izhilzha (izhilzha) wrote,

Smith, Johnny: Musings on the Permutations of a Fictional Character

It started with the TV show. I've never been terribly interested in The Dead Zone, but started watching an episode every now and then during this third season.

I found myself reacting to the show in an odd way. I liked the plots, the high emotion, even the writing of the episodes. The character interactions were intriguing--particularly between Sara and Johnny, and between Sara and Walt.

Yet I was not compelled to return the next week and watch again. And it seemed to me that I simply did not like the main character. There was something that didn’t sit right about Johnny Smith. I decided to find out what that could be.

So, the next time I found myself in a used bookstore, I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s original novel. Essentially, I wanted to see if it would be easier to pinpoint what I didn’t like about Johnny in the book than in the show.

Lo and behold, I fell completely in love with Book Johnny. By the end of the story I was weeping. [Side note: I am convinced that Stephen King’s real strength, and the secret to his popularity, is that he gives us characters we can identify with, people we will never forget, even after we close the cover and return to our own world].

Then I rented the movie, and while I hated what they left out, there were some great moments, and I still loved Film Johnny. He was pretty much Book Johnny, just on screen.

And I still couldn’t figure out what was bothering me about TV Johnny. After a discussion with a likeminded friend, we theorized that Anthony Michael Hall plays Johnny broody rather than tormented/driven, and that might be part of it. I decided I was going to watch the last couple episodes of the season in an attempt to validate this theory.

Before I get to that, here’s my list of what was changed from the book to the film:

--There is very little character setup for either Sara or Johnny. No Halloween mask. None of the gentle subtlety of their relationship, at least not prior to the accident.
--Sarah’s a brunette.
--Sara and Johnny are engaged, rather than her being his “girl”.
--Johnny was allowed to keep his dry, occasional sense of humor, though.
--The moment at the fair is a premonition on the roller coaster, rather than the stunningly creepy Wheel-of-Fortune scene from the book. I’d been looking forward to that scene, it’s very cinematic. *sigh*
--They kept the scarring and limp as part of the character, but avoided the more disfiguring items like the bloodshot eye.
--5-yr coma becomes 4.
--Oh, and while the movie obviously takes place over more than one year post-coma, almost everything is set in the winter. Why?
--Johnny’s parents are part of the story, but while his mother is allowed her death scene, she doesn’t tell Johnny to “listen to the still small voice,” to “do your duty, Johnny.” It would have been such a simple insertion….
--No room for the comparison of Greg Stillson to the man-eating tiger that should be killed at any cost. Or for the “filter” across the vision he gets from Stillson, the child’s jumpsuit.
--Martin Sheen made an excellent Stillson, but they shortchanged him by not giving him the whole nutty campaign speech, “send pollution to outer space” and all.
--The timeline was altered so that Johnny already knew he might not have long to live BEFORE he had the vision about Stillson (argh). And we didn’t get to see him preparing for the assassination, much.
--I did like the change that Walt and Sara were part of Stillson’s campaign, and the moment at Johnny’s death when Sara is there with him.
--Winner of the Award for Most Ridiculous Change: In the novel, the term “dead zone” refers to the part of Johnny’s brain that was damaged in the accident, leaving him without a solid grasp of locations, such as addresses. In the movie that was glossed over, and the term redefined as something that Johnny can’t quite grasp through a vision. Hmph. We viewers aren’t stupid; that was a totally unnecessary alteration.

What changed from the movie to the TV show:

--Not only were Sara and Johnny engaged, but she was unknowingly pregnant. Her son (JJ, not Denny) is Johnny’s son but has been raised by Walt.
--Sara is, again, brunette (in fact, Nicole DeBoer looks startlingly like Brooke Adams, who had the role in the film).
--Coma was 6 years long.
--Walt Hazlet has lost his law practice and last name; now we have Sheriff Walt Bannermann, essentially a mix of two characters from the book/film.
--And, of course, the addition of some non-book characters like Bruce (friend of Johnny’s), and Rev. Wilkes.
--I haven’t seen a lot of the early episodes. A friend told me that Johnny does have his past as a teacher, and tried tutoring for a while, but for some reason at this point in the show has given that up.
--Not sure about this, but I think they may have gone with the movie explanation for “the dead zone.”
--Again, not sure about the earlier seasons, but at this point Johnny seems to have lost his sense of humor. I didn’t realize he had one (no, seriously) until I read the book.

I think it is this last change that annoys me the most. It also makes the most sense as my current explanation for why I don’t care as much for TV Johnny as I do for Book Johnny. The creators gave his sense of humor to Bruce, in order to have a foil for brooding, distraught Johnny. Which does make for good TV... but also really diminishes Johnny’s own complexity.

Also, now that I've read the book, it’s possible that I miss the teaching side of him alot. It also added to his complexity.

Not to mention I just realized that my only other recent “literary boyfriend” is Remus Lupin—who is also a teacher.


I'll have to keep that in mind for Real Life. :)
Tags: characters, dead zone, essay, fandom, meta, writing

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