Well, we've reached the beginning of the end of our revisiting of The Stand in its miniseries incarnation. I've enjoyed doing this, and in some ways it has brought back a bit of the love I once had for it. I've unearthed a lot of things that I perceive to be problems, too, of course; but in the main, I think I'd have to say that the miniseries held up better than I expected it to do.
That said, there's no getting around what has to come next: my complaints about the ending. These are complaints that mostly deal with the novel itself, and so of course they mostly got ported over into the miniseries, which makes it doubly problematic. The bottom line is that I am unsatisfied by the act from which the novel draws its title: the "stand" that Larry, Glen, and Ralph make once they are in Las Vegas seems insubstantial, somehow. I understand its thematic relevance: the three of them (four, counting Stu) are asked by God's representative to undertake a journey of faith. They are promised nothing in return, and are told that one of them will fall by the wayside. Stu is that one, and the leg injury he sustains at first seems to be a cruel one, but is eventually revealed to be an act of mercy, not merely toward him but also toward Frannie and her unborn child.
The rewards for the remaining trio are less bountiful: Glen is shot and killed; Larry and Ralph are spared from death by dismemberment, but the means by which they are saved is obliteration in an atomic blast. Not exactly the same as being scooped up and carried to safety by Superman, is it?
My complaint is that I simply don't see the point of it. What does God mean to accomplish here? By which I really mean, what does Stephen King wish for us to think that God meant to accomplish? The theme that comes through loud and clear is that evil will eventually collapse in upon itself -- like a star whose mass has become too dense, and collapses in on itself, creating a black hole -- and commit a sort of suicide. Flagg has built his Las Vegan society by turning to people like Trashcan Man; and having made that bed, he has no choice but to lie in it.
That much I get, and it works. What I don't get is why Stu, Larry, Glen, and Ralph needed to be sent out to be a part of that story. It was going to happen on its own, one way or the other. So what does the presence of Larry and Ralph at the end accomplish? Does it fulfill Larry's story arc in any way? Does it fulfill Ralph's? The answers are "I don't know," "no," and "no" (although since Ralph has no story arc, it's hardly relevant in his case).
What I think is intended is that Stu -- being the one of the quartet who fell by the wayside -- was meant to bear witness. But Stu has no clue what happened, so what witness can he possibly bear? He can, presumably, make the educated guess that an atomic bomb was somehow detonated, but let's face facts: he would have no idea how it happened, who was responsible (if anyone -- as far as he knows, it could have been a random accident, not unlike the one that washed the road out where he fell), or even whether Flagg was destroyed in the blast.
Remember back when I wrote that scrap of screenplay based on The Stand a few weeks ago? In thinking about that project, I did a LOT of contemplation on how I would handle the end of the series, in the hypothetical sense of things. My gut kept telling me to change it altogether, to just rewrite it on a massive scale. I'm talking on a scale such as to make it where Larry Underwood never even went to Las Vegas; he stayed behind, because his story was unfinished. Thing is, I didn't know what the finish to his story was, so I couldn't figure out a truly valid reason to not send him to Vegas; "I just didn't want to" isn't quite good enough, is it?
The idea behind me writing that scrap of screenplay was simply for me to see what doing it was like. It was prompted by the semi-controversy that came into being based on the King fan community's reception of the television series version of Under the Dome, and also to a press release King himself put out in which he told people to not worry about how different it was from the book; the changes didn't bother him, so why should they bother anyone else?
It's an interesting topic, and I've got one foot on either side of the issue. The feet are still in the same place, too, but by writing my little bit of screenplay, I came to understand -- to at least some small degree -- what it must be like to be a professional screenwriter who is charged with adapting a novel, or some other bit of source material. I set out intending to be as faithful as I could possibly be to the opening of the novel, and yet from literally the first line, I found myself changing things. From there, my imagination took over and started whispering, Pssst...hey, buddy...wouldn't this be a better idea than what's in the book? What a remarkably silly notion! I'm a 39-year-old movie-theatre manager who's never been paid to write a word in his life, and in all likelihood never will be; the idea of me doing anything better than Stephen King can do it is laughable. "Laughable" doesn't even begin to cover it, really.
