Friday, March 13, 2015

The Stand (1994)

USA, 366 minutes, ABC TV miniseries
Director: Mick Garris
Writer: Stephen King
Photography: Edward J. Pei
Music: W.G. Snuffy Walden
Editor: Patrick McMahon
Cast: Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Jamey Sheridan, Laura San Giacomo, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Rob Lowe, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Walston, Corin Nemec, Matt Frewer, Adam Storke, Kellie Overbey, Bill Fagerbakke, Rick Aviles, Stephen King, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John Landis, Sam Raimi, Ed Harris

Stephen King's heavy participation in this TV miniseries, which aired on ABC during the sweeps month of May 1994 (and won some Emmy Awards and nominations), complicates any assessment. He makes about three cameos too many, gets a credit as executive producer, and most importantly owns sole credit for the script. It seems safe to assume King had sufficient clout by 1994 to get his way—or maybe not. Not always sure how these things work. But the miniseries bears his imprimatur. He approved this message. Too bad, because it's weak sauce compared to the original novel (which I know only in its first-published shorter form). We're talking about a six-hour production here. If nothing else, for once and for all, this should retire the debate on the natural narrative scope of feature movies, which is much closer to short stories than novels. Let alone a mammoth novel such as The Stand. Let alone any fiction so explicitly grounded in the voice of the author. I don't think I had actually realized until now how important King's distinctive voice is to what he does. Somehow it makes all the disjointed claptrap that occupies these six hours cohere and work. This miniseries is to King's novel as David Lynch's Dune is to Frank Herbert's. The good points: the continuity of King, a lot of goodwill, a decent cast, a reasonable budget. Sure, more money might have helped. It never feels remotely like the end of the world, for one problem (whereas feeling exactly like the end of the world is one of the novel's great strengths). But special effects is not the problem. The relative compression of the miniseries ("compression," recalling that it is six hours) paradoxically just exposes all the flaws of the novel. It's the titanic showdown we know between Good and Evil—a ground that is terribly fraught with pitfalls already, yet managed well in the novel—suddenly reduced to a series of skits and dramatic reenactments of famous scenes from the novel. Sometimes things seem to be here just so we can hear the line, or see the visual. The rock 'n' roll soundtrack is lame too. The dynamic finally is on the order of Bugs Bunny (aka Good) and Daffy Duck (aka Evil). We know who wins that one. And we know who wins this one. Because that's the other thing—I can't see it makes any sense without bringing familiarity with the novel to it. All that said, if it's OK with King, and with at least a plurality of his fans (as judged by comments on, and skipping that nothing should ever be judged by comments on, then who am I? Inevitably, in today's moviemaking climate, another film version of The Stand is in the works—sounds like King will have less involvement, though his status as 800-lb. gorilla has to be more imposing than ever. If it makes any difference. Whatever. I can't help thinking it's bound to look approximately as meager as this. For me, the whole thing is a no-brainer. Read the book.

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