Adapting Stephen King's Bag Of Bones: Pierce Brosnan Solves A Supernatural Mystery In The 2011 Miniseries

Pierce Brosnan watches Sara Tidwell in Bag Of Bones
(Image credit: A&E)

Many filmmakers have found success directing multiple adaptations of Stephen King’s work, but Mick Garris is unquestionably a name that sticks out in the group. In 1992 he helmed the movie Sleepwalkers, the first film based on an original King screenplay, and the two men after that collaborated continually for multiple decades in multiple mediums – making 1994’s The Stand, 1997’s The Shining, 1997’s Quicksilver Highway, 2004’s Riding The Bullet and 2006’s Desperation. It was a long-lasting and fruitful relationship, but the last time that they worked together was in 2011 – which was the year that Bag Of Bones both went into production and aired as a two-part miniseries on A&E.

Had things gone as originally planned, the first adaptation of Stephen King’s 1998 novel would not have had Mick Garris involved at all. As noted by essayist/critic Bev Vincent, the book was originally optioned to be a movie produced by and starring Bruce Willis. It was a promising concept back in 2001, with Willis being just a couple years removed from the success of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, but the project spent enough time in development hell that the rights eventually reverted to King.

It was after this point that Garris became involved with bringing Bag of Bones into live-action, though his initial instinct with the material, like Bruce Willis, was to make the novel into a feature. Despite box office success stories of the era for Stephen King like Frank Darabont’s The Mist and Mikael Håfström’s 1408, Garris and screenwriter Matt Venne couldn’t find any studios to buy into their vision.

Having had a great deal of success with small screen King adaptations, Mick Garris and producing partner Mark Sennet pivoted the project to become a miniseries, and they finally got some traction with it in 2010 (per Stephen King Films FAQ by Scott von Doviak). It spent about six months in the works at ABC before eventually finding a home with A&E, and the two-part series aired on December 11 and December 12, 2011 - only about five months after the project got the green light from the network.

Bag Of Bones was critically acclaimed upon its release and it is held up as featuring some of Stephen King’s greatest prose, but is the Mick Garris miniseries worthy of its source material? That’s the subject of this week’s Adapting Stephen King.

Anika Noni Rose as Sara Tidwell in Bag Of Bones

(Image credit: A&E)

What Bag Of Bones Is About

As I’ve written about before in this column, Stephen King is not one to keep his inspirations a secret – and this is true not only through the afterwards and notes sections he includes in the majority of his books, but explicitly in the prose. In the case of Bag Of Bones, his great touchstone is author Daphne Du Maurier’s classic gothic novel Rebecca, and King recognizes its significance in the creation of the work with a quote from the tome prefacing the story, and several references to it in the first-person text.

Stephen King had a passion to sculpt a gothic mystery that would play with audience’s perceptions, and it was while working out at the gym one day that he started developing a story to house that aesthetic. In an interview that is included at the end of the Bag Of Bones audiobook (which is read in its entirety by the writer), King explains that the book started to come together mentally while lifting weights at his local YMCA. Discussing the lakefront home in Maine he shares with his wife Tabitha King, he said,

I started to think to myself, ‘What if there were a ghost in our house?’ And that led to questions of, ‘Why would there be a ghost? Why would there be an unquiet spirit in this house?’ And the first answer to come to my mind – and all these questions and answers are going back and forth in the length of time it takes to do a set of bench press exercises – and I'm saying to myself ‘Of course, someone who is murdered would likely not rest easily until they had gained vengeance upon their murderer.’

The author, in his own words, “sat there” in his mind for a spell, but Bag Of Bones really started to flow when he imagined Kyra Devore – a three-year-old girl who enters the story strolling alone down the middle of an active street and becomes the subject of a vicious custody battle.

As for the subject of the book’s haunting, that would be Mike Noonan – an author who specializes in the genre he describes as “Lovely Young Woman on Her Own Meets Fascinating Stranger.” After years of happiness and success, his life is struck with unexpected tragedy when his wife, Jo, suffers a brain aneurism and dies while on an errand to the pharmacy. Mike eventually learns that she went to purchase a pregnancy test, and that, unbeknownst to him, she was expecting.

Mike is haunted by the idea that Jo was hiding secrets from him, and for years he can neither move on nor write anymore – as opening his favorite word processing program causes him to have an instant panic attack. For years his career secretly subsists on stashed away trunk novels he keeps in a safe-deposit box, but that well eventually goes dry.

In hopes of trying to reignite his career, Mike decides to move from his home in Derry to his lake house, known as Sara Laughs, in the unincorporated township of TR-90. While he is there, he begins to uncover more secrets about Jo and gets embroiled in a custody battle between a young widow named Mattie Devore and her old, multi-millionaire father-in-law, Max Devore. In their own way, both developments wind up being connected to a terrible crime that happened generations ago, and a curse that has terrorized the lineages of those responsible.

Annabeth Gish as Jo's ghost in Bag Of Bones

(Image credit: A&E)

How Mick Garris’ Bag Of Bones Differs From Stephen King’s Novel

One of the key reasons Mick Garris has made so many Stephen King adaptations is because he trusts the source material. All of the titles I mentioned in the first paragraph, some of which were scripted by King himself, are all faithful to the respective books/short stories on which they are based – while at the same time they all make the necessary adjustments that come with refitting an original work for a new medium. Bag Of Bones doesn’t deviate from the trend, though Matt Venne’s teleplays do feature some standout deviations from the novel.

