Sunday, August 25, 2013

Movie Review: "The Stand, Part 1: The Plague" (1994)

I love you people.  I didn't die for your sins or like that, but I love ya just the same.  To prove it, I've got a review of the miniseries adaptation of The Stand to fling at you today, and here's the depth of my love: I watched the whole thing through twice (plus listened to the commentary track once) in order to properly prepare myself for the task.

So don't say I never did anything for you, okay?




I wrote a post once that covered -- among a lot of other topics -- the means by which The Stand served as my entry-point into Stephen King fandom, way back in the summer of 1990.  No need to rehash it here; suffice it to say that when I read that novel, I fell into it the way you only fall into a novel that is rewriting your mental makeup to some degree.  It won't happen often, and my guess is that it mostly only happens when you're in your formative years.  (I had a bit of it happen recently, though, while reading Alan Moore's novel Voice of the Fire, so it certainly isn't impossible at a later age.)  It certainly had a massive impact on me in 1990, though, and there is no question in my mind that if events hadn't lined up that way, I'd be a different person today.

Needless to say, when it was announced that ABC was going to be producing a four-night miniseries based on my then-favorite novel, I flipped out.  There was an issue of Cinefantastique that came out that had a lot of coverage of the miniseries; I must have read that a dozen time.  I was probably as stoked for that miniseries as I have ever been for anything that came on television (with the possible exception of The Wizard of Oz, which I used to watch once every year when it aired with a sort of ritualistic fervor that is what I imagine religious awe to be like).

And it did not let me down.  I loved every second of the miniseries.

I may as well dash some water on the proceedings now by noting that a great deal of that love has evaporated over the years.  My tastes as a film-lover are vastly different now than they were when I was 19.  And in many ways, I no longer enjoy the miniseries.  Heck, in some ways, I no longer find myself falling into the novel the way I once did; I've got problems with the climax, most notably.  Despite that, I think the novel is awesome in most respects.  The miniseries?  Not so much.  Too cheesy, with some genuinely awful performances from several key actors; and also much too truncated a take on the novel for my tastes.



You'll hear me say some unkind things about the miniseries during this post and the three that follow it.  Let's all do our best to remember, though, that in May of 1994, it absolutely elated me.  I'll always remember that about it, regardless of how my feelings have changed over the years.





One aspect of the miniseries that still works reasonably well is the opening scene.  It begins with this ominous shot of a crow -- played by a raven, according to the DVD commentary track -- sitting outside the Project Blue grounds.  There is some similarly ominous music playing, courtesy of composer W.G. "Snuffy" Walden.  (Walden is a versatile composer who in 1994 was best known for the television series I'll Fly Away; a few years after this, he took his career to the next level by working on The West Wing.  He's still going strong in 2013, and is the composer on Under the Dome currently.  We will be looking at his score for The Stand a bit more closely with a review of its soundtrack CD.)

What most people will likely remember, though, is the use of the Blue Öyster Cult song "(Don't Fear) The Reaper."  King had used lyrics from the song in both the original 1978 and uncut 1990 editions of the novel, so its appearance here is a nice nod to the source material.  It's also a killer rock song in general.  Let's have a listen, shall we?




Awesome.

I first heard the song -- coincidentally -- the summer of 1990.  In fact, it can't have been long after I'd first read the novel.  I was a massive KISS fan at the time, and an older friend took me to see them when they played Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Pelham on August 7.  He was playing a bunch of his favorite rock music for me, and "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" came on, and it blew my mind.  I can't recall whether I made the connection between it and The Stand; I think I probably did not.  Either way, it became one of my new favorite songs, and it has stayed that way.

This seems as good a time as any to mention that something about the use of the song in the miniseries bugs me.  It isn't the original version.  Let's have a look at the song as it appears in the miniseries:





Am I crazy?  No.  That's a different version.  It's still Blue Öyster Cult, but the drums sound different, the vocals sound different, the guitar sounds different; heck, even the cowbell (made notorious by an awesome Saturday Night Live skit featuring Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell) sounds different.  Not hugely different; it basically just sounds like something that could be a different take of the song from the same recording session.  But in my limited research on the subject, I've been unable to find any details at all on where this version might come from.  What I've mostly found is people saying that they don't hear whatever I'm hearing.  So who knows, maybe I'm crazy.  If you can clarify any of this, hit up the comments and do so.

