Monday, August 26, 2013

Movie Review: "The Stand, Part 4: The Stand" (1994)

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"  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.


  1. Comparisons are odious, but… it’s tough for me not to compare the end of Battlestar Galactica with the end of The Stand, with the former looking mighty good by comparison. I’m not a Christian nor am I an atheist, so I really have no attachment to either worldview but the idea of God / dreams given to a chosen few is certainly integral to both stories. And I greatly prefer BSG’s and see it as tidying up a logical throughline with all that came before it. Whereas The Stand just feels like deus-ex-machina.

    So, like you say, the mini-series can’t help but telescope this aspect of the novel’s end, but there’s a big difference (for me anyway) in reading about it vs. seeing it, with the four guys singing gospel songs heading down the highway. It just instantly presses every cynicism button in my head. If Adama ended BSG singing "Kum-ba-yah," I'd feel similarly.

    All I’m doing is describing my own reaction, of course, not saying it’s how everyone else should or did react. But yeah, though I haven’t seen this in many a M-O-O-N, when I think about it, all I can hear is Larry saying “Let’s sing the praise of the Lord, brother,” or whatever. At least Megiddo: The Omega Code II has… well, Megiddo. Never discount the entertainment value of a bat-winged goat-headed-god quoting the Book of Revelations. It works in most circumstances.

    “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? ”

    Bingo. It seems an awful lot of work and dream-suggestion to set up this circumstance, then step in directly to blow up everyone, including some of your own. Meh. It bristles me both dramatically and theologically; Larry’s character arc (or any of the “chosen few”s actually.)

    I mean... is there a Hindu version of The Stand playing out in India simultaneously? I hope someone in Bollywood is way ahead of me here. This is my biggest problem to good vs. evil scenarios - they should make more of an effort to reflect other belief systems, or they shouldn't be done.

    (Not that The Stand shouldn't have been done; it's great stuff. Just... it's tough to take the stuff literally, and you kind of have to just to enter the world of the characters and events. And at that point, a lot of interior-logic klaxons start going off.)

    I have made this objection to The Stand many times before and I stand (heh) by it: it’s a brilliant read, but the end has two elements that make it hard for me to say it’s King’s best. The first is all of the above. The second is: Nick’s appearing in dreams to guide Tom.

    It has precedent in the novel, re: dream visitations, but I guess this is one of King’s go-tos (like ubiquitous telepathy) that I sometimes really grumble about. Because it IS a cop-out. Whenever he writes himself into a situation, he can write himself out of it by dream visitations/ prognostication/ telepathic contact. I don’t really mind it, because he writes so entertainingly and I like so many other things about his work, but having all of these elements collide at the end of The Stand, particularly after how painstakingly and realistically the end of the world and everyone coming together is presented…. It just bothers me.

    Sorry to ramble on. I just re-read all that and I could probably tidy it up and make it more concise. But damn it, you got me thinking. Back to review specifics:

    - Garris has way too much of a hard-on for bad make-up masks and such. It’s a huge turn-off for me.

    - I actually really hate that picture of Mother Abigail floating over the baby. When ghost-Jack appears to Tony-Danny at the end of Garris’ The Shining, I had a similar reaction.

    - I love that Flu Buddy body-strung-up shot. Too bad THAT Mick Garris can’t make all the decisions re: visual design!!

    1. Oh, man, that thing with Tony and Danny at the end of the remake of "The Shining" is AWFUL. I suspect that King gets as much of the blame for that as anyone, since he wrote the screenplay, and he presumably also wrote the small bit with Mother Abagail at the end here. It's fine in theory; it's just poorly-executed.

      Nick appearing to Tom in a dream doesn't bother me. I don't mind a little bit of that sort of thing every once in a while. The first one to come to mind for me is Pea Eye being visited by an apparition of Deets in "Lonesome Dove," and that book is a completely non-fantastical thing. There, you can explain it away -- if you're so inclined -- by Pea Eye being exhausted to the point of hallucination. "The Stand" is obviously more of a fantasy environment, so it works a bit better.

      If you've a mind to, you can also imagine that Nick actually IS there; or at least, a different version of him, gone todash from whatever level of the Tower he lives on.