I'm under no illusions to the contrary, though; so I've at least got that in my favor. The thing is, if even I begin thinking of ways to rewrite my favorite writer during an exercise in screenwriting, what must it be like for a seasoned pro screenwriter? When that voice rears its head, wouldn't you probably find yourself listening to it? You'd at least be more inclined to do so than, say, I would be. So in that sense, the exercise was a success; I suddenly understood how something like the Under the Dome series happens.
And I remembered that when I started thinking things like, "You know, if I ever got to make this into a tv series, maybe Larry could just stay at home." Obviously, doing that would be the wrong approach. If my intent was to create a piece of fanfiction and say that what I'd written was the story of how the events of The Stand happened on a different level of the Tower, then okay, yeah, maybe Larry could live in that version. But in an actual adaptation? Sorry, but Larry is toast; and Glen, and Ralph. The task at hand would be to try to find a way of doing what (in my opinion) King failed to do: give Larry's story arc a feel of conclusion and summation. That would likely involve doing something to change various other scenes throughout the story in slight ways. One potential example: have Larry's arc be that he has never been able to find faith within himself. So that at the end, when he closes his eyes and just turns himself over to God's will, it feels like a circle of some sort is closing; or, if you prefer, like a lock has finally clicked shut.
Ideally, I'd also like to see that serve as some sort of catalyst for what happens with the a-bomb. How? Beats me. Hire me to figure it out, and I'll figure it out; that much, I can promise.
While we're at it, here are a couple of other problems I'd like to see solved: maybe Larry could appear to Stu -- or to Lucy, or to Joe -- the way Nick appears to Tom, and tell him/her about what happened. I kind of like the idea of Larry appearing to Joe in that manner, and Joe writing it all down; sort of a new Book of Revelation, you might even call it. The second: for Pete's sake, could we get to know Ralph a bit better during the course of the story?
Now, that long preamble was in service of me telling you in explicit fashion just how I feel like the end of the Las Vegas storyline doesn't quite work. For a long time, I thought that I was of the opinion that the religious aspects troubled me. They don't. They're fine. There's actually some real grace to them, you know? (Pun intended.) My problem is entirely with the two-part problem of Larry's story arc feeling unfulfilled and the lack of a genuine surviving witness to the proceedings. Solve those problems -- which, frankly, seem very easy to solve -- and I'm back in full sympathy.
Those problems were not solved for the miniseries. Instead, a new problem was added to the mix: dodgy special effects that show "God's hand" reaching down to the bomb. Mick Garris speaks poorly of those effects on the commentary track, and he's not wrong to do so. I've seen worse -- the Langoliers in the movie of the same name come to mind -- but even in 1994, this climactic moment of God's seeming intervention seemed thin and disappointing thanks to the effects. (I say "seeming" because it's worth pointing out that the "hand" is actually residual energy from the energy blast Flagg uses on a traitorous subject.)
Effects notwithstanding, the climax is relatively well-made, and the acting is good, and Snuffy Walden's music is good. It all works on a technical level. The story, though, remains what it is, and you either embrace it or you feel vaguely let down. This is not quite the same level of cheatery as having the police show up at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- or having a big Terry Gilliam-animated foot come sailing down from the heavens and smash everyone to bits -- but in a way, it's similar. Even today, as we begin to approach the novel's fortieth (!) anniversary, you still hear people -- including me -- refer to it as an epic battle between good and evil. But let's face it: that battle never comes, does it? I can recall being disappointed that Sauron never showed up in The Lord of the Rings, but heck, at least there we got some nifty battles with orcs and giant spiders and whatnot. Here? We get an arsonist on a dunebuggy and a deus ex machina. Kablooey, and then Stu and Tom try to get back home.
Despite that, the miniseries does manage to come to a relatively satisfying close, emotionally. Stu and tom's journey home is severely truncated, but it still more or less comes through; Stu and Fran's reunion is still satisfying, and while I miss the idea of the two of them turning their back on Boulder, I like the little bit where Fran says that maybe her daughter will be able to figure out the question which has haunted the story: do people change? Can they?
Overall, I think the miniseries is still a bit of a failure. But that's just me. A lot of people love it to pieces, and watching it through this time -- and then thinking about it critically (both pros and cons) for these blog posts -- I rediscovered some of my sympathy for that way of looking at it. It's a better miniseries than I'd remembered. I think it can be improved upon, but it ain't too shabby, all things considered.
