A lyrical but unsatisfying adaptation of Ray Bradbury‘s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes is interesting more for the possibilities that were squandered than for the end results. Bradbury adapted the script himself, meaning that the novel’s language is kept intact. Unfortunately, Jack Clayton’s pedestrian direction, coupled with corporate meddling from Disney, undermine any artistry found in the author’s prose.
The opening of the film is a warmly evocative look at a small Midwestern town before World War II, seen through gauzy eyes of an adult remembering his childhood. However, as the players start to act out their parts, a weakness appears from the fidelity of the film to its source material. The characters are broadly drawn and their dialogue has a stagey quality that seams suited to a Thorton Wilder play than to the screen.
Of course, the story is not mean to be realistic but an allegory for dangers of actually getting every thing that you want. That temptation appears in the form of Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival, which appears in Green Hill, Illinois, aboard a ghostly train the weekend before Halloween (All nostalgic spook tales seem to take place in late October). This draws the inevitable interest of lifelong friends William Holloway and Jim Nightshade (Vidal Peterson and Shaun Carson) Will is timid and cautious while Jim is brash and impulsive and both are their fathers’ sons. Charles Holloway (Jason Robards) finds his natural tentativeness is being exacerbated by advancing age, ill-health and encroaching mortality.
After the carnival arrives, various townspeople find themselves caught, almost literally, in its web, enslaved by their fondest wishes coming true. Mr. Crosetti (Richard Davalos), who dreams of exotic, inaccessible women, is snared by a tent full of belly dancers. Ed, the bartender (James Stacy), a double-amputee veteran of World War I, succumbs to dreams of a restored leg and arm and lost days of athletic glory. Mrs. Foley (Mary Grace Canfield), Will and Jim’s spinster teacher, reclaims her youth and beauty but loses her sight.
When the two boys stumble on the carnival’s secret, its proprietor, Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), begins scouring the town for them and it falls to Charles to protect them.
As indicated earlier, the film’s biggest problem is that the cinematography lacks the lyricism of Bradbury’s prose and moodiness necessary to convey any sense of dread and foreboding. Another stumbling block is the fact that Jonathan Pryce lacks the requisite menace needed to bring off the film’s demonic villain. The end of the film also deviates sharply from the novel and seem to lack the same narrative cohesion. If you’re looking for a satisfying Halloween entertainment from Mr. Bradbury this year, I suggest cracking open the novel and leaving this movie alone.