      So yeah, the dream visitations don't bother me. I totally get how they bother you, though; in a way, they are as much a deus ex machina as an actual deus ex machina, and those are always worth complaining about.

    2. "If you've a mind to, you can also imagine that Nick actually IS there; or at least, a different version of him, gone todash from whatever level of the Tower he lives on."

      I think you just redeemed this longstanding-objection of mine in one fell swoop. Thank you! Gone Todash is indeed the lens that clarifies the sequence for me.

      Cultural Optometry, Truth Inside the Lie style...!

    3. I'm with on the "Battlestar Galactica" reference, by the way. I love that finale. A lot of people don't, but I felt like it all worked. Even the part with Kara's reappearance going unexplained. (THAT, I thought, was a retelling of the "ship of lights" storyline from the original series, but from a standpoint of everyone involved being determined to never actually admit it. The point being, to make a storyline wherein "angels" exist, but are so mysterious that they retain that mystery for the entirety of their interaction with the series. Admittedly, that's reading a LOT into things...but it works for me, and I'm sticking with it.)

      Happily, nobody in the miniseries actually sings any gospel songs as they walk down the highway. Ick; that would have been awful. Does that happen in the novel? I can't recall.

      I'd never considered the idea that other parts of the world might have their own versions of Flagg, and their own versions of Mother Abagail, and their own bands of survivors going through region-specific apocalyptic religious struggles. I've often wondered what sorts of things were happening across the globe; but the different-religions thing never occurred to me.

      Here's how I look at it personally, and this is where I decide to drag "The Dark Tower" into things rather than leave it out: thanks to that series, we know that Flagg ISN'T Satan. So presumably, in "The Stand" he is just trying to make people think that he is, the better to gain control over them. He's presumably doing this to serve the Crimson King in some way; or maybe he's just on vacation, having some yuks. Either way, I would tend to assume that there is no Flagg equivalent in India, or China, or Paris, or Moscow, or anywhere else other than right at the heart of where the superflu began. Therefore, there is no intervention by the deities of those and other areas, because there is no similar struggle going on.

      But I'm with you; if there isn't a Bollywood version of "The Stand," there ought to be.

    4. "Happily, nobody in the miniseries actually sings any gospel songs as they walk down the highway. Ick; that would have been awful. Does that happen in the novel? I can't recall."

      I guess I'm misremembering it. I thought Larry was playing some kind of religious song as they walked along. It's been a long time - my bad.

      Good point(s) re: Flagg. Kudos on these - quite a comprehensive overview.

    5. I'd have been okay with Larry singing, theoretically, if he was given the right song. I think anything gospel would have been way too on-the-nose.

      Earlier in the movie, he sings "Eve of Destruction," but that works because you can tell that he knows how on-the-nose it is, and that's why he's doing it; to give himself a bit of black comedy. But maybe there are other songs from that era that could have worked. Something by Dylan would probably work. Not something obvious like "The Times They Are A-Changin'," though, or "Blowin' in the Wind."

      How about "Let Me Die in My Footsteps"? Lyrics to follow:

      I will not go down under the ground
      ’Cause somebody tells me that death’s comin’ ’round
      An’ I will not carry myself down to die
      When I go to my grave my head will be high
      Let me die in my footsteps
      Before I go down under the ground

      There’s been rumors of war and wars that have been
      The meaning of life has been lost in the wind
      And some people thinkin’ that the end is close by
      ’Stead of learnin’ to live they are learnin’ to die
      Let me die in my footsteps
      Before I go down under the ground

      I don’t know if I’m smart but I think I can see
      When someone is pullin’ the wool over me
      And if this war comes and death’s all around
      Let me die on this land ’fore I die underground
      Let me die in my footsteps
      Before I go down under the ground

      There’s always been people that have to cause fear
      They’ve been talking of the war now for many long years
      I have read all their statements and I’ve not said a word
      But now Lawd God, let my poor voice be heard
      Let me die in my footsteps
      Before I go down under the ground

      If I had rubies and riches and crowns
      I’d buy the whole world and change things around
      I’d throw all the guns and the tanks in the sea
      For they are mistakes of a past history
      Let me die in my footsteps
      Before I go down under the ground

      Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
      Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
      Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
      Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace
      Let me die in my footsteps
      Before I go down under the ground

      Go out in your country where the land meets the sun
      See the craters and the canyons where the waterfalls run
      Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho
      Let every state in this union seep down deep in your souls
      And you’ll die in your footsteps
      Before you go down under the ground

      "Masters of War" might also have worked, I guess. There are multiple options.

