HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:72
Steven King is the “King” of horror, or at least once was, but the man has also made a name for himself with some less creepy tales. “11.22.63” was one such book of his that I will forever love. Only written about 5 years ago or so, it takes a look at the American dream and the idea that the past has all of the answers for our present and future. Not to mention dispelling the idea that just because something happened badly in the past doesn’t mean that the world would be any better off if that event had been altered. Made directly for Hulu, in another long string of exclusive digital productions, the book was adapted through producer/writer Bridget Carpenter and J.J. Abrams with an incredible amount of creative freedom that is usually unprecedented. According to Bridget Carpenter the show was originally expected to be a 4 hour miniseries, but as the production went on it expanded to 6, and then finally around 8 hours, with Hulu responding “Whatever it takes”.
Jake Epping (James Franco) is a high school English teacher who has just gotten divorced and has to live with a classroom full of students who really don’t give a hoot about learning anything at all. After getting his divorce papers from his Ex, Jake is confronted with his friend Al (Chris Cooper), only to realize that Al has suddenly contracted late stage cancer in the last few minutes. It turns out that Al has been holding on to a secret all these years. In the back of his Diner is a closet that acts as a time portal back to October 21st, 1960, just a few short years before the infamous assassination of Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald (played by Daniel Webber). No matter what amount of time is spent back in the past, whenever Al returns only 2 minutes have passed. It seems that Al has been spending much of his life back in the past, trying desperately to change the assassination attempt only to fail each time. This last trip back he contracted the cancer (the past doesn’t like you altering it and kind of “pushes” back so to speak), and now there is no time left to do another trip. Roping in Jake to finish his job, Al gives him the tools he needs to survive and all of the Intel that he has garnered by going back and forth multiple times.
For some crazy reason, Jake assumes the mantel of Al’s role in history and goes back in time to 1960. Setting up shop near where Lee Harvey Oswald will come, Jake enlists the help of a young man named Bill (George MacKay) to help him bug Lee Harvey Oswald’s apartment and gain Intel on if the young man is acting alone, or whether he is being controlled by the CIA or some other shadowy organization. While there, Jake makes a few mistakes, but also does a few things right. One of those is a relationship he forms with a fellow teacher named Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon), a beautiful blonde who becomes the center of his world while he and Bill come closer and closer to finding the truth about Lee and his plot to kill Kennedy.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77033[/img]As with all book to screen adaptations there is some definite chunks of the book that didn’t make it into the miniseries, but overall the theme and fantastical elements of the story (and some quite non-fantastical bits as well) are well preserved. Some may not like it for starring James Franco, who can be somewhat polarizing in his roles, but frankly I really enjoyed his role here. He’s sincere and does justice to the character of Jake, in my opinion. He has that ability to play a nerdy school teacher when he wants to, and since that is actually the role he needed to play it worked out quite well for him. Sarah Gadon was finally allowed to shine after painful role she had in “Dracula Untold” a few years back. Adorable and with a thick Texas accent she’s one of the most endearing parts of the series.
The flaws that come out are really amplified by the shortened time of an 8 hour miniseries when you have a massive book to build things up. The first and last episodes play out rather close to the book and a tight and thrilling ride for sure. The middle is where things lose a little bit of steam, and that’s partially an understandable thing. The book had large portions devoted to Jake and Sadie and just losing himself into the role of being a teacher in 1960’s Texas, and that was a fantastic portion of the book. It allowed for the reader to see just how much Jake loved BEING there, instead of keeping the film a thriller the entire time. However the shortened runtime of a miniseries made the middles episodes feel a bit “squished” as events are crammed together in a few hours when the book had pages and pages to devote to those instances, making Bill’s death and even the inclusion of Sadie’s ex, Clatyon, seems a bit awkward and rushed. However, the series still manages to grasp and pull at you, asking just the right questions, and despite the occasional slow episode” kept me hooked from beginning to the rather sweet and gratifying ending.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77041[/img]Shot specifically for Hulu, “11.22.63” is given a very rare aspect ratio. One that is almost never used in film and I don’t believe EVER has been used for TV. That is the 2.00:1 ratio that seems to be half way in between 1.78:1 of the TV world and the 2.40:1 of the scope world. I’m not sure why the ratio was chosen, but the encode is well done, with nicely saturated color levels and plenty of fine detail. The overall grading is a bit yellowish and green at times, trying to replicate the look of the 60s, but overall primary saturation levels are exquisite. There are some sallow and pasty skin tones at times due to the green filter, and leaves a sort of chalky look on faces, but that is counterbalanced by moments of brilliant color and ruddy textures that seem to work quite nicely with the dusty look of some of the more dimly lit scenes. Shadow detail is quite good for the most part, but there is more than a little crush, which limits the amount of detail that the darker scenes can really replicate all the time. There’s a few moments of banding here and there, but surprisingly little for a show that has almost 4 hours of content per disc.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77049[/img]The audio track for 11.22.63 is a nice experience and one that should have been a little bit better had it not been for an annoying flaw that I’ll go into a little bit later. Dialog is first and foremost the focal point of the track, as it is very much a drama/thriller mix, but there is more than enough activity in the surround channels to create a nicely immersive 5.1 experience. When Jake goes up against the abusive father earlier in the show the gunshots carry appropriate weight and the whirl of activity lights up the soundstage, but when it’s just Bill and he working together on surveillance equipment the front heavy moments returns. LFE is tight and focused, and can come out to play when needed, but also manages to fade into the background during the quieter moments. The flaw that I ran into was a coming and going static sound that focus on dialog when it popped up. At first I thought it was something wrong with my speakers but I was able to replicate the problem on 3 different TVs with 3 different sound systems. The only common factor was that the players were all Sony based, as it didn’t happen on my 4th player (a Panasonic) meaning there is probably some firmware issue that is catching something on the disc, so you very well may not even notice it.
• When the Future Fights Back featurette
“11.22.63” is a good (although rarely great) adaptation of one of Stephen King’s more laid back and “sane” novels. Franco is the best part of the oddly paced miniseries and he does an admirable job at playing the highly conflicted Jake. While the show is definitely not perfect, and suffers a bit in the middle (something the book never had a problem with due to the ability to go into greater detail), but it is never boring and kept me watching for nearly 9 hours straight. Audio and video are good, but the extras are sadly VERY anemic on this disc. Still, definitely worth a good watch for those who like a good thriller with elements of science fiction thrown in.
Starring: James Franco, Sarah Gadon, George MacKay
Directed by: Kevin MacDonald
Written by: Bridget Carpenter
Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Portuguese DD 2.0
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 439 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 9th 2016
Buy 11.22.63 On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Recommended for a Watch
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