Book Review: 'Stephen King's Battleground: The Limited Edition Commemoration of the Television Adaptation'


"Battleground" is a superb hour of television.  The premiere episode of the Stephen King anthology series Nightmares & Dreamscapes, "Battleground" was heralded as a "minor masterpiece" by the New York Times, and the Washington Post referred to it as "near perfection."  People familiar with King adaptations were likely not too surprised by the accolades; horror anthology series had done very well by King in the past.  "Word Processor of the Gods" and "Sorry, Right Number" both became excellent entries for Tales From the Darkside, "The Moving Finger" was as silly and weird for Monsters as it was on the page, and "Gramma," with a screenplay by Harlan Ellison, remains one of the standout episodes of the 1986 version of The Twilight Zone.

Horror legend Richard Christian Matheson (Created By) brought something new to the party.  Working from King's terrifying short story from Night Shift, Matheson turned in a risky, brilliant script for the short film … featuring zero dialogue.  Director Brian Henson took the reins from there, crafting an intense, nerve-wracking hour of television (TNT, the network on which Nightmares & Dreamscapes was originally broadcast, worked to preserve the cinematic feel of the piece by airing "Battleground" without commercial interruption.)  Of course, even with a terrific script, a wonderful director, and full support by the network, something as odd as a silent horror movie in 2006 could have fallen apart without the right actor.  Enter Academy Award winner William Hurt, fierce and quietly menacing as hired killer Renshaw.

All three contribute to Gauntlet Press's fantastic new limited edition commemorative book, Stephen King's Battleground.  If this sounds like a niche project for a niche audience, well, yes and no.  This type of project will primarily appeal to Stephen King superfans, those readers and aficionados who must own everything associated with Stephen King, his writing, and films based on his work.  But this book deserves a broader appeal, too, not just for horror fans but for anyone interested in film and how movies – especially good ones – are made.

Stephen King's Battleground looks at the short film from all angles: expectedly, King's original short story is here, as compact and unsettling as always, as is Matheson's excellent script.  (Side note: if the lack of dialogue in the film seems unsettling, in the script it's downright bizarre.  For those who have read scripts before, this teleplay feels markedly denser; Matheson makes up for it with short, clipped stage direction that translates to our image of Hurt's Renshaw with ease.) In addition to the screenplay, Matheson also edited the book and provided the appreciative introduction.  But then there are essays and interviews with everyone involved: the producer, the head of TNT programming, the makeup designer, and a short essay by William Hurt – a self-proclaimed Stephen King fan – himself.  These different perspectives offer in-depth insights into the process of turning Stephen King's imagination into film.  (A bonus: a lot of these sections are just fun; these people are as blown away by how terrific "Battleground" is as critics and audiences were.)

One of the most interesting chapters features an essay by Jeff Beal, who won an Emmy for Best Dramatic Score for a Miniseries or Movie for "Battleground."  Beyond the essay, Beal includes a segment of the actual award-winning score, a fascinating detail most books wouldn't have bothered with.  There's also a long section devoted to the film's storyboards, it plays out here like a comic book almost as intense and arresting as the film itself. 

Unfortunately, the 26-copy Lettered Edition of Stephen King's Battleground was sold out prior to publication, but the other editions remain available.  The 125-copy Signed Numbered Edition, signed by Richard Christian Matheson, Jeff Beal, and other contributors to the film, can be had for $125; this edition includes a free DVD bonus of "Battleground."  The regular limited edition, unsigned, is $75.  Both of these editions feature eight full-color pages of never-before-released photos from TNT.

 Stephen King's Battleground is set for publication Spring/Summer 2012 from Gauntlet Press.