    6. Here's a link to Dylan doing "Let Me Die in My Footsteps":

      Awesome song -- he recorded it for his second album, but decided to leave it off. Dude's castoffs are better than most people's greatest hits...

    7. Anything by Dylan would have been suitable. Like you say, the guy's b-sides and castoffs are better than most people's smash hits.

      Those lyrics are great. Dylan is great. Put that on the dollar bill, Uncle Sam.

      It's weird discovering they weren't singing gospel songs on the way to Vegas - I have such a clear memory of their doing so. The mind plays tricks. This usually happens when I remember a line of dialogue said in an exaggerated fashion, then go back to it and discover, oh... not exaggerated at all.

      (Obviously, this rarely happens with Shatner.)

    8. "Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" comes to mind, as well; that would have been fantastic montage material.

      Sorry to comment-bomb ya, mate!

    9. Bombs away, my man. Bumpty-bumpty-bump! Ciabola! My life for YOU!

      I could talk about Dylan (and/or Springsteen) for hours and never get bored. He's utterly fascinating. I picked "Let Me Die in My Footsteps" on a whim for that comment above, and when I started reading through the lyrics after looking them up, I was shocked by how appropriate they are. My subconscious mind at work!

      Dylan also brings to mind another "Battlestar Galactica" association: that time that "All Along the Watchtower" showed up. I'm not sure I ever bought the excuse for how and why that happened -- it being a sort of universal idea plucked out of the aether -- but it was so badass, I didn't care.

    10. Frakkin' A. For real: when "Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl" screeched out from the soundtrack and the camera swooped along the side of the Galactica towards the end of season3 - before that magnificent zoom-out - good god, top 5 moments of tv, ever. And at least 2 of the others are BSG as well!

      That version of "Watchtower," too, is just genius.

    11. And the foreshadowing of it all! Masterful. (Apparently, I feel the need to geek out on BSG for a minute.) Episodes in the making, forming in the static and then on the piano and then fully orchestrated, with weird Middle Eastern sounds (that seemed to grow organically from the sound design already established) plus 80s vocals and guitars.

      Written out like that, it almost seems like it'd be too much, or wrong. But it works so well.

    12. Oh, yeah, you're singin' my tune now, baby...

      That moment was GENIUS. When I realized what the music was, and what it meant, I literally stood up and jogged around the room for a few seconds, I was so excited. Ah, that fickin' notch. (I'm writing this while taking a break from writing my review of tonight's execrable episode of "Under the Dome," and just contemplating that dreck in relation to the episode of BSG we're discussing makes me hate the ep of UtD all the more.)

      I loved Bear McCreary's music for BSG in general, but that was genuinely one of his best moments. That guy needs to start scoring big-budget movies. He's apparently going to be composing "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," which is a step in the right direction.

  2. Sorry for checking in late, had a whole day of school studies today and this whole four parter was here when I arrived.

    Judging it as a whole, I'd have to say it's pretty good, and fairly on target.

    The only thing I could think to add was an interesting idea I had while I was reading.

    It has to do with Trashcan. I remembered something some fan of the comics said that stuck in my mind. He (or maybe she, though I'm going to assume it was a guy) said he liked how the artwork on Trash made him seem like a normal person until he grinned/smiled.

    With that in mind, I think the best way of introducing audiences to one of the most iconic characters in the book is to base an entire episode around him. How does this sound for openers?

    EXT: Deserted Town. Streets - Day
    Like every other American city or town post plague, this one shows all signs of desertion. Surprisingly little to no bodies or signs of looting. Cut to:

    EXT: Scrubba-Dubba Car Wash. Parking Lot - Day
    The Car Wash is deserted, though a few cars are still in the lot. On the hood of a 75 Pacer sits a long haired young man, very young, dressed in brown bib overalls over a white shirt eating a sandwich, nervous, eyes squinted against sun, freckles clear on his face. This is DONALD MERWIN ELBERT, THE TRASHCAN MAN.

