The sci-fi TV event of the season is the adaptation of Stephen King's tale of a small town isolated by a mysterious occurrence. He talks to Hannah Tattersall on the set of Under the Dome

While interviewing Stephen King on the set of Under the Dome - based on his 2009 novel of the same name - a woman nearby starts to bleed. It's nothing serious, just a small scrape on her knee from where she banged it against a table earlier. But with King in the room, it seems spooky. After all, this is the author who has unleashed his fair share of plasma in his time.

At 65, King is arguably the world's best-known author of horror and science fiction. He is popular, prolific and widely acclaimed - something of a rarity in the literary world. Before publishing Carrie in 1974 he was living in a caravan and scraping by on a teacher's salary. Today, his books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide, his net worth is estimated at US$400 million ($500 million) and he drives a gold Rolls Royce.

In person, he is a little scary with a long, pale face and big teeth. Tall and thin with hunched shoulders. But he is very funny.

Under the Dome, King's voluminous 1072-page tome is about an invisible structure that falls from the sky and encloses an entire town. King originally had the idea for the novel in the 70s and 80s. "It was around the time of Chernobyl and concerns about pollution, global warming. For the first time, people started to say what are we doing to our planet?" he explains. "And I thought well, you know what? Put all these people under a glass dome and see what happens to them."


It took a long-haul flight to Australia to reignite the idea. It was the height of the Iraq War and King thought about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's relationship and the person in power making bad decisions in a town where the people were trapped. The book's central character, "Big Jim" Rennie, is based on Cheney.

King hired a physicist's assistant to help with climate research. "The dome is a microcosm of life because we all live under the dome - we live on this little blue planet and so far as we know that's all we've got. We've got a rover on Mars right now and it looks a lot like Death Valley without the souvenir stands," he says. "We're under a dome that's an atmosphere and the resources that we've got are the resources that we've got."

It's an intriguing premise for a series and, executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Lost producer Bryan K. Vaughan, the CBS series has pedigree. Under the Dome premiered in the US in June to 13.5 million viewers and mixed reviews, and has been picked up for a second season. But some King fans were disappointed about the show's deviation from the novel, prompting the author to publish a statement on his website defending the changes. King, who reads all the scripts, says as a novelist you simply have to let go.

"I'm comfortable with what they're doing with Dome because basically what we have here is a mini-series that has a door at the end of it that says if people like this we can go on, so it works either way ... If you try to hold on and run everything ... things don't happen as easily, and ... you get ulcers.

Vaughan says King has been a dream collaborator in that, "in our first meeting he said, 'to quote Elvis, it's your baby; you rock it now'.

"Stephen has given us a lot of latitude to go in a different direction and we've even come up with a different reason behind the dome than the book."

Certainly one major difference is that in King's book people can communicate with the outside world through the walls of the dome. In the series, sound is blocked out.

"When they made the decision that you couldn't hear people on the other side, I had two thoughts," says King.

"The very first one was, this is really smart. These guys are not going to have to pay day-players, because there will be all these people on the other side and they don't have any dialogue. But the second thing I thought is, you can really do some cool stuff with that."

King says he still writes somewhere between 1000 and 1500 words a day. His much-anticipated sequel to The Shining, titled Doctor Sleep, is expected to be released next month.

The author has strong political views and in January published an essay condemning gun violence. "I try to keep it out of the books as much I can. I don't really want to write political novels, I want to write novels that make people think and my political views are a part of that," he says.

"I think it's insane that we can't seem to do anything about semi-automatic weapons and big clips and that sort of thing."

There is an episode in Under the Dome, however, that tackles the gun issue. And of course, the dome itself can be viewed as a metaphor. "Obviously based on some of the things that have been in the American press lately, there is a dome and your cellphone is a part of it," says King, referring to whistle blower Edward Snowden.

"But this is not a politically charged story here. It's not an allegory and it's not any attempt to do anything other than to say, here are these people, they're in this situation and they can't get out. And if you think that we're all in that situation, you're right."

The town-trapping dome in the new show sure isn't the first to figure in screen stories

The Bubble (1966): An early 3D science-fiction film in colour, which was later re-released as Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth. It tells the story of a young couple travelling on an aeroplane but who are forced to land in a remote town where the people are behaving oddly. When they attempt to escape they discover there is a giant glass-like force-field bubble around the town that prevents anyone from leaving.

Silent Running (1972): An environmentally themed sci-fi film in which all life on Earth has become extinct except for a few specimens preserved in a geodesic dome, which is being supported by a fleet of space freighters.

Bio-Dome (1996): A slacker comedy in which two stoners accidentally stumble into an ecological bio-dome, in which five scientists are going to be sealed for a year as an experiment. They get stuck in the dome with the scientists, and cause havoc.

The Truman Show (1998): Jim Carrey has been enclosed in a large dome structure since birth, and had his entire life filmed for a hit TV show, entirely unbeknown to him. He slowly starts to suspect there's something wrong with his town, including his wife and family, and looks for a way out.

The Simpsons Movie (2007): When the Springfield lake is found to be toxic, and is made worse by Homer further polluting it, the US President decides to place a giant dome over the city to isolate them and prevent the pollution spreading further. The townspeople are stuck inside.

Who: Stephen King
What: Under the Dome
When and where: Prime, starts Wednesday, September 4, 8.30pm

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- TimeOut