time, 11/22/63. My problems started with that titling change; I know it’s a petty thing, but why did it need to be changed? Just a little style difference, but still.
Then it’s time for Harry’s essay, which in the book is full of detail, and the setup and seeing Jake (our hero’s) reactions to it form the first in a long series of emotional sledgehammers that start on page 1 and don’t quit until the last line. In the film, the essay is severely truncated (or seems to be, though later in the film Jake conveniently remembers more of it, which left me twitching.) All I was left with was a vague distaste for the actor playing Harry and wondering why we wasted screen time on certain other characters who will have no purpose, don’t serve to further Jake’s personal narrative, and basically are just there to be annoying.
Then we get to meet Al, and I know I’m in for a rough time. Because once he explains the basics of the time-travelling “rabbit hole,” he gives a warning to Jake before sending him on his real mission to save Kennedy. This was the biggest sacriledge done in the whole film, I think, and the fact that it comes so early and damages one of the key phrases from the book was just making it worse.
“The past is obdurate,” Al warns Jake in the book. Throughout the story, Jake comes to dwell on that phrase (adding another, as well: “The past harmonizes.”) It’s short. It’s beautiful. It conveys the image I love.
The movie replaces that with this: “If you fuck with the past, the past fucks with you.” Ugh. It’s not the profanity. It’s taking an eloquent, almost lovely expression, and replacing it with an idiot hick statement. Thankfully, unlike the line it replaced, it doesn’t come back for encores.
Speaking of the past fucking with you, for much of the book those moments are excellent. They’re well set-up. They’re believable. They work well as warnings, as attempts to deter Jake from his mission without straining the credulity of the past or the overall narrative. These moments get replaced with random gory deaths, a character called the Yellow Card Man occasionally mucking with things, and ghosts. Now, to be fair, the visual medium needs a little more than Jake’s internal narrative to get the point across – especially since the film is, thankfully, lacking in narration – but the inconsistent and frequently nonsensical nature of those moments just breaks it. It looked like Abrams was trying to make a new Poltergeist movie half the time.
Bill Turcotte’s increased role kept alternating between idiotic and brilliant; every time you were just about sick of him, he seemed like he was going to do something either interesting and different, or serve a plot purpose. Then he’d do neither, and let you down again. The seeming implication that he might have been the second gunman was fascinating, and could have been used well, but is then just wasted, like so many other moments in the film.
Then there was the Yellow Card Man himself. Spoiler warning. In the book, the YCM is, essentially, a time guardian. He’s supposed to watch over the rabbit hole and keep the timeline functioning properly. In the book, the YCM can’t hack it and ends up committing suicide; later on he is replaced by the Green Card Man. Now, for the movie, they only had the one, which is fine. I get needing to compress it a bit. But near the end, the movie’s YCM basically claims he’s a fellow time traveller, stuck in a loop trying to change things to save his daughter. That doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons; due to the rules of the rabbit hole, if he’s hopping back in over and over again, that should be resetting things which would be interfering with Jake’s mission. At least, I’d think so. And how he gets magical time travel, teleportation and manifestation powers is left unexplained. And then there’s the card itself, which has an Oroboros symbol on it, which is interesting and cool if he’s a time cop, and interesting and cool if they had gone with making him the physical agent of the obdurate past, which on occasion it seemed as though they were leaning towards. But if he’s just a crazy guy stuck in a time loop, that’s a decidedly bizarre detail that seems just as nonsensical as everything else Abrams seems to do.
Harry’s exposition dump near the end of the movie also felt heavy handed and stupid; to be fair, the same scene is also questionable in the book, but at least it can be explained that Jake isn’t giving us a blow by blow of it, but speed rapping the info Harry gave him. In the film, where we listen to him ramble for several minutes while getting drunker and drunker, it seems much more idiotic.
And while watching all this, I suddenly realized that 11/22/63, both the film and the book, suffer from a giant “why didn’t the eagles fly them to Mordor?” plot hole. And now I can’t get it out of my head. According to the “rules” of the rabbit hole, each trip through resets everything to the “proper” timeline. Which made me wonder why Al and Jake go through all this. Because there’s a simpler way. Go through rabbit hole. Go murder Oswald. Come home. If it’s fucked, or Kennedy is still murdered in Dallas? Okay, time for the five year plan. If it’s fixed? Mystery solved. If he is guilty, they obviously have no compunction with killing him; that’s the plan. If he’s not? No big. He’ll be back for the next reset. Apologize to him then, if you want.
Anyway. 11.22.63 is definitely not on my recommend list. And now it even hurts to look at the book. Curse you, Abrams. When will you stop pooping over everything I love? *Cries*