    He finishes, puts away remains of sandwich, leaves hood of Pacer, walks into:

    LEGEND: Powtanville, Indiana

    EXT: Deserted Town. Streets - Day
    TRASH walks the empty streets of Powtanville, hands in his pockets, casts puzzled glances. He halts at a four way intersection, the stoplight blinking on and off overhead.

    A series of audible clinks!, metal on metal catches both TRASH'S and our attention. He moves off in the direction of noise to:

    EXT. Car Lot - Day.
    The sign reads, "Yates Used and New, We buy and sell with the best." The metal sounds are coming from around back of the building, past the show models and office. TRASH walks through car lot, following noise back to:

    EXT: back of Car Lot
    We round a corner to reveal a plump man in mechanics fatigues, top half buried in the hood of an Olds 88, tinkering with it, CARLEY YATES. TRASH comes to a halt at the sight of YATES, bunches shoulders, a turtle trying to disappear in it's shell.

    YATES' top half emerges from car engine, shuts hood, and notices:

    YATES: ...Don?

    TRASH: (no reply)

    YATES: Donnie Elbert

    TRASH: (no reply, but his shoulders un-bunch just a fraction)

    YATES: How you doin' son. Cat got your tongue.

    TRASH:...Fine...I guess...Hey, Carl.

    YATES: Here about a bad case of the flu goin' round?

    TRASH: (nods) I guess...Kinda hard to miss.

    YATES: What you goin' do now?

    TRASH (shakes head, shrugs, uncertain, shoulders re-bunch).

    An awkward beat, TRASH turns, starts to leave.

    YATES: Hey Trashcan Man!

    TRASH pauses mid-step, grimaces visibly, a sad look grows on his face and for a moment it looks like his head will disappear into his shoulders.

    YATES: What did old lady Semple say when you torched her pension check!

    TRASH doesn't respond, walks away to:

    INT. House. Night.
    TRASH is at his house, what little there is of it. It's little more than grand tar-paper shack. He sits at kitchen table, playing with two paper clips.

    That's a start, at least. the rest of the episode would take us through a brief, short, unhappy life of the Trashcan Man, mainly it would be moments of him recalling how he got this way (with appropriate Flagg cameos here and there).

    The only other scene I have is:

    EXT. Top of Cheery Oil tank - day
    Teash lounges atop the main tanker with explosive equipment scattered around sa he slowly and methodically goes about building a bomb. Occasionally humming a tune to himself:

    TRASH (barely audible) Hey Baby I came down here tonight...I didn't mean to raise a fuss or pick a fight...Bumpity-bump...Just want you to tell me if you think you can...Tell me once and I'll understand...Baby can you dig your man.

    How does all that sound?


    1. I think it sounds like you have a solid handle on the sort of television series I'd like see somebody make out of "The Stand."

      Speaking of the comics, by the way, my next project for this blog will be a five-part review of the graphic novels that form Marvel's adaptation. I've got to reread my way through them first, though, and that's gonna take a while!

  3. Larry's arc always seem straightforward enough to me. He goes from being a Taker to a Giver. Selfish to selfless. Someone who runs from all responsibility to bravely accepting and shouldering responsibility. Off the top of my head:

    - He flees from L.A to escape responsibility for his actions.

    - Note the conversation with his mother where she says something is 'broken' in him and that he can only take from people

    - The scene of him leaving his one night stand in NY, she throws the spatula and screams over and over how that "I thought you were a nice guy, Larry. You ain't no nice guy!"

    - Leaving his mother's body in the hospital after she dies and running.

    - Multiple mentions of him worrying about being responsible for Rita, then giving up on Rita before he steps into the Lincoln Tunnel.

    - Fleeing from Rita's corpse without burying her.

    - Not wanting the responsibility of Nadine and her feral kid

    - Nadine begging him to make love to her in Boulder to save her from Flagg, and his growing sense of responsibility to his new girlfriend, but the nagging feeling that, as she leaves, he flashes back to Spatula Girl telling him he's 'not a nice guy'.

    - Takes up responsible position on the Denver Government.

    - Makes the trek west, putting his faith in God.

    - Understands they're both going to die in the jail when Glen is killed, holds Ralph's hand, giving comfort.

    - Gives himself fully over to God's Will at the crucifixion.