Now, let's have us a look at some odds and ends.
- The fourth episode begins with Flagg shocking Harold into running his motorcycle off a cliff. There is an absolutely terrific stunt that happens during this scene. It isn't as good as some of the stunts I've been infrequently blogging about over on my James Bond blog (You Only Blog Twice, if it please ya, or even if it don't)...but it's pretty damn good. The following screencaps are my attempt to capture it in still form:
- The scene in which Lloyd's goons fail to properly preserve the head of Judge Ferris is notable if only for the fact that one of the goons, Bobby Terry, is played by Sam Raimi. He's actually pretty good, too. He gets off a scream that would do Bruce Campbell proud. (And Flagg's dialogue is infinitely better here than in the novel. In the novel he says something ludicrous like, "Hey, Bobby Terry! You screeeeeeeeewed it up!" In the miniseries, he appears out of nowhere and says, "You in a heap o' trouble, son!" WAY better. That moment is screencapped below for your viewing pleasure.)
- Flagg morphs into his demon form several times, and boy, does it suck. The makeup itself isn't all that great, for one thing; rather than make Flagg scarier, it just makes him look a bit silly. But the CGI morphs don't work at all. Bear in mind, this was 1994, so seeing such things on television was rare. Heck, it was still a bit rare to see them in cinemas. But even by 1994 standards, these were subpar morphs.
- The scene in which Trashcan Man sabotages the airfields and goes riding off, bellowing "I'M SO SORRY!!!!!" at the top of his lungs is ass. Sweaty, unwashed ass. The way Frewer screams his dialogue is so unbelievably bad that it's just unthinkable to me that somebody didn't insist that it be changed. If not Garris, then King; if not King, then someone at ABC; somebody! It's like he's doing an impersonation of Rosie O'Donnell in Riding the Bus with My Sister, except that movie didn't exist yet, so maybe it's the reverse. Either way, it sucks.
- The sequence in which Stu's leg gets broken is really very good. All the way around: the effects are good, the acting is good, the editing is good. Nothing to complain about here.
- Ray Walston is good in general throughout the miniseries as Glen, but he's great on at least two occasions in this final episode: telling Stu that taking too much medicine could be fatal; and laughing at Flagg when Flagg suggests that he get on his knees and beg for freedom.
- I mentioned this in one of the other posts, I think, but it's worth re-emphasizing how unsatisfactory it is that Frannie gets nothing to do in the fourth episode except tell Stu goodbye and then tell him hello again. This too stems from the novel, where Boulder and its inhabitants are "offscreen" for the final act. It's an effective thing in the novel, although it weakens Fran a bit as a character. If the Bryant-produced adaptation ever happens, I'd like to find a way to show what Fran and Lucy and Joe are up to, and I'd probably tie it in some way into Fran's decision to return to Maine; I'd probably try to dramatize the idea that Boulder is slowly being taken over by potentially bad politics. I dunno, something like that.
- Nadine's story arc comes to a disturbing end. Laura San Giacomo is pretty good at playing Nadine in her catatonic state, although I really don't like the moment when she is in the elevators, the doors in the process of closing, and says, "We are dead, and this...is.hell..." She seems a bit too happy about it; she's going for freaky and weird and oogy, but instead she just seems stoned. Doesn't work at all.
- I mentioned the Sam Raimi cameo, but there are two other director cameos in Part 4, too. I failed to screencap Tom Holland (of Fright Night and Child's Play fame, and also of Thinner and The Langoliers infamy), but here's one of John Landis, who wields a gun like a born killer:
- One final complaint: I hate this shot of an ethereal Mother Abagail, looming angelically over the newborn child:
And that's that, I guess. I'll be back tomorrow or the next day with a review of the soundtrack CD, which ought to be fun.
Until then, here's a few more leftover screencaps:
|Forgot to mention Kellie Overbey, who didn't get to do much as Dayna, but did what she got pretty well.|
|"The feeb...!" Ugh...|
|That's a beautiful shot, there.|
|The cinematography in Glen's prison scene is wretched.|
|That cane looks a little similar to the one Andre Linoge carries in Storm of the Century, and I assume that to be a complete coincidence...but a notable one.|