(Before we move on, let me briefly note that on the same page where the Blue Öyster Cult lyrics appear as an epigraph, King also uses "Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen and "Shelter from the Storm" by Bob Dylan.  I later became a huge fan of both Springsteen and Dylan, in a manner that was completely divorced from The Stand, and while I never got into Blue Öyster Cult much past this song -- and a couple of other greats, including "Godzilla," "Burnin' for You," and "Astronomy" -- I get a little haunted by the thought that the first time I opened The Stand and was confronted by those opening epigraphs, the three songs used would later become three of my all-time favorites.

Side-note: the uncut 1990 edition of the novel removed "Shelter from the Storm" and replaces it with something by Country Joe and the Fish.  This seems like a poor substitution, if you ask me.)

Alright, so, back to "(Don't Fear) The Reaper."  The song is used as the camera shows us that there have been a lot of people recently deceased inside Project Blue.  They mostly seem to have died suddenly, right there in the midst of doing whatever they were doing, like these:





It makes for great horror imagery, but I have to ask: does this make any sense?  What's happened here is that the superflu virus has been unleashed somehow, but are we meant to think that it moves so quickly that it literally drops these people in their tracks?  How did it get outside to Campion that quickly?  Frankly, I can't make sense of it.  I can do a bit better with it in the novel, because King keeps things vague enough so as to keep us from asking questions of that nature.  It's impossible for me to not wonder about it in the miniseries, though.

Another question presents itself: are we meant to believe Flagg caused the virus to be released?  Probably not; even if we assume that that crow is Flagg in disguise, we don't see him/it doing anything other than standing outside, observing.  But even if it's on a subconscious level -- and I think it's more conscious than subconscious -- having a crow be present here increases Flagg's presence in the story in a major way.  I'm not sure it's a change for the better, either.  In the novel, he's almost like some sort of weird, demonic sleeper agent, who doesn't really know exactly who he is, or what he's doing there, or how he got there.  If we choose to (and have the necessary knowledge) we can import what we know about Flagg from The Dark Tower: that he is a servant of the Crimson King.  Therefore, if we want to, we can assume that in The Stand Flagg is acting on the Crimson King's behalf so as to help further the plans to topple the Dark Tower (i.e., bring ultimate chaos and darkness to the multiverse).

But all of that is only there if you know about it and want it to be there, and for a lot of readers/viewers, it isn't there at all.  I never find myself thinking of The Dark Tower while watching the miniseries.  To me, they are wholly separate, and I suspect that the vast majority of people who have seen the miniseries over the years have virtually no knowledge of the Tower series, and therefore see it completely free of whatever context the series provides.  So, for their benefit, I have to ask: if Flagg is the devil -- or if not the devil, a devil, or a demon, or an imp (something demonic, at any rate) -- then is the miniseries telling us that he is responsible for Captain Trips?

I don't think it is.  But I do think that the way it is constructed makes a powerful case for saying that it at least suggests the possibility.  It may be a suggestion King and Garris didn't intend; in fact, I think that's almost certainly the case.  If so, I think this aspect of the miniseries is a major failure.

The implication, obviously, is that the superflu was released accidentally, as the result of some sort of glitch in some system.  Certainly, there are times later in the miniseries when people say something about "the kind of people" who created the flu and then allowed it to escape containment.  The Stand is  -- as much as it is anything else -- a cautionary tale about putting too much reliance in technology.  King has struck that note several times in his career, ranging from the serious (The Tommyknockers) to the tacky (Maximum Overdrive), and The Stand is arguably his purest statement on the subject.  So from that standpoint, I think we can eliminate the possibility that he wants us to feel Flagg had a hand in things during this opening.  (When the remake finally happens, though, I'd like to see whoever is writing and directing it make some of this explicit.  I know that King kept the details vague; that was a minor miscalculation in the novel, but in putting the story on film, I think it needs to be dramatized.  We need to see how the virus lost containment.  So make it happen, whoever you are.)