    If his mother saw this progression would she still call him a Taker?

    1. The story doesn't do much with the idea of Larry giving himself over to God. It's there; it's just not developed very well, and there's no satisfying connection between this and him learning not to be a taker.

      My point being, it's THERE; it's just dramatically unsatisfying as presented. For me, at least. Not to a huge degree, though; I still love the novel and (mostly) like the miniseries.

  4. It's subtle for King, yeah. The back third of the novel - everything after the Boulder bombing when King was blocked for a long time - simply isn't as well-thought out as the previous sections.

    The low-violence rating deeply hurts the miniseries: Flagg's evil is largely-downplayed, to the extent they focus more on his plans going wrong and him losing his hold on power before they show his dark power over his people to begin with. This shift makes him seem a vague, weaker threat. Even the Boulder Bomb seems to come from a pre-existing place of jealously and resentment inside of Harold.

    In the book it is clearer: Flagg plans to carpet bomb Boulder, and is hoping Trashy finds the SuperFlu laboratory so Flagg can supercharge it further to wipe the good survivors out. This later point is contradicted by having Flagg's Raven Form watch the initial outbreak on the base in the opening scene of the miniseries.

    This poor direction really comes into play during The Stand itself. I think the scene could work almost as written in the book, but Garris fails to give it the grandeur and power it needs, particularly by turning being quartered by trucks into just a crucifixion, which doesn't explain the bloodlust of the crowd. It's supposed to be a ghastly show trial - the crowd should be both eager and fearful of what they're about to see - and it just seems a damp squib on the screen.

    Larry and Ralph need to sense the first creeping inevitability that something bigger than themselves is about to happen, then feeling it accelerating in intensity, and realising their part in it.

    Maybe Ralph says "Look at that crowd. It looks like everyone in Vegas came out to see us."

    Larry thinks on this for a moment, then fixes Ralph's eyes. "Everyone in Vegas *is* here."

    They understand it's coming. They have faith.

    There's 2000 years of Christian Imagery to draw on. Peace, acceptance, and belief in salvation. Take a painting like the Martyrdom of the Four Saints.

    The fear of the arrival of the nuclear bomb needs to be more horrific - the miniseries never sells it because nuclear paranoia had culturally-subsided by the time the miniseries was made. I think there's a moment in the novel where Julie looks in horror at the bomb, and wants to flee, but stays because she understands there is nowhere you can run from it. She accepts death is inevitable.

    For still-powerful depictions of nuclear fear, look at early 80's movies like 'The Day After' and 'Threads', to realise just how Terrifying the bomb should feel and how human, humbled and pathetic the crowd should feel before it.

    I'd make one small change: the magical attack that initiates the blast should be directed at Larry, not some random member of the Flagg's crowd. Flagg's magical power has been shown to be waning, by him being unable to fly easily after Nadine dies. So, Larry starts to sway the crowd, someone questions it, Flagg lashes out at Larry, his faith protects him from harm of Flagg's weakened attack, he repels it, it arcs back out in a display that could be interpreted as a hand-shaped form, and triggers the bomb.

    That being said, I think a new movie version is a pointless exercise in 2015. I'll explain why in a second.

    1. I think parts of the novel's final section work very well. To this day, I can remember how surprised, worried, and (eventually) moved I was by the the stories of Stu and Tom intersected. And I also think that having Trashcan Man show up again works. But for me, I have a hard time escaping the fact that there isn't a big battle of some sort. Understand that I'm not saying I want one, or that the existing ending doesn't make thematic sense (particularly for Christians); I'm just saying that I think the focus needed to be a bit more solidly placed on making that ending seem like the inevitable and appropriate one during the earlier sections of the book. A hypothetical movie/tv version could accomplish that fairly easily, I think, because it IS all there; I just think certain things needed a bit more emphasis so that the payoff at the climax is stronger.

      You make a lot of great points about where and how the miniseries dropped the ball. Some of that is Mick Garris's fault, but some of it is also the fault of King's screenplay (and novel), and some is simply the fault of the medium: in this case, nineties network television, which had both budgetary and censorial concerns.

      I look forward to hearing why you think a new movie is pointless.