The broadest change that is implemented by the miniseries is an acceleration of the story’s timeline – a tool previously used in Stephen King adaptations including Jeff Beesley’s Dolan’s Cadillac and Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil. Mike Noonan (Pierce Brosnan) in the miniseries has the impulse to move out to TR-90 seemingly just weeks after Jo (Annabeth Gish) dies, rather than go through nearly a half decade of grief. He does give his agent (Jason Priestley) a trunk novel, but it’s only one instead of four, and his writer’s block isn’t nearly as debilitating as depicted in King’s book (he simply looks at a blank screen and yells a lot).

There are a number of characters from Stephen King’s Bag Of Bones that either see their roles reduced, or they disappear entirely. Romeo Bissonette, Mike’s lawyer, is taken out of the story entirely, as is George Kennedy, the private detective that Romeo hires to help Mattie (Melissa George). John Storrow (Glenn Lefchak) goes from being a principal supporting character/romantic rival for Mike to not having any lines. Even Kyra (Caitlin Carmichael) has a much tinier role in the miniseries than the book, where she is featured as having a psychic connection with Mike that goes beyond the author and the girl having a single shared dream.

On the subject of psychic visions, Mick Garris leans less heavily on them for exposition than King, with the adaptation opting to create an original sequence that sees Mike Noonan can learn the history of Sara Tidwell (Anika Noni Rose) and her curse from a man in a nursing home (Leslie Carlson). Significant details in this story are changed, including the setting being moved from 1901 to 1939. This alteration is made so that it’s a young Max Devore (David Sheftell) who is depicted raping and killing the jazz singer, rather than Max’s great grandfather, Jared Devore.

Also changed is the curse itself. In the book, Sara Tidwell haunts the lineages of the men who violated her by supernaturally convincing fathers to drown their sons and daughters who have a first name starting with the letter “K” (a response to the men killing Sara’s son, Kito, when he witnesses their crime). Sara in the miniseries, who has a daughter (Cienna Prendergast) instead of a son, simplifies things by just having cursed fathers murder their daughters.

Many other smaller alterations can be found between the original book and adaptation, but the last I’ll mention concerns the ending. While the miniseries sees Rogette Whitmore (Deborah Grover), Max Devore’s assistant, kidnap Kyra and try to drown her in the bathtub, the book has a much more climactic scene that takes place out on the dock of Dark Score Lake. Instead of being stabbed in the neck with scissors by Mike in a bathroom floor tussle, she gets pushed by Mattie’s ghost into the lake and is killed when she is impaled by a jagged piece of wood.

Additionally, the Bag of Bones miniseries excises the epilogue from the book that catches up with Mike a few months after the main events of the plot. It’s revealed that he has decided to finally retire from writing, and that he is trying to officially adopt Kyra as his daughter.

Pierce Brosnan screams at computer in Bag Of Bones

(Image credit: A&E)

Is It Worthy Of The King?

As someone who likes but doesn’t love Stephen King’s Bag Of Bones, two primary things strike me as off about Mick Garris’ adaptation. The first is the uninteresting aesthetic that never makes any overt effort to echo the styles of gothic fiction, and the second is that the changes that are made have a detrimental effect on the work.

In the case of the former, Bag of Bones fits in with many of Mick Garris’ Stephen King adaptations likely as a result of resource restrictions (remember how long it took for this project to take meaningful steps forward and you can probably make an accurate guess regarding the adjective that would fit the size of the budget on the miniseries). It was made incredibly quickly once it got the green light, and while it can’t be called slap dash, I will call it flat. As described by the author, Max Devore sounds like a horror show who’s visage is as ugly as his personality, but as portrayed by William Schallert, he’s just… an elderly man in a wheelchair.

Of course, another area of the limited resources facing Bag of Bones in addition to time and money was runtime real estate, which required Mick Garris and Matt Venne to make big choices in the treatment of the source material. The most damaging alteration is the decision to hit the fast forward button on the narrative, and skip over the four years of Mike Noonan’s mourning. Not only does it lower the character’s personal stakes with his writer’s block, but it makes the May/December flirting between Mike and Mattie even ickier than it is in the book.

The mediocrity of Bag Of Bones makes it kind of a shame as the last Mick Garris/Stephen King project, so hopefully they’ll be able to one day make another project together that will allow their collaboration to conclude on a higher note.

Fridge magnets shift in Bag Of Bones

(Image credit: A&E)

How To Watch Mick Garris’ Bag Of Bones

On the spectrum that is “Availability of Stephen King Adaptations,” Bag Of Bones is a title that rests in the middle – in that it’s not hard to find, but also not exactly everywhere. The miniseries has not been given a Blu-ray release just yet, and so physical media collectors have to settle for a DVD. On the digital side of things, you won’t find it available to stream on any subscription services, but you can purchase the individual parts on Google Play, Amazon, and Apple.

Staying in the CinemaBlend TV section for next week, Adapting Stephen King will be back next Wednesday with an in-depth examination of Under The Dome – the CBS series based on the 2009 novel of the same name that ran for three seasons between 2013 and 2015. In the meantime, you can explore all of the previous installments of this column by clicking the banners below.

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Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.