Flagg's origin and purpose are cloudy even in the book, but in the miniseries he's an outright cypher.  Unfortunately, he's not the only character who suffers similarly.  As many a person more insightful than I has pointed out, one of King's great strengths is for populating a novel with a vast array of relatable and compelling characters.  This is the guy who, in Under the Dome, wrote a brief scene from the point of view of a woodchuck!  And did a great job with it!  For The Stand, King created a cast comprised of so many memorable characters that you can imagine any number of them serving as the protagonists of their own novels.

A huge part of what makes them each work, though, is the backstory King gives them.  Almost all of that is jettisoned by the miniseries version.  It's understandable; even given the six-hour running time, there is barely enough time to cram in the highpoints of the plot.  Expecting King (who wrote the screenplay for the miniseries) to somehow figure out a way to get backstories for the main characters in there would be unrealistic.

But does that mean I'm going to not complain about it?  It does not.  Hey, look, I get it; the realities of the situation made it impossible to tell us about Stu's deceased wife, or Frannie's unpleasant mother, or Larry's wild (and wildly expensive) L.A. parties, and Mother Abagail's talent-show performance in front of a room full of potentially nasty white folks.  And that's merely the tip of the tip of the iceberg.  I know there was no room for The Kid; I know there was no room for Rita, or for Harold's journal.  I get it.

Still...admitting up front that an adaptation can only happen if it is severely compromised does not mean that people should forever thereafter forgo talking about the ways in which the compromise occurred.  Imagine if you took your cat to the vet, and asked the vet to fix its broken leg, and the vet said, "Okay, well, what you've got here is a leg that isn't fixable.  I'm out of splints and casts.  But I've got a bonesaw, so let's amputate instead.  Yep, it's definitely going to have to be amputated.  So I'm going to do that, but once it's done, I want you to pretend that I fixed it, and pretend that your cat still has four legs.  Don't ever let me hear you talking about this cat only having three legs!"  You'd look at that vet and maybe you'd let him amputate and maybe you wouldn't, depending on the circumstances; but you'd probably grumble about it for years afterward, and you'd be right to do so.

With that in mind, yeah, it makes perfect sense to my why fleshing out these characters was something that could not be accomplished in a mere four nights of network television in 1994.  That doesn't make it any less of a failure as an adaptation.  The reason for that is that the characters' backstories are not mere window-dressing; they are essential to an understanding of who these people are and why they do what they do.  If you remove those backstories, they really aren't even the same characters anymore.  The miniseries, then, becomes a bit hollow.  If the novel is a really good taco, the miniseries is a shell with unseasoned ground beef inside it; no lettuce, no sour cream, and certainly no shredded cheese.  This, you are apt to say, is not the taco I was hoping for.

One way a film/television adaptation can circumvent a problem of this nature is by strong casting and acting.  So let's get into that side of the conversation.




The most successful bit of casting in the entire miniseries, I'd argue, is Gary Sinise, who landed the lead role of Stu Redman.  Today, Sinise is probably still best-known for playing Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, but when The Stand aired in May of 1994, Gump had not yet been released; that didn't happen until July.  Sinise was well-known to some theatre buffs for his on-stage roles, and he'd won a lot of acclaim co-starring in and directing a feature film version of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men; but to the average guy, he was an unknown.

All of this means that Mick Garris deserves huge kudos for recognizing Sinise's innate talent; and it also means that ABC deserves huge kudos for allowing Garris to cast him.  They would have been well within their rights to demand that somebody well-known get the role; that they didn't is eternally to their credit.

Sinise is outstanding; he's charismatic, he's sincere, and he seems like a born leader.  All of this is good, because the role is severely underwritten; without somebody whose screen presence fills in some of those blanks, Redman would have been utterly unmemorable.




Larry Underwood -- who is probably my favorite character from the novel -- is played by Adam Storke.

Interesting story (probably not actually very interesting except to me, but s'okay by me): at some point between this most recent viewing of the miniseries and the previous one -- which was probably about a decade ago -- I convinced myself that Adam Storke had given a terrible performance as Larry.  So when I sat down for this rewatch, I expected to see just that.

Where in the hell I got that idea, I have no clue.  Storke is really very good, especially in some of the early scenes in which he's trying to charm his mother.  But he's solid throughout, and he seems fairly plausible as a guy who's on the cusp of striking it semi-big as a pop singer.

