Sunday, August 14, 2011

When Should I Stand, Exactly?

I was thinking -- because I've got nothing better to do (you'd be shocked at the extent to which that's a true statement) -- last night about the supposedly-upcoming films based on The Stand, and I got to contemplating something specific about them:

When will the movies be set?  Will they be set in the seventies to try and capture the flavor of the original novel?  Or will they be set in the eighties, to match the timeline of the original novel?  Perhaps the nineties, to follow the timeline of the uncut version of the story?

Or will we see the story be updated to modern times, to try and make the films seem like something more current?

My money is on the latter, and I'll tell you why that doesn't bother me in the slightest.

The fact is, The Stand draws a lot of its power from its underlying themes concerning societal dissolution.  The novel, as released in 1978, played on a lot of the fears that had been drowning the nation's cultural consciousness during that particular decade.  I'm no social historian, and I'm too lazy to do the research it would require to sound like one, so I should probably limit my comments along those lines somewhat.  But it doesn't take a social historian to know that coming out of a decade that included Vietnam, Watergate, the energy crisis, the gas crisis, etc., there would have been a certain dark charm in dipping your toes into an alternative universe where the whole shebang just gets wiped out overnight.  Look, lads, here comes Captain Trips!  Oh well, sorry you're sneezing so violently, but at least you won't have to wait in line at the gas station any more!

I think it's safe to say that 2011 is at least as troubled as 1978 ever thought about being, so -- in my mind, if in nobody else's -- it seems as if The Stand would lose virtually nothing thematically if it were transported from 1980/1985/1990 to, say, 2015 or 2020.  Let's face it, folks: as a society, as a culture, as a people, we are still deeply fucked up.  If anything, we're now more likely to wipe ourselves out by creating something we ought not create and then forgetting to close the door to the lab all the way while we've got it out and are playing with it a bit.  And when the Walkin' Dude gets to walkin', just as many of us as before are apt to end up in Vegas, testing jets and crucifying drug users.

To be frank, if David Yates and Steve Kloves do anything but set their movies in modern times, they'll be missing a golden opportunity to reconnect the source material to the culture in a deep, era-defining manner.  The novel has always been one of King's most popular (if not the most popular), and it's pervaded the culture in a way that causes it to be referenced any time there's any talk of any kind of outbreak.  The way I see it, it's a modern classic that's just waiting to be made even more well-known, and if Yates and Kloves approach it in the right way, then it's going to re-explode in popularity.

Certain things will have to change, of course.  First of all?  Lose the "Captain Trips" business, guys.  Kids these days don't know who Jerry Garcia is, or why a plague would be nicknamed after him.  Hell, I barely get it myself.  And please, guys: don't feel the need to replace it with some other goofy nickname -- nobody should be referring to it as the Insane Clown Posse or some ridiculous crap like that.

Secondly, even though it'll be irrelevant to the second and/or third films in the series, modern technology such as cell phones and social media will have to be factored into the story.  But that should present no challenge at all, and in fact should prove to make the story that much more compelling.  After all, part of the horrifying appeal of the novel is the inevitability of technology's failure to be of any real aid or comfort when people start dropping dead by the millions.  That, too, has changed not one whit; it never will change, and therefore, once again, there's no need to tie the story to the past in order for it to retain its punch.

Thirdly ... we're gonna need to be a bit more racially diverse.  And no, Mother Abigail is not enough.  I'm gonna go ahead and say it: Larry Underwood needs to be black in this story.  It makes all the sense in the world for him to be a hip-hop up-and-comer.  (And guys, even if you keep him white ... please, no "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?"  Even on the page, that song sucks.)  As Bob Dylan might say, I'm liberal, but to a degree; so don't take this as some bleeding-heart political correctness.  It's not.  It's just that if you're doing a modern-times story involving a young, hard-scrabbling musical phenom-to-be, it's maybe a bit more culturally valid that that character be something other than white.

Fourth: I'd like to see a significantly greater amount of time spent in Las Vegas.  For the film(s) to work as a trilogy, I think the story would need a decent amount of expansion, and beefing up the presence of the bad guys seems like a good place to start.  In the novel, the whole idea of Vegas seems underdeveloped.  Not that it's bad; it isn't.  It just feels like those episodes all got pre-empted for election results or some such crap, you know?  Ideally, I'd love for Kloves to bring King in to at least consult on any additions to the story; but either way, it does seem like more action and suspense and drama will need to be built into the last couple of acts.  (P.S., guys: please do not screw up and somehow cast Matt Frewer as Trashy again.  Thank you kindly in advance for that act of mercy.)  (P.P.S., guys: please don't work too hard at trying to convince me that Randall Flagg is scary.  Hire an actor that can sell his charm, his persuasiveness, his air of evil menace; don't rely too heavily on glowing red eyes or razor-sharp teeth or cheap tricks like that.  If you want to see how not to do it, just check out the Marvel comics.  Or, worse, the miniseries.  Better yet, don't.  Just cast Tom Cruise, put him in some jeans, and let L. Ron Hubbard do the rest of your work for you; heck, he already did it, so you're halfway there before you even begin.)

