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CritiqueQuotes • At the movies

First edition of Sandkings collectionFirst edition of story collection, 1981
By George R.R. Martin
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication
1979 in Omni magazine

First book publication
1981 in Sandkings collection

Literature form

Science fiction, horror

Writing language

Author's country
United States

Approx. 15,500 words

Sandkings scene
Father and son (Beau and Dylan Bridges) check the progress of the strange creatures in their terrarium.

It's bad to be king

Sandkings (1995): Television film, approx. 90 minutes; director Stuart Guillard; writer Melinda M. Snodgrass; featuring Beau Bridges, Helen Shaver, Lloyd Bridges, Dylan Bridges, Kim Coates

A movie adaptation of George R.R. Martin's scifi-fantasy-horror story was announced by a streaming service in 2021 but, as of this time of writing, it has yet to appear.

This leaves us with only the 1995 television film of Sandkings, which has taken out most of the fantasy-horror content and changed much of the science fiction content.

This film was originally shown over two episodes as pilot for the relaunch of the 1960s series The Outer Limits. It made for a decent TV drama for its time, though it was nowhere as dark or grisly as Martin's fiction.

Instead of being situated on a distant Earthlike planet in the future as in the story, the plot takes place on this Earth in a very near future. From a cruel man who buys the alien creatures from a mysterious exotic animal dealer, Simon Kress is transformed into an ambitious scientist studying the tiny creatures retrieved from Mars. His motivation in raising them has changed from taking a nasty satisfaction in pitting them against each other to carrying out research he expects to win him a Nobel Prize.

The long and startling scenes of warfare in the story have been mostly excised, as the film focuses more on the struggles with Kress's boss and his family.

Sandkings becomes a story largely about family relationships, three of the characters played by members of Hollywood's Bridges family. Beau Bridges does his usual economical acting job as the growingly obsessive Simon Kress (and was nominated for an Emmy for it). Beau's father Lloyd Bridges has a small part as Kress's concerned father. And Beau's own son Dylan plays Kress's son who, with mother Cathy (Helen Shaver), is put at risk by Kress's obsession.

It makes for an all right entertainment, in line with other Other Limits or Twilight Zone fare. Television watching a notch more edifying than average 1990s programming.

It does however lose a lot of the impact of the original Sandkings and leaves a lot less to think about than does Martin's multi-layered story.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotes • At the movies