  5. Part 1

    All that said, I don't think 'The Stand' is a viable movie or television property in 2015. To start with, consider the two versions of the novel:

    I've just been reading the 1990 version of the novel for the first time, having grown up with the original in the early 80's, and, despite the hype of it being King's 'original intention', large chunks of the text seem to come from somewhere else: what I'd consider King's post-'Tommyknockers' voice, to the extent of revising certain scenes from the original text to be less compassionate. The 70's voice is more idealised and poetic, the late 80's voice is more cynical and believes the post-modern 'ugliness is truth' cliche.

    The two voices are fighting throughout the text and it weakens the novel.

    'The Stand' is a Seventies Work, as perfect a summing up of the political climate of the 70's and its related apocalyptic fears as one could hope for, which it explains its popularity at the time. As such, if someone asked me what it was like living in the 70's, I'd give them the book.

    By moving the timeline further into the future, King's world stops making sense and reads utterly-false. Flagg's radical underground network is long a thing of the past by 1990. Student radicalism had become nonviolent and the ex-Hippies had all become Yuppies through the 80's. Larry - let's be real here - Larry is a poorly-disguised 70's Bruce Springsteen - would have been all over MTV, and easily-recognisable. Rita's 'mother's little helper' addiction is a 70's holdover. Frannie's discussion of abortion, the preciousness of her mother's parlour and her concerns over what the neighbours would think - to the extent of sending her away until the baby was born - ring particularly false in 1990. The final payoff is the grand 70's / early's 80's fear of death by nuclear destruction, one that was pushed out of the cultural boogeyman spotlight by Reagan and Gorbochov's disarmament treaties in Glasnost.

    If these themes didn't truthfully resonate across the 12 years between the first version and the uncut version, can they still resonate with a modern audience?

    The main problem I see with a new adaptation is the Christian Themes of the work. I was reading studies recently that describes the Millennial Generation as the least religious ever. On top of that, they haven't replaced organised religion with the search for alternative religions or any kind of spirituality whatsoever (Gaia, Wiccanism etc). They simply don't believe in anything outside of themselves.

    As such, you have a movie where the main theme will result in a large percentage of a modern audience rolling their eyes and spitting vicious snark at it, particularly the coastal media elite, who are currently concerned with injecting 'Social Justice' into all cultural commentary - as such, a story of White Christians reaffirming their spiritual faith will be resoundingly mocked, because they're considered a Powerful, Oppressive Class and attacking them is 'punching up'. This media elite is currently-floating the post-Gay Marriage belief that Christian Churches should lose their non-profit status, due to 'hate speech'.

    Forget putting it on a cable channel as a series: HBO and Showtime have largely Liberal (read: Atheist) Audiences. HBO itself is desperately trying to expand its audience with women under 40 for their valuable advertising dollars, and a tale of Violent Christianity doesn't fit the target market.

    1. Lots to cover here, so I'll try to respond point by point.

      "The 70's voice is more idealised and poetic, the late 80's voice is more cynical and believes the post-modern 'ugliness is truth' cliche." -- I don't have a good enough memory to be able to distinguish between the two versions in many aspects. However, I remember thinking during the last time I read the expanded edition that some of it was anachronistic and ought to have been updated. I think somebody had a Farrah Fawcett poster or something, which nobody in the nineties would have. I assumed this meant that King had failed to update the novel at all, apart from simply changing some dates. But what you say indicates that's not the case. Very interesting! I'm adding this to my mental inventory of topics to purse at length whenever I get around to fully covering "The Stand."

      "By moving the timeline further into the future, King's world stops making sense and reads utterly-false." -- I mostly agree. It does seem to have been a tale of its time. However, I still think an adaptation could be done that would do one of two things: (1) honor those origins and serve as a knowing exploration of that era, or (2) port in the elements which are still relevant and allow them to serve as a backbone for trying to do a similar version for this era. The trick is, I think, that an adapter would have to be cognizant of these things, and pick one approach or the other (or possibly a better one which I am not thinking of). It's the reason why King is best when adapted by someone who is roughly as talented as he is; the artistic voice MUST be a part of the process, and adaptation via people who are only mildly talented is not conducive to good art, much less great art.