(Side note the first: I've always hated "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?"  Especially in the novel.  It's just cheesy as hell, and I could never hear any sort of music associated with it.  However, in the miniseries, it actually kinda works.  The song was written by Al Kooper, who played the all-time-classic organ riff on Dylan's all-time classic "Like a Rolling Stone."  I wouldn't call his version of "Dig Your Man" a classic, or even good; but I would call it effective.  It's exactly the sort of pop pablum that could have put somebody like Larry Underwood on the charts in...well, maybe in 1988 or so.  Not so much 1994, I'd guess.  But that's okay.)

(Side-note the second: it really, really bugs me that nobody in the entire miniseries talks about Larry being the guy who sang "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?"  Julie Lawry asks him if he's famous in part four; but other than that, nada.  This despite seemingly half the characters singing the song to themselves at some point during the show.  Glen sings it; Nadine sings it; Flagg sings it; Trashcan Man sings it.  But nobody ever says to Larry, "Hey, are you the Larry Underwood?!?"  And to be fair, I'm not sure anyone ever does that in the novel, either.  What a missed opportunity!  Ah, well.  Happily, on the decidedly Stand-inspired television series Lost, a vaguely Underwood-esque rock star named Charlie makes up for it by constantly telling people that he wrote the hit song "You All Everybody."  Pretty great.)

Storke never quite made his breakthrough, although he's been working fairly steadily in smallish tlevision roles ever since.  Based on the quality of his work here, though, it seems like maybe he should have gotten better roles than what he ended up with.  A shame, but he's hardly the only person to never quite break through to the other side in Hollywood.




Ed Harris has an uncredited role as General Starkey.  He's only got a few scenes, but he's...I mean, he's Ed Harris, so he's great.  What else would he be?  Having somebody like Harris in a movie like this is an instant shot in the arm; he brings automatic authenticity, weight, and legitimacy.  You can't fake that sort of thing.

The Stand got two of those in the first night.  Here's the second:




Kathy Bates has only one scene as radio talk-show host Rae Flowers, but it's a memorable one.  It's one of the better scenes in the entire miniseries, and Bates herself -- unsurprisingly -- is a major part of what makes it work.  She -- like Ed Harris -- is someone who seems like a born actor.  You bring her in for a brief scene like this, and what you get is someone who not only feels like a genuine radio talk-show host, but someone who sort of suggests an entire world.  You can picture the types of people who must call her on a daily basis; you can picture how snappy she must be, how much fun she have being that snappy, how much some listeners must love to hate listening to her.

She conveys reality.  It's just that simple.  Not so simple to do, though, which is why even in a limited scene like this one, it deserves to be praised.  Same goes for Harris's small role.




Here's Molly Ringwald, who was miscast.  And that's putting it mildly.  She is awful as Frannie Goldsmith, quite frankly.  She sounds in nearly ever scene as though she doesn't understand the words coming out of her mouth, and proably wouldn't believe in them even if she did.

It's a poor performance, but Ringwald should never been put in the position to give it to begin with, so let's spread the blame around to Garris and ABC.  And let's not leave King out of it.  The Frannie of the novel is a smart, capable, funny person; none of those qualities survived into the screenplay.  Instead, she seems like an opportunistic bimbo.  King has gone on the record many times on the subject of how much he hated seeing Wendy Torrance turned into a weak character by Stanley Kubrick and Shelley Duvall.  But the hatchet job done on poor Frannie Goldsmith by King, Garris, and Ringwald is much worse, in my opinion.

More on that in subsequent posts.




Here's Corin Nemec as Harold Lauder.  Nemec has some great individual moments, most of them further into the miniseries; but at times, he seems absolutely lost.  Some of this, too, I'm going to choose to blame on Garris and King.  In the novel, Harold is complicated and tricky; the character only works because of the amount of time King gives us inside his skull, which allows us to empathize with Harold even when we can't sympathize with him.

For the miniseries, that's all gone.  In the novel, Harold is a dangerous, semi-psychopathic loser; in the miniseries, he is a patently insane, annoying jackass, and I have a hard time believing that Stu and Glen would trust him for even a moment.  The fact that they apparently do weakens them -- and their various allies, including Fran -- in the process.