Finally: if the words "Republican" and "Democrat" are nowhere to be found anywhere in any of the movies, that'd be fine by me.  I think it would be a mistake to not make the film political in a broad sense, but to make it specifically conservative or liberal would be a blunder.  The novel has plenty of both ideologies within it; so should the movie.

As you can probably tell, I'm fairly convinced that if it is treated correctly, The Stand could be a big success at the old cineplex, both artistically and commercially.  I'd like to see the films be R-rated, but that's probably unrealistic; these, if they get made at all, will be expected to be the type of movies that gross $200 million domestic and $400 million worldwide at the minimum, and I don't know that the odds of that happening would be great if the movies end up as R.  I'd prefer that they be; but if it takes PG13 to get 'em made, then I vote for PG13.  Losing all the blood and boobs and naughty words would be a shame, but it's worked out okay for the Marvel Comics adaptation; no reason it couldn't do the same as movies.

My last thoughts on the subject for now: we've been seeing a lot of apocalyptic imagery in the movies over the course of the last decade or so.  From Harry Potter to The Matrix to The Lord of the Rings to Revenge of the Sith to Avatar to Serenity to Rise of the Planet of the Apes to Signs to War of the Worlds to I Am Legend to Transformers to 300 to WALL*E to 28 Days Later to ... well, you get the picture.  There have been a lot of movies that, either directly or indirectly, have dealt with the idea of a society falling to pieces.

And yet none of them has done so as fully as The Stand would have the potential to do.  No, for discourse of that quality, you had to turn on your television and lay eyes to Battlestar GalacticaThe Walking Dead seems to be lurching down some of those same pathways, and if the reception for that dark-as-night show is any indication, there is definitely an audience out there that is hungry to experience the catharsis of seeing our society utterly fail in mock format.


  1. "Just cast Tom Cruise, put him in some jeans, and let L. Ron Hubbard do the rest of your work for you; heck, he already did it, so you're halfway there before you even begin"

    From your mouth to Hollywood-God's ear...

    That's an interesting question, tho, to be sure. If updated, it entails some real changes, but the changes could definitely work. I was thinking about this sort of thing in relation to The Long Walk, too, actually. (I spend a lot of time casting and asking-such-questions on my walks home from the train.) Specifically on making it a bit more diverse (making some of the walkers female, for example) and also on the possibility of not naming any of them, so we just have visual representations - it'd keep some of the suspense of "who's going to die?" alive.

    Anyway, just riffing. It'll be curious to see how it gets done and what decisions are made.

    Whatever they decide, I, too, hope they leave Matt Fewer out of it. And jettison "Baby Can You Dig Your Man." I hadn't considered the necessity of changing Captain Trips, but you're right - that ship has sailed. I hope they rename it "American Idol."

    1. Oh, THAT'S an interesting thought (regarding female Long Walkers, that is); you're totally right, of course, but can you imagine the pushback that decision will get from certain corners of the SK message board? Ugh.

      Regarding Captain Trips: it never really made much sense to me how the superflu would have gotten a nickname like that in a real-world scenario. It could happen today via Twitter and whatnot, definitely, but back in the seventies or even the early nineties when the revised version came out, that always struck me as unlikely.

    2. Yeah, good point - how WOULD such a term spread? I guess the assumption is people were watching the news and it was referred to on there and picked up, but... here's a very illustrative example of one of the adapted-to-nowadays changes that could be made. It makes MUCH more sense as a twitter-meme. (And opens up the idea of "funny internet memes re: everyone dying" for The Stand 2012.)

      Yeah, changing-up genders/ ethnic-diversity for The Long Walk might provoke some outrage. Just so long as no one asks any questions about narrative voice/ p.o.v./ subtext, though, I'm sure the usual suspects at the SKMB will be fine. :-)

  2. Y'know something funny? I actually got a cold while reading the first half of The Stand. I spent about two weeks with the sniffles and a sore throat and absolutely shat myself as a result.

    ... That's it, really. I don't know why, I just felt like telling that story. Oh well.

    While I do agree that the mini-series wasn't great in regards to Randall Flagg, it could have been a hell of alot worse. They could have just had him fully demonic with no human qualities whatsoever. Now THAT would have ruined it.

    1. Agreed. I think the key to Flagg is to play him as a normal guy who occasionally veers off into being a demonic monster-type figure. I think if you try very hard at all to portray his scary side, you quickly go overboard. Far better to go the route of subtlety.

    2. Exactly. I remember reading the book and being quite scared of him mainly because he acted like a really normal -- hell, even nice at times -- guy, but there was always this feeling like he could do some really messed up shit at any moment. Especially when he was in a bad mood towards the end of the book.

    3. Indeed. There's actually more of that in the miniseries than I had remembered when I wrote this post; it's just that when the miniseries runs off the rails, it runs FAR off them.

      No more so than the Marvel Comics adaptation, though. It's generally good, but I hate their approach to Flagg, which is almost exactly the opposite of how I think he ought to be done.