Langoliers (1995)


“The Later it Gets, the Later it Gets.”

Main Cast: David Morse, Mark Linsday Chapman

Director: Tom Holland

There are two books I credit with my love of reading, Stephen King’s The Dark Half and Four Past Midnight, a novella collection that includes the basis for this movie, “The Langoliers.” I read these in late 1990, early 1991, and then four years later was thrilled to learn they were making a movie based on this incredibly interesting and strange story. I was even happy to know it was going to be a TV miniseries, because then I could see it without having to pay theater ticket prices which, back in 1995 I could not afford very often.

And then the movie came out, and I recorded it of course. And I never watched The Langoliers again until it was time to do so for this review. Holy wow. Even accounting for the fact it was made 24 years ago, I still found myself cringing at how bad it was.

The script was clunky, the acting was over the top, and the effects … there’s a reason the CGI monsters in this movie are almost always on those “top 10 worst special effects” lists on YouTube. And this was two years after Jurassic Park, the movie that proved CGI wasn’t just a viable option but the way of the future. If Spielberg had seen this movie and these CGI monsters when deciding what kind of effects to use in the dinosaur movie, I believe he would have immediately called the best physical effects team he knew.

But I digress.

The Langoliers is a science fiction story from Stephen King about a group of people who wake up on a redeye flight from LA to Boston and discover that everyone else, except these ten people, have vanished.

One of the surviving passengers, Brian Engle, happens to be a pilot who was on his way to Boston after learning of the death of his ex-wife. Brian is able to land the plane in Bangor, not Boston, which infuriates another passenger , Craig Toomey (played so far over the top he was in orbit, by Bronson Pinchot), who insists he has a meeting in Boston at 9:30.

Nick Hopewell, secret British agent who was going to Boston on a job, calms Toomey down by threatening to break his nose. Meanwhile the rest of the characters, including Dean Stockwell playing sci-fi writer Bob Jenkins, Christopher Collett as nerdy Albert, Kate Maberly as blind psychic girl Dinah, Patricia Wettig as Laurel, the schoolteacher who was heading to Boston to meet a guy she met in a personal ad–obviously the internet had not been in wide use yet–and now de facto guardian of Dina, and Kimber Riddle as Bethany, teen junkie on her way to rehab. There’s also Frankie Faison as Don Gaffney, and Baxter Harris as Rudy Warwick, but these two barely had any screen time, let alone arcs worth mentioning.

So anyway, once they get to the airport in Bangor, Brian lands the plane and the group disembarks and goes into the terminal to discover it wasn’t just on the plane, there are no people on the ground, either. And thanks to Bob’s experience in science fiction, they soon come to suspect the world isn’t DEAD, but that they’ve somehow become detached from it, stuck in a past that’s got no life left to give. The food is bland, matches won’t spark, and even the air, although moving, doesn’t carry a scent. This world is just dead.

They come up with a plan to backtrack and try to slip back through whatever crack in the time stream brought them here, but time, even dead time, is working against them. Not only do they have to deal with Craig Toomey, who is quickly losing what little sanity he was holding onto on the plane, and is now descending into a murderous rage, but the blind girl, Dinah, hears something outside. Something like cereal snap crackling and popping in milk. And whatever it is, it’s getting closer, and Dinah insists they have to get out of here.

When I first read this story, I had no idea what it was about, where it was going, or how it would turn out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this luxury when I saw the movie. And a story like this isn’t one that has a lot of replayability because once the mystery is solved, the magic is gone from the story. So from the very beginning, the odds were stacked against me liking The Langoliers even half as much as the book.

But at least there was a chance. If it had just had a better script. Better actors. Better effects. And for the love of God NO CGI.

At the time, I was pleased that David Morse was playing the main character. I have yet to see him in anything I didn’t like him in. But he’s just given such terrible dreck to play against in this thing, what chance did he have of lifting the production to anything resembling good? None.

Pinchot is playing Toomey like he just finished the Kubrick version of The Shining, but all he’s ever seen of it is the last 20 minutes or so. But I can’t lay all of that on the acting, he wasn’t given much worthwhile to work with. King has a habit of creating some pretty wretchedly awful villains in his novels, the kind of guy you want to shoot in the head just because they’re such a cancer on the lives of those around them. I’m thinking people like Big Jim Renny from Under the Dome, the kind of guy who never met a rational thought he agreed with, and Craig Toomey falls directly into that category, which just makes him almost unwatchable.

So I can’t completely blame Pinchot for how he played Toomey. But at the end of the day, he took part in his performance and signed off on it.

Mark Lindsey Chapman and Patricia Wettig give their all to some boring characters, but it was Dean Stockwell who really got my goat in this travesty of a movie. Having just come off a successful run on Quantum Leap, which I loved him on, I almost couldn’t believe this was the same guy. Granted, he wasn’t exactly re-enacting Shakespeare on “Leap”, but surely he wasn’t as over the top as he was in The Langoliers. It’s almost like he was given one director’s note: “Play it like you’re the smartest dumb person in the room.”

God, I disliked this movie. And I hate that I dislike it because at its heart I still think it’s a very imaginative and interesting STORY. But seeing it on the screen, brought to very dull 1995 TV movie life … I think of all the Marvel movies I could have watched in the same time and still had a half hour to kill. What a waste of a Christmas Eve night.

What makes it worse is, this is from Tom Holland, the writer of three of my FAVORITE movies from the 1980s, The Beast Within, Cloak and Dagger, and Fright Night. And I know Tom Holland knows how to direct a movie, he directed Fright Night and Child’s Play.

So what the hell went wrong with The Langoliers?

TV movie format. TERRIBLE CGI effects. Cringe-inducing acting. A clunky script. Basically Holland and everyone else involved in making this movie were dead in the water from the moment they got started. Maybe someone with more talent and money will come along and turn the legacy of this one around like they did with IT. God willing.

King on Film
1976-1992 (Carrie to Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice)
The Dark Half (1993)
The Tommyknockers (1993)
Needful Things (1993)
The Stand (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
The Mangler (1995)
Dolores Claiborne (1995)

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