      " Larry - let's be real here - Larry is a poorly-disguised 70's Bruce Springsteen - would have been all over MTV, and easily-recognisable." -- He's one of my favorite characters in the book, but yeah, Larry is a problem for any current adaptation. If I were doing a movie, I'd probably change a lot about him, but keep him a musician and a bit of a flake in need of redemption.

      "The final payoff is the grand 70's / early's 80's fear of death by nuclear destruction, one that was pushed out of the cultural boogeyman spotlight by Reagan and Gorbochov's disarmament treaties in Glasnost." -- Sadly, I think this is still a valid fear. Not in the same way, granted; but it certainly hasn't vanished.


    2. "The main problem I see with a new adaptation is the Christian Themes of the work. I was reading studies recently that describes the Millennial Generation as the least religious ever." -- Well, that's true. However, that's only a part of the populace. There are still a lot of people for whom Christian values -- and the expression of them in the media -- are a major selling point. It's a huge (still mostly-untapped) market, and I'd point to the enormous success of "American Sniper" as an example of what can happen when that group is served in a manner that they approve of. "The Stand" has potential to do that.

      "They simply don't believe in anything outside of themselves." -- Oh, I don't think that's true. I don't know what it is they DO believe in, but they certainly must believe in something. It might be true to say that they themselves do not know what that is. But if that's the case, then they will eventually develop a deep need to define that for themselves, and that's going to be a powerful need. It might take a religious avenue of expression, it might not. The current generation might be said to be similar to Larry Underwood in that regard. It might be that if you reframe the story ever so slightly to take advantage of that idea, it would be even more powerful for them than for the seventies generation. In my opinion, this is why generational remakes of the really great stories are not only doable, but needed.

      "Forget putting it on a cable channel as a series: HBO and Showtime have largely Liberal (read: Atheist) Audiences." -- I'm not sure I buy into this as an argument for why "The Stand" wouldn't fit on one of those channels. HBO's "The Leftovers" treads similar ground, for example.

  6. Part 2

    Yeah, you could easily try and fix this by shoehorning Diversity into the story in the belief this automatically makes it better: a particular pet hate of mine as a gay man, as it's patronising and seems more about the director getting a pat on the head for being a good person. (I watched 'It' last night, and hated how they coded Eddie as 'Gay' for diversity's sake, thereby ruining the ghoulish irony of him marrying Myra, a woman who was a direct reflection of his controlling mother).

    On top of which: you also have the difference in Community attitudes between 1978 and 2015. We're a much more atomised society, suspicious of difference and outsiders - note the furious rise of Identity Politics on the college campus again over the last few years, which are designed to fragment people, not unite them.

    Our attitudes now reflect a much more cocooning, over-protective mindset that seems to emerge in societies when there's extreme social stratification between the rich and poor. Communal spaces gradually fall into ruin: see the demise of the shopping mall in modern America, with half expected to close in 15 years. See also the rise of binge-watching television and movies from the comfort of your home instead of going out, and the rise of social media rather than face to face interaction amongst people.

    The 70's and 80's were more outgoing time. The Stand is a tale of people coming together and bonding after a crisis, understanding people need each other, and forming community. As much as I love it, it's a relic of a past age.

    What better reflects modern fears? Other people in your neighbourhood. People outside of your circle. That man two doors down could be a rapist, a paedophile or a terrorist. (Serial Killer fears seem to be a similar relic of the past). The cultural fear now is someone who looks like you but is secretly a threat to you and yours, which is why the majority of children in my town are now driven to school by overprotective parents rather than walking, as back in my time.

    'The Stand' doesn't reflect these fears at all. A more accurate reflection of the fears of a cocooning society is what is currently popular now: post-apocalyptic zombie movies. There's been many big budget movies, television shows, video games and novels dealing with the destruction of society since 'The Stand', and their hooks go beyond the simple collapse and the quiet reaffirmation of faith that takes place in the novel. What is left over after society falls is relentless in its pursuit to enter your cocoon and hurt and consume you and yours.

    This is why I think adding a big battle to the end of "The Stand" wouldn't help matters: realisation of personal faith is a small, intimate thing. Four guys walking into the west together. Turning it into the Crusades would weaken the theme of the novel immensely. I simply think it's unadaptable as a theatrical work, and better experienced whichever version of the book you prefer: The original 1978 novel, the paperback updating, or the 1990 Uncut Version.