To be blunt, Harold in the miniseries is a complete disaster.




Ruby Dee plays Mother Abagail.  She's very good, and is aided immensely by excellent old(er)-age makeup.  Old-age makeup is tricky, and even on movies that have huge budgets, it typically doesn't work.  It's so unreliable that filmmakers like Frank Darabont (in The Green Mile), Steven Spielberg (in Saving Private Ryan), and James Cameron (in Titanic) frequently opt to just use a genuine old person.

Finding someone old enough to play Mother Abagail would have been a near impossibility, though.  Dee was around 70 at the time, so she was no youth; but there's a big difference between 70 and 106.  Together with the makeup and an expert vocal delivery, as well as stooped posture and other such tricks, Dee managed to pull it off.




Rob Lowe plays Nick Andros, the deaf-mute who is such a memorable part of the novel.  Like most of the other characters, Nick suffers big-time in the transition from page to screen.  None of that is due to Lowe, though.  He's terrific, not merely at the physical side of things on the deafness/muteness scale, but also at projecting Nick's innate goodness, his sense of humor, and his determination.

As I recall, this was a bit of a comeback role for Lowe, who had gone through some image-tarnishing sexcapades.  The Stand certainly did the trick, and just a few years later he was one of the main characters on The West Wing.

*****

There are plenty of other things to talk about, but I'm feeling that this is running a bit long, so let's shove some of that into our discussion of the second night, and move things along.

A few other things bear mentioning before we go, though:


  • I love the Steadicam shot at the beginning, in which the camera follows Campion as he goes running into his house, all the way through it, and out the other side of it all the way to his car.  I typically find Garris to be an unimaginative and ineffective visual director, but this moment in a notable exception.
  • The fake television ad for Flu Buddy cold relief medicine is amusing, and seems like a solidly on-the-nose mimicry of commercials from that era.  However, its placement sort of suggests subliminally that it is a product specifically designed to combat Captain Trips, and this clearly cannot be the case.  So it's a thumbs-up/thumbs-down scenario.



  • If we are discounting Ed Harris and Kathy Bates, the cameo by Joe Bob Briggs is probably the most effective in the entire miniseries.  For one thing, he seems like a genuine Texan (no surprise, since that's exactly what he is).  For another: he's Joe Bob em-effing Briggs!



  • During the Army invasion of Arnette, there is a moment in which some kids playing basketball lose control of their ball and let it go rolling into the street.  It is timed perfectly, and the ball goes rolling right under the wheel of one of the Army vehicles, which smooshes it flat.  Now, in 2013 that'd be easily done via CGI; in 1994, that was just awesome timing on the part of the second unit.  I wonder how many takes it took to achieve?
  • Campion is played by Ray McKinnon, who has gone on to do excellent work in movies like Mud and The Blind Side, as well as television projects like Dead Man's Walk and (especially) Deadwood.  He also won an Oscar for a short film he directed, and created the current television series Rectify, which has been highly praised by critics.  And as if that wasn't enough, he appeared in Needful Things as Norris Ridgewick.  I always like seeing McKinnon; I'd forgotten he was in this, and he's quite good in his small role.

  • I miss all of Larry's backstory, but if I'm being honest with myself, I have to admit that its absence hurts his character less than it hurts most of the others.  The California stuff and the hijinks with the dental hygienist and the Rita story; it's all great, but mostly the absence of them doesn't hurt.  Part of this may be that Larry's character arc just sort of dies out at some point during the novel, anyways.  He's a great character, but after he makes the decision to reject Nadine while in Boulder, he never has a clearly defined arc again; he goes to Las Vegas and dies for what amounts to no reason at all.  Whatever you consider his arc to be, it stays unfulfilled; so the absence of certain details that inform that arc end up not really mattering much.
  • In crafting the screenplay, King did make the occasional outstanding decision.  One of those: combining the two different disease-research centers (Atlanta and Stovington) into one.  Atlanta would have been an unnecessary complication, and King was wise to eliminate it.
  • Harold's poem in Everleaf is called "The Crushed Rose," and is a slightly revised version of the beginning of King’s poem “The Dark Man,” which begins thus: “i have stridden the fuming way/of sun-hammered tracks and/smashed cinders;”.  Here, “smashed cinders” is replaced with “savage hobo jungles.”  Kingphiles may be aware that "The Dark Man" was a poem King wrote while in college that marks the genesis of the Flagg character.  The dark man of the poem is not identified as Flagg, but when King began writing The Stand he had the poem in mind.  (It isn't a particularly good poem, however, and if you want evidence of it -- beyond just reading it -- witness the reactions of Frannie and her father: Mr. Goldsmith reads the lines aloud in a voice that implies that he thinks it's pretentious at best; and Frannie herself tells him to stop reading by waving at their air the way you'd try to wave off a rank fart in a small room.

