By Stephan Lee
Updated December 12, 2011 at 05:46 PM EST

From the outset of A&E’s two-part, four-hour miniseries based on Stephen King’s 1998 novel Bag of Bones, it was clear that the TV incarnation of King’s ghost story would take on a very different feel from the book. (Some spoilers ahead… ) First of all, the circumstances of Jo Noonan’s (Annabeth Gish) death altered significantly from the opening chapter of the book (in the A&E version, Jo gets hit by a bus in Mike’s presence; in the novel, she collapses in a Rite Aid parking lot while Mike is at home), but these changes were forgivable because they streamlined the story a bit, which is necessary in adapting this big tome. But while it’s no surprise that the A&E version left out a lot of the details, did part 1 of the miniseries somehow feel slower than King’s 562-page book?

Adapting King’s work can be tricky, because he likes to take his time in establishing his protagonists’ complicated inner lives and his rabid fans can be a tough crowd. There was a bit of negative hubbub on the blogosphere about casting Pierce Brosnan as Mike Noonan, and I have to say, to a fan of the book, he didn’t seem like the right fit. He didn’t convey Mike’s wry sense of humor, and I couldn’t figure out the accent — was he trying to pull off Down East? He did a good job, however, of portraying a distraught widower with a seriously nasty case of writer’s block, although I’d hoped the TV version would cut down on the wordless scenes of Mike agonizing in front of the computer. Those ran long in the books as well, but without the benefit of Mike’s tormented inner voice, they bordered on sleep-inducing.

The creepiness of the book, however, translated well to television — this version made good (if somewhat predictable) use of horror movie scare tactics. Sara Laughs came to life as a place where there’s no shortage of weird things that go bump in the night, and that terrible scream that kept Mike awake threatened to keep me up, too. The decomposed ghosts were as frightening as I imagined, and did you jump at that “gotcha” scare at the very end?

Major storylines involving the Devores and blues singer Sara Tidwell (how amazing is Anika Noni Rose’s singing?) will become more central in the second half airing tonight. In my opinion, the first half of the book — all that tense buildup — was better than the second half, but I actually think part 2 of the miniseries might work better than last night’s opener. Part 1 didn’t cover as much ground as maybe it should have, so Part 2 will hopefully be denser with action and drama. Overall, Part 1 wasn’t all that it could have been — the pacing was too relaxed, and the scares were based more on “boo” factor than psychological drama — but it’s enough to bring me back for Part 2, if mostly out of curiosity.

Whether you’re a King fan or the miniseries was your intro to Bag of Bones, what’s your take? Did you think the pacing was too slow or appropriately tense? Jason Priestley as Mike’s literary agent: brilliant or distracting casting decision?

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