Seven episodes into the Steven Spielberg-produced series based on the Stephen King novel, I am still on the fence about Under the Dome, a series about the sleepy town of Chester’s Mill, which one day was cut off from the rest of the world by the giant dome-shaped force field whose origins remain a mystery from the town’s residents and the government. Outside the dome, world leaders try to figure out what caused the phenomenon while inside, residents struggle to cope with panic about the imminent shortage of resources. All this while, town selectman Big Jim Rennie tries to keep things under control, while holding on to a secret which threatens not only his reputation but the welfare of the entire town. I must say, while there were some exciting episodes, there were also some clunkers. And this leads to a lopsided feeling of appreciation on my part as an audience.
I’m currently reading the book and straight off the bat, the series is almost completely different from the literature. From the characters to the story progression, the book is darker and speaks about the evils of man, while the series has more of an apocalyptic vibe with a little bit of drama thrown in. I think the biggest problem with the series is that the characters seemed to be watered down versions of their literary counterparts.
For example, the Jim Rennie in the series is a milder version of book’s second selectman who is manipulative and will stop at nothing for ambition. The TV version is more human, seeming to be pushed into evil acts because he wanted to save his town. Barbie , on the other hand, seemed more hard core and competent in the book than in the series. There are actually times I really think his TV self acts like a jerk– a cute one but a jerk nonetheless. This is a shame because I think that Mike Vogel is one of the better actors in the show. Still, I think showrunners are setting up for a big reveal for his character so I’m holding out hope for Barbie.
I also question the casting of Rachelle Lefevre, who plays Barbie’s love interest and town journalist Julia Shumway. Lefevre’s portrayal of a former reporter from a big city can be described as shallow and mediocre at best. She also lacks a certain spark that would draw people to her. And promoting Deputy Linda (Natalie Martinez) into a leading role? Don’t even get me started. Natalie Martinez does not have any edge to pull off the character but she seemed really lame and weak as the town’s remaining law enforcer. With her in charge, it comes as no surprise that the town is in chaos.
On the other hand, I have developed a soft spot for Alexander Koch who plays Big Jim’s psychotic son Junior, whose portrayal of a vulnerable, yet obsessive lover to Britt Robertson’s (Secret Circle) is so effective that there are times that I just want to give him a big hug in spite of his violent and irrational tendencies. I think that the development of this character is really one of the series’ major successes because they were able to connect him with the audience despite him being a villain in the piece. The teen cast members also contribute to the series’s plus column. Colin Ford (Supernatural) as Scarecrow Joe and Mackenzie Lintz as his Norrie Calvert who share an uncanny connection with the dome are also endearingly effective as budding young lovers in the midst of chaos. Other secondary characters of note — Phil Bushey (Nicholas Strong) and Dodee Weaver (Jolene Purdy) as the town’s deejay and telecom engineer. This unlikely duo are so fun to watch.
To this series’ credit, the effects utilized for this show is outstanding, and the setting was able to capture the essence of a small town. The adjustments made to original material, while there were some hits and misses also held a lot of merit when they worked.
I understand that when books are adapted into series or movies, one should expect deviations from the original material. I have no problem in this aspect. However, what I’m actually missing from this series is the central message at the core of the book. The dome is not just about the mysterious phenomenon that affected a small town in Maine but rather , it is a commentary about the nature of people and what they are capable of doing in the face of threats to their survival. There is a great potential in this series but it needs to be more consistent in presenting the material in a more exciting manner to keep the audiences well and truly hooked for its upcoming second season. I think that series producers were trying to limit the material used in the first season because they wanted to expand to another chapter (due to high ratings) but this is no excuse to dial down the suspense in a series of this ilk. The material has huge potential to go further. I would suggest that the producers re revisit the book to find more inspiration rather than make things up as they go along.