    Shame you stopped blogging on here, your observations on King are enjoyable.

    1. "Yeah, you could easily try and fix this by shoehorning Diversity into the story in the belief this automatically makes it better: a particular pet hate of mine as a gay man, as it's patronising and seems more about the director getting a pat on the head for being a good person." -- This is a hugely complicated topic, and also a deeply fascinating one. I myself am a straight man, and I've gotten into arguments with people over the topic of making existing straight characters into gay characters. Example: Spider-Man. I mean...why? Spider-Man IS NOT gay. And I look at it the same way that you seem to: that's just weakening the notion of what it is to be gay. Being gay is a story to be told, just like being straight is a story to be told; and I don't think it serves anything by taking a straight man's story and turning it gay, because then you're not really telling the story of being gay. You've got the illusion of the story without the substance of it.

      But is that reason enough not to do it? Does the effort -- though it is ultimately misguided and unsuccessful -- count for nothing? I have no answers to this. In the case of "The Stand," I would not necessarily want an adaptor to "gay up" the story by -- this seems to me the likeliest scenario -- turning Nick or Glenn or Ralph into gay men. But I would be perfectly fine with new characters being created, and them being gay. I was thinking about this around the time I wrote this post, and one idea that came to me was to create a gay couple who both survived, but to have one of them be drawn to Mother Abagail whereas the other was drawn to Flagg. That seems like fertile ground.

      As for other types of diversity, I think making some characters who were white in King's novel black or Asian or Latino or whatever would be sensible. Larry seems like the best candidate for that, but you could do it with several of the others, as well. Or, again, just create new characters. And while I'm at it, could Mother Abagail be white? I say yes. I say cast the best elderly actress you can find, regardless of race, because the character's race is mostly unimportant. (If you deal with her backstory, that might be a different matter.)

      I would view it as righting a(n unintentional) wrong committed by King in his novel. There needed to be more people of color, not because it's a mandate or anything, but simply because it would be more realistic. A modern adaptation would have to deal with that. It would also have to deal with how passive a character Frannie becomes. I don't know how to fix that, but you'd certainly have to do something. But again, I don't think that makes me an SJW (a term I loathe) or anything; I think it's a weakness in the source material that needs correcting, and needed correcting in the seventies, too. Not a massive one; I get why King wrote it that way. But if I were adapting it to a modern time, I'd want to alter certain aspects of the plotline.

      If I were setting in the seventies? Maybe not.

    2. "We're a much more atomised society, suspicious of difference and outsiders - note the furious rise of Identity Politics on the college campus again over the last few years, which are designed to fragment people, not unite them." -- Couldn't you just as easily make the argument that current campus politics are designed to embrace differences, and to make the idea of "outsiders" irrelevant? I don't really know; I'm just speculating. I also think that a lot of that is happening because it's happening in the form of low-committal forms such as "liking" something on Facebook. Again, this may be the illusion of diversity and acceptance more than it is the actuality of it.

      " See also the rise of binge-watching television and movies from the comfort of your home instead of going out, and the rise of social media rather than face to face interaction amongst people." -- Another fascinating topic. Personally, I'm finding it more and more difficult to interact with people online, and easier to do so in person. I have a customer-service job, so that's part of it, I guess. But the Internet and social media is mostly an aggravation to me these days.

      Amazingly, my own blog is almost wholly immune to that! I don't get all that many comments, but the ones I do tend to get are like yours: insightful, well-stated, and substantive. I strive for that in my own posts (and, if I do say so myself, hit the mark at least occasionally), so it may be that the only people who can bear to read what I write are people who come at things from a similar approach (if not always from an identical point of view). If so, then I consider this blog to be a massive personal success.

      "The Stand is a tale of people coming together and bonding after a crisis, understanding people need each other, and forming community. As much as I love it, it's a relic of a past age." -- Good point, and I sense that you believe our current culture would be well-served by a return to that sort of mindset. If so, then might it be possible to reshape "The Stand" somewhat so as to take advantage of that idea? For example, tell the story of what happens when a society like this one falls apart technologically? There's meat on them bones; it would just be a matter of taking advantage of it.

      "What better reflects modern fears? Other people in your neighbourhood. People outside of your circle. That man two doors down could be