TNT’s new Stephen King anthology series, NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES, had me worried. Nothing has been more damaging to the legacy of Stephen King than Hollywood. To be fair, he’s had a couple movies nominated for Oscars (not the least of of which is THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION). But seven times out of ten the movies took perfectly good books and destroyed them. Essentially, other than SHAWSHANK, I’d say only CARRIE, THE SHINING, STAND BY ME, and THE DEAD ZONE came anywhere close to the quality of the original books. So when a basic cable channel announces it’s producing a series of adaptation of King short stories, there is little reason for optimism. However, my frown was turned upside down by the first of the series, BATTLEGROUND. I have one word: wow. As for the rest of the series…well…more to come as new episodes are aired.
BATTLEGROUND is an amazing feat of entertainment. One hour, without commercial interruption, and with zero dialogue. That’s right, not one word is spoken. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are a few snippets of newscasters on TV, although for the most part we see the headlines, not hear them. And we also get to see a couple e-mail exchanges. Just a few lines here and there is all it takes for us to understand what is happening. It helps if you’re going to cast a show with no dialogue and essentially one actor to have a top-notch performer and the show scored a coup getting William Hurt. Hurt is fantastic as a cold-hearted hit man. In the opening, he pulls off a hit against an elderly toymaker. Why? We never know.
He wings his way home to his San Fran hi-tech apartment, where he receives a package. Upon opening the package, he finds a toy kit of mini-army soldiers. Yes, you can see where this is going – the soldiers open fire upon Hurt (clearly taking revenge on behalf of their dead maker). Don’t worry, this isn’t TOY SOLDIERS, this is actually a very compelling battle of wills between HURT and the soldiers. You will be amazed at the effects and in particular by how vicious Hurt gets stung by their little guns and missiles.
After a few minutes, I was certain I would tune out and get bored by this battle, but I never did. In fact, it only got better. I will try not to give away any of the details, but the final showdown is terrific and contains a nice little surprise which seals the deal on this excellent show. William Hurt is fantastic and you always believe he’s actually battling these toys every minute. He never plays this for camp, winks at the camera, or invests anything but his all into it.
As I hinted in the opening paragraph, BATTLEGROUND set the bar high for the NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES series. And without giving too much away, the following episodes vary wildly in quality. But with a true acting master like William Hurt, terrific effects, music, and an entertaining “storyline”, BATTLEGROUND is a nice surprise.
RATING: *** and a half (out of four)