There are already a dozen reviews on the internet of CBS’s summer mini-series, “Under the Dome.” The event is an adaptation of Stephen King’s 2009 novel of the same name. The premise of both is the same: one day, inexplicably, a force-field descends around the small town of Chester’s Mill, completely cutting it off from the world outside. There’s no getting through the barrier — only the tiniest trickle of air permeates (in the show’s version, there is no sound, either).
The first episode covers roughly the first 100 pages of the 1000 page novel — fairly predictable pacing for a mini-series meant to last 13 episodes. For the most part, it hews closely to Stephen King’s book — the characters are mostly the same, though several characters are combined into one. While doing so makes it more palatable for the casual viewer, it has a cost as well: the sense of creation of an entire small town.
Similarly, the show veers away from the utter devastation wrecked by the descent of the forcefield. Whereas in the novel King replays and revisits the Dome from various character’s perspectives, in the show we are given only two gruesome scenes — undoubtedly due to the cost of production. A few characters don’t die as quickly in the show as in the book — fair enough, to make it easier for the casual viewer to attach faces to names. Three main characters from the novel, however, are either non-existant or banished to outside the Dome. Another plot (and likely thematic) difference is that in the show version, sound does not travel through the barrier, either.
The real comparison, however, is tonal. Stephen King has always been one of the most conversational of writers. His character’s dialogue always rings true — characters may speak inappropriately, they may say things that don’t matter at all, they make jokes when they should and shouldn’t, and they cut one another off. One of Stephen King’s greatest strengths is to write about people that we know: everday neighbors, friends, and families. At the beginning of his novel, Chester’s Mill is replete with small town politics, and peopled principally by people with small-town dreams. Everybody knows everybody, and by the hundredth page there is a clear sense of the community within Chester’s Mill. And then King takes those characters and unravels them slowly. Some, not just in this story, but in all of his stories, emerge as more heroic than before. They redeem earlier character flaws and demonstrate greatest. Others sink into their flawed natures, twisted into themselves and eventually becoming as much (or more) the monster as that at the center of the book.
The show, by contrast, does not establish that early warmth. It’s in such a hurry to get viewers invested in the plot that it fails to establish the connections between character. Only three relationships even appear in the pilot: by contrast, we have the descent of the Dome, the cut-off of communication, mysteriously stockpiled propane, a dead body, and a kidnapped girl by the end of it. Where King’s book meanders, more interested in the evolution of each individual character than the final solving of a mystery, the show tries, almost too hard, to create myriad mysteries to keep the viewer entertained.
It was a relatively engaging pilot episode — knowing the strength of the source material, I’ll tune in for the next. And I would encourage anyone watching the show to pick up the novel — there are already enough differences to make it an enjoyable read, and word on the street has it that the show will have an entirely different conclusion than the novel.