Needful Things (1993)

DVD Cover (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
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Overall Rating 59%
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Ranked #2,020
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Leland Gaunt comes to Sheriff Alan Pangborn's pleasant little New England town, and opens a store. What this kindly Satan sells is whatever you need, from a surcease from pain to an object which you have always coveted. The Faustian price is, of course, corruption, and soon the poor sheriff's town is wracked by jealousy, spite, and violence. --IMDb
Max von Sydow
Max von Sydow
Ed Harris
Ed Harris
Bonnie Bedelia
Bonnie Bedelia
Amanda Plummer
Amanda Plummer
J.T. Walsh
J.T. Walsh
Review by Chad
Added: August 07, 2011
I recently read Stephen King's Needful Things, and after I read a book, I typically like to watch any movie adaptations that may have been made of it in order to see how they compare. I enjoyed the book in this particular case, though I wouldn't go so far as to say that it was a masterpiece or even one of King's better works, so I sort of expected the same from the movie: something entertaining, maybe even great, but nothing that was going to blow me away. Unfortunately, I didn't even get that much.

The story centers around an older gentleman named Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow) who has just moved into town and opened a new store called - you guessed it - Needful Things. It's sort of like an antiques store, with one major exception: Gaunt is the devil himself, and while browsing the junk in his store, you will eventually find the one thing you desire most. In debt and in trouble for stealing money from the town in order to bet on the horses, sort of like Danforth "Buster" Keeton (J.T. Walsh)? Gaunt has a table-top game that will predict the winners of future races. Love carnival glass figurines, but your favorite one was destroyed by an ex-husband? Same with Nettie Cobb (Amanda Plummer), and Gaunt has an exact replica in his store. Hell, are you suffering from a crippling disease like Polly Chalmers (Bonnie Bedelia) and simply longing for some relief from the pain? Gaunt has a necklace that will fix you up in no time.

The best part about the shop are the prices: here, you can buy a Mickey Mantle rookie card to complete your collection for only ninety-five cents, even though the card typically sells for just shy of a thousand dollars. You see, Gaunt likes to barter in deals and pranks; half of the price for whatever you desire will be an amount of cash that you can easily afford, while the other half will be one prank of Gaunt's design to be played on a person of his choosing. As it turns out, Gaunt is playing the citizens of Castle Rock against one another in a grand scheme to destroy the town, and it's up to Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris) to stop him.

The problem that I had with the movie was simple: even at two hours long, it still feels rushed and is missing the vital elements that made the book work as well as it did. You see, the book was extremely long, clocking in at almost seven-hundred pages, and it needed all of that space to properly tell the story. The movie, on the other hand, attempted to condense this down into just two hours, and this causes it to lose a lot of the finer details that made the book work so well in the first place.

As an example, the book painted Polly Chalmers as a good woman with crippling arthritis, who was suffering so badly that she often thought of suicide to escape the pain. So, when she was offered a way to make the pain go away, we understood why she chose to do bad things in order to get it. In the movie, her arthritis seems more like a minor nuisance due to the fact that there simply isn't enough time to devote to her character when there are dozens of other characters who also have stories to tell. Buster, in the movie, goes from owing a little bit of money to making a few crazy comments to killing his wife and wanting to blow up the entire town. Wait, what happened to cause that? In the book, his transition makes a whole lot more sense.

Now, I'm not knocking the movie simply because it deviated from the book. I understand that things have to be cut and some things may be changed, but the problem is that we simply don't feel for these characters due to how rushed everything is. I would almost say that the movie would have worked better had the filmmakers chose to simply focus on one or two people and their deals with Gaunt, but that would have hurt the overall story in other ways; I mean, how could the decisions of one or two people bring down an entire town? The core problem here was time, and the fact that there wasn't enough of it to properly tell this tale. As a result, it's almost like watching a highlight reel of the book with no real story included.

I didn't totally hate the movie, don't get me wrong. Considering how much the filmmakers had to condense the story in order to get it into theaters, I thought that it turned out alright: the core storyline is still there and it still works rather well, and the acting is great from most everyone involved. Max von Sydow was the perfect man to play Mr. Gaunt and he was excellent in the role, while Ed Harris was pretty damned good as well. J.T. Walsh was appropriately creepy as Buster, Amanda Plummer was great as Nettie, and really, the only casting choice I had an issue with was Bonnie Bedelia as Polly. Maybe it's just because she didn't get enough time (there's that issue again), but I just couldn't get into her character at all, and considering that she was supposed to be one of the central characters of the story, well... that is a problem.

As a five, maybe even six-hour miniseries, Needful Things would be a great adaptation. However, as a two-hour movie, there simply isn't enough time to properly tell this story, and this attempt proves it. It is rushed, there is minimal character development, and the overall product feels more like an extra long trailer than a proper film. Those who have read the book may enjoy seeing the characters come to life, but if you haven't already read it, the movie really doesn't offer much in the way of entertainment. 4/10.
Ginose #1: Ginose - added 03/01/2007, 03:27 PM
Almost as bad as the book. When I walk away from ta movie, the one question I ask was "Was I entertained?"... I wasn't. 0/10
Bill Wolford #2: Bill Wolford - added 08/07/2011, 04:13 PM
I saw this on TV one time with (I believe) about an hours worth of extra footage. Don't ask me to swear on this, but there has to be a mention of it somewhere on the internet. Or at worst, I had a bad trip that day.
Chad #3: Chad - added 08/07/2011, 04:18 PM
Yes sir, it cut out all of the gore and such, but it added in a bunch of extra footage. It sucks though, it was never released other than airing on TNT, so the only way you can see it now is to download it or buy a bootleg. There's some neat stuff in there, but it's not a huge improvement over the retail cut in any way... it's basically what you would find in the deleted scenes section of a DVD.
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