  • Have I mentioned how much I hate the Rat Man?  Because I hate the Rat Man... 
  • The scenes involving Ray and his gang in Arkansas are just awful.  The guy playing Ray seems to think he's in a cartoon of some sort.  Mick Garris seems to have no ability to prevent performances like that when his actors decide to give them, which is one of the reasons why I dread seeing his name on a movie.

  • I'm not a fan of the cinematography.  Despite that, cinematographer Edward J. Pei was nominated for an Emmy.  (One year later, he did exquisite work on the Streets of Laredo miniseries, and he's been doing solid work ever since; so let's not be too harsh.)  The miniseries was filmed on 16mm stock, and...I dunno, maybe the DVD transfer is just crappy, but the miniseries mostly looks awful.  Here are some especially egregious shots that will make you wonder what the idea of the framing and lighting was:
Not, generally, a good idea to let something cover up the face of the scene's main character.

MOVE OVER...!



  • Thanks to the following screenshots, I can now imagine vividly what it might be like to have missionary-position sex with Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  (Thanks for that!)  And now, you can, too:


  • So, about the Monster Shouter: why does he know Larry's name?  What does this imply?  I feel certain it implies something.  I'm less certain that King and Garris wanted those implications to be present.  I also have to wonder what it implies about Flagg that he is able to reach out, across half a continent or more, and stop the Monster Shouter's heart.  Why does Flagg care?  If Flagg has that much power, why does not not use it more frequently?
  • Miguel Ferrer is top-notch as Lloyd.  I actually quite like Lloyd (not in the sense of him being a likeable person, but in the sense of him being a compelling character), and wish he had a bit more to do, somehow.  I also wish that his introductory scene was better.  It's bad; really bad.  Poke is awful; references to "Pokerizing" someone must seem downright unintelligible to anyone who hasn't read the novel; and the use of "Sharp Dressed Man" by ZZ Top seems a solid decade too late to be cool, edgy, dangerous, or anything else except kinda lame.  However, the moment in which Lloyd sees Flagg sitting stop the power line is great:




  • The scene in which Ed Harris orders that the news crew be stopped “by any means necessary” makes me think of the seemingly eternal tension between the restrictive government and the news media.  That’s a sub-theme running through this first night of the miniseries.  I can’t help but wonder what this theme would look like in a version of the story updated to 2015 or so.  What role would a channel like Fox News play in this scenario?  I know what modern King would say about that.  What would 1978 or 1990 King have to say about it?
  •  Speaking of that scene: "We don’t have to put up with you and your pinko friends anymore,” says the soldier to the news reporter shortly before killing her dead.  The politics of the miniseries are conservative in some ways, and liberal in others.  It’s a fascinating mix.  It even seems somewhat revolutionary in 2013; it seemed less so in 1994, which is a sad note.  But maybe that's just me.
  • The scene in which New York City is going to hell in a handbasket is cheesy as hell.  It screams "THIS WAS 1994 AND WE DID NOT HAVE THE BUDGET TO DO THIS WELL!"  It was, and they didn't.
  • Didja notice the radio station where Rae Flowers works?
  • There are a few decent jump-scares scattered throughout the miniseries, most of them involving Flagg suddenly being there.  One of the better ones is the one during which Stu is dreaming of Mother Abagail, only to have Flagg drop and hand on his shoulder suddenly.  He turns and sees something nobody really ever wants to see.  A big part of what makes it work is the sound design, which is good throughout the miniseries.
  • The confrontation between Stu and Dietz is awful.  No fight should involve one dude chuckig a remote control at another dude's head to get the upper hand over him.  Apart from that, the scene seems to go on for forty-five minutes or so.  And to make matters worse, the tag in which Dietz -- NOT DEAD! -- comes screaming back at Stu is just abysmal.  Has Stu gone deaf?  Dietz is bellowing behind him for a full second without Stu noticing.  Awful.
  • Hard not to think of the first episode of The Walking Dead during Stu's attempt to get out of the Stovington facility.  It's not a good comparison; Darabont did great work there, whereas this scene in The Stand is weak at best.  The corpse falling out of the elevator; the guy who wants Stu to eat chicken; those are very poor moments indeed.

