The Langoliers

The Langoliers

“The Langoliers” is a 1995 ABC miniseries adapted from a Stephen King novella of the same name (it came from the same collection that later produced the Johnny Depp movie “Secret Window”).  I think most people have forgotten about it (for good reason, I might add), but I definitely remember watching this on TV when I was a kid. Specifically, I remember the hilariously terrible eponymous ‘langoliers,’ that look something like evil mollusks crossed with a chainsaw.

langoliers1Apart from the langoliers themselves, the series is chock full of other crappy CG effects, and they have all aged about as well as an open bowl of shrimp. For instance, the plot involves a rift in space-time, which an airplane accidentally flies through. Here’s what that looks like:

langoliers2Not so great, huh? For even more CG fun, here is the climax of the film set to “Guile’s Theme” from “Street Fighter.” Just look at those giant Pac-Man raisins go!

Aside from the awful CG throughout, the next most memorable aspect of the series are the performances. There are a handful of decent actors featured, such as Dean Stockwell and David Morse, but they all wind up looking pretty abysmal in this thing. Stockwell in particular winds up playing a heavy-handed Sherlock Holmes analogue, which is surprisingly one of the less distractingly awful performances in “The Langoliers.” Morse, who I guess is supposed to be the lead, plays one of the most generic characters I have ever seen on screen. Conveniently for the story though, he also happens to be a pilot! Of course, if he were anything else, everyone would have just died before the end of the first act, and the movie/series wouldn’t be 3 hours long.

langoliers7langoliers6Chewing the scenery with arguably more gusto than the langoliers themselves is Bronson Pinchot, who plays the increasingly unhinged character of Craig Toomy: a stock broker of some sort who is in the midst of a breakdown as the story begins. His performance is, to say the least, memorable.  Here’s a clip of Toomey hallucinating an argument with his father. Honestly, it is on the level of “amazingly awful”:

On the other end of the acting spectrum is Kate Maberly, who plays a young blind girl with inexplicable psychic powers named Dinah. Her performance is, in a word, bad. You can check out a little bit of it in the trailer, though it hardly scratches the surface of how terrible her line reads are:

Rounding out the cast are a few more notables: Frankie Faison, who would later play Commissioner Ervin Burrell in “The Wire”, Patricia Wettig, who has does extensive acting work on television, and Mark Lindsay Chapman, who most would probably only recognize as the Chief Officer from “Titanic.” While Wettig gets her fair share of ridiculous lines in the third act (“Are we the new people?!?”), Chapman definitely steals the show for most of the movie. Essentially, Chapman plays a grittier version of James Bond: a rough around the edges assassin and hit man with some sort of connection to the British government. As with Stockwell’s Holmes-ian character and Morse’s pilot, it is ridiculously handy to the story that a super-agent with field training winds up in the crew of survivors, particularly once Toomey finally snaps.

I mean, he looks so harmless though?

The entire reason I went back to watch “The Langoliers” in the first place was because I noticed a handful of similarities while watching the recent Nicolas Cage “Left Behind” film. Particularly, both stories involve people inexplicably disappearing from aircraft, leaving personal possessions behind. Here is a clip from the earlier Kirk Cameron adaptation, which I think shows a lot of the similarities:

It turns out that the first “Left Behind” novel came out in 1995, 5 years after King published “The Langoliers,” and the same year that “The Langoliers” miniseries aired on ABC. It turns out that I’m not the only one to notice the similarity: you’ll find comments all over the internet pointing out the parallels. I’m sure it is only a coincidence, but it sure is a fun one: that makes 3 awful movies with almost the exact same premise!

The director and screen-writer of “The Langoliers” is Tom Holland, who is almost certainly best known for writing and directing “Fright Night” and “Child’s Play.” However, he has pretty much fallen off the map in recent years. I imagine this has a little bit to do with his abysmal follow-up to “The Langoliers”: another Stephen King adaptation called “Thinner.” I recently watched that as well, and it makes “The Langoliers” look like “Touch of Evil.”

Due to the mixed bag of underacting, overacting, and hilariously bad CG effects, I think there is a lot of entertainment value to be had from “The Langoliers.” I particularly enjoyed the handful of instances where the actors have to stare out of plane windows and react to the langoliers, which they obviously can’t see. That’s just the sort of thing that can set me a-giggling.

The series / movie (the DVD cut just sort of merges them) is definitely too long at 3 hours, but I didn’t think it was impossible to sit through. All the same, I think a super-cut of the highlights gets the entertainment across without wasting a significant portion of your day. The Nostalgia Critic pulls together a good number of clips for his review of the series, so I can recommend checking that out for anyone curious:



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