Stephen King's Riding the Bullet
October 15, 2004
During the early days of the Internet boom, Barnes and Noble online sought to merge the consumer advantages of the new instant delivery marketplace with their proven formula for success. On March 14, 2000, the company made the bold decision to swallow the cost of a cheap book in order to demonstrate to consumers the powers of new technology.
The new device was the e-book, a tech gadget which we now know allows readers to abandon the need to have a physical copy of literature. Instead, those so inclined download a local copy of a book, which they may read then either archive or delete. The sales mechanism B&N used to drive awareness was a 66-page novella called Riding the Bullet. The author was legendary master of the macabre Stephen King. The result was a record-shattering 400,000+ sales of the e-book in less than 24 hours. It's a feat that has not been accomplished in the 3+ years since then.
The key to the short story's popularity was not just that it was a free download. In point of fact, over 100,000 fiction fans have since paid the three dollars MSRP in order to read the first internet exclusive story from an icon of literature. King was attempting something that no one else of his stature had yet found the courage to try. The opening day rush to support the man championing this new technology demonstrated the viability of the medium but also the unprecedented popularity of Riding the Bullet's scribe.
As is usually the case when something noteworthy happens in the literary world, Hollywood has taken note. The result is the production of yet another Stephen King adaptation based on a short story. If this sounds familiar to you, it should. Johhny Depp frontlined a similar feature in March of 2004 called Secret Window. It was approximately the 14 zillionth time that a King concept was turned into a movie. He is the new Phillip K. Dick.
Riding the Bullet is a rather unusual King work. Written soon after his near-fatal hit-and-run accident, the novella is profoundly existential as one might expect from an author recovering from a near-death experience. It tells the story of Alan Parker (played by Jonathan Jackson, last seen in the already forgotten Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights), a 21-year-old New England resident. Recently dumped by his girlfriend (Erika Christensen of Traffic and Swimfan), Alan has unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide. Right after his failure, Alan finds out his mother (Miss Beaches 1988, Barbara Hershey) has had a stroke and might be dying.
Desperate to act, the college student attempts to hitchhike his way to his mother's hospital in Maine. To his great misfortune, Alan accepts a ride from a spectral stranger (nothing says creepy like David Arquette), a choice he immediately regrets. His chauffeur is an ominous figure who winds up offering Alan a twisted, menacing ultimatum.
The chief concern with adapting this King short story (other than the fear of accidentally creating another Dreamcatcher) is the length. A 66-page script is a little over an hour of footage. The rest of that screen time has to be created by someone other than King himself. The good news is that Mick Garris, the man who adapted two TV mini-series based on The Stand and The Shining, is the credited writer here. Next to having the master himself, Garris is the next best thing. (David Mumpower/BOP)