 
 
And with that, I think I've rambled on about Part 1 of The Stand enough.  See y'all tomorrow for our look at Part 2.
But before I run, here's a grab-bag of unused screencaps.  Why let 'em go to waste?



I like seeing Bob Dylan's awesome Oh Mercy album poking out there.




Dietz doesn't work for me at all.  In fact, all of the stuff with the scientists seems to have been beamed in from some sort of anti-science screed from the 1950s.  Fair enough; but did it have to suck?

I hate this shot.







The bedside scene with Larry's mom is disturbing.

I like this shot a lot; the photo on the wall sells the whole thing for me.

This moment of Alice Underwood sitting up almost into the camera weirds me out.  It's disturbing, and therefore effective; but at the same time, I hate it, for reasons I can't quite explicate.



There are only a few times when the idea of Flagg being a man with no face is pursued in the miniseries.  Having no face doesn't quite work on film.  Edward J. Pei does his best with it here, though, and it works reasonably well.



Who holds a gun like that?


 
 

14 comments:

  1. Great, now I have "You Are Everybody" stuck in my head. (I've already sang it aloud before realizing it twice.)

    I totally missed WZON.(And I completely forgot about Flu Buddy.)

    I love that crow/raven-and-Quarantine shot, with the military trucks in the background.

    Molly Ringwald really IS miscast, and I can't tell if her part is underwritten for the mini-series or if it's a result of what she fails to do with it. I haven't seen this in awhile. But like you, in 1994, this was a huge deal with me. I love it. It wasn't until SyFy (then just Sci-Fi) rebroadcast it a couple of years later that I started picking at it.

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    1. In Ringwald's case, I think it's both. Fran is a strong character in the novel, but a lot of that strength comes via decisions she makes internally, which we are granted a peek at via the window that prose opens onto a character's private thoughts. Replicating that on film is undeniably difficult; but the end result is what happened here. The problem was then compounded by the severe miscasting, and the miscasting compounded further by a generally poor performance. I feel bad about saying that, because I've always liked Molly Ringwald; but so be it.

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    2. When reading the book I actually thought Molly Ringwald would be a good choice for Fran, but I didn't like her at all in the movie. Not because of any prejudice against her, but because of her acting. It almost feels like she's bored or annoyed the whole time, that she can't take any of it seriously. Someone on IMDB suggested Samantha Mathis for a better choice, and I have to say I really like the idea.

      I also never understood why they put in her in that horrible bowl cut. What was wrong with a redheaded Fran?

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    3. I don't think there's anything wrong with a redheaded Fran. You'll never hear me speak out against redheaded women; if anything, I'm prejudiced FOR them.

      My problem with Ringwald's casting is that what she used to specialize in -- this is my perception, at least -- is playing semi-spoiled brats who have a difficult time fighting through the various weaknesses that are part of their personalities. Fran is the exact opposite: she's a very strong -- and strong-willed -- woman who brings her strength of character to bear in fighting the obstacles life puts in her path.

      Hard to make that work.

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    4. You know I thought Molly Ringwald was a natural redhead until five minutes ago? Anyway, I wonder if it was Mick Garris who insisted on the brown hair or if she wanted to change her image, but I never liked her "look" (not looks) in this show.

      A slight exception to those bratty roles was "For Keeps", which might have given them the idea to cast her for this.

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    5. I don't think I ever saw that one.

      Ringwald ISN'T a natural red? I'd have lost money on that bet for sure.

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  2. Good review. I first saw it in 1994 as well. I was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany. My father recorded it for us and mailed the tapes (VHS!) to us. I watched in several times and in 2000 I bought the DVD box-set. It's gotten pretty creaky over the past twenty years, but I still watch it now and again. Like "The Omega Man" I guess it's just a sentimental favorite.

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    1. We've all got a few of those, don't we? And hey, who DOESN'T like "The Omega Man"?!?

      I remember the old days of mailing VHS tapes back and forth. I had a friend that did that for me with "Star Trek: Voyager" for a while. I was (and still am) a big ole Trekkie, but Tuscaloosa did not have a UPN affiliate when "Voyager" premiered, which almost broke my spirit. So a friend who lived in Auburn mailed me a few episodes. He couldn't keep up with it, though, so this only lasted for, like, three weeks.

      But even a few years later, I had other friends who were doing something similar with out-of-town friends of theirs to see episodes of "South Park." I bet people who have only lived during the Internet era hear stories like that and think of us older people as living in times of savagery!

      Anyways, thanks for reading, Jeff, and thanks for your service, too!

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  3. Late reply, but just to respond to one of your inquiries, the version of "Reaper" in The Stand is an actual remake of the song BOC did in 1994. They released an entire "greatest hits" album that year called Cult Classic that was all remakes. They're pretty hit or miss versions, but I have a soft spot for the album (and happen to like this version of "Reaper").

    Glad to have found your blog and all these King reviews!

    - Chris

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    1. THANK YOU, Chris! I've been hoping I would eventually find out what the deal was with that. I knew it wasn't the original version, so it's terrific to finally have some proof.

      I understand why bands feel the need to do stuff like that on occasion, but I wish they'd restrain themselves. I don't think I've ever heard a really great song improved in that fashion.

      Thanks again for stopping by and answering a big question for me. Come back any time!

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  4. Great read, I really enjoy hearing your thoughts on what I consider to be King's Magnum Opus, but a piece of work not without its share of flaws. I liked your idea about Mother Abigail not surviving. I think in general, less certainty for the four men sent to Vegas is a good thing. Maybe her only speaking to Stu via dream would make it more of a sacrifice for the others, as they would just taking it on faith that this is the correct course of action. In the novel, there's no reason for them to really doubt mother Abigail. Her being killed would enhance the drama for the four going to Vegas and add more weight to Harold's betrayal.


    Anything a screenwriter could do to give the four a little more agency and make the eventual outcome seem less like a forgone conclusion would be helpful.

    Also, it's in there already, but I think making it clear that Flagg is demanding every one of his followers attend the execution, even the ones camped out on the outskirts of Vegas guarding the city, would be helpful. Without men guarding the outskirts of the city, Trashcan Man arrives unnoticed. I think the current climax could work in a film and be satisfying, as long as there was a some fine-tuning. I would hope any film or TV series would stay far away from using a literal Hand of God. It's simply not necessary and dramatically/narratively unsatisfying.


    And personally,I'd like to see Flagg attempt to stop the energy ball from approaching the bomb, instead of just staying "NOOOOO...... Ok, peace out, everybody."

    And I fully agree that Joe and The Ratman are superfulous characters that don't need to be in any future adaptations.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Kevin! I had an absolute blast writing this series of posts. I've got issues with the miniseries, but I think a lot of it works really well, and I enjoyed rediscovering it.

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  5. "Now, in 2013 that'd be easily done via CGI; in 1994, that was just awesome timing on the part of the second unit. I wonder how many takes it took to achieve?"

    Bless you, sir, from an old pre-CGI-unsung-second-unit-alum!

    The cosmic thrill and learning curve of getting something right in analog circumstances (right down to timing your mix tape sides correctly) is largely gone from the world these days, but it felt great when it happened.

    (Or, as you allude to in your pt. 3 review, the rage and despair of coming home to discover your VCR didn't tape what it was supposed to...)

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    1. I guess stuff like that must still happen, but we've apparently reached an age where some projects are adding CGI tears onto the faces of their actors to make the performances seem more genuine. If we venture into those realms much more fully, I believe that will the point at which I make a conscious decision to simply disappear into the past. The present might be good for somebody, but at that point, I'm fairly sure it'll no longer be good for me. It's barely scrapin' by now as it is.

      A well-timed and sequenced mix tape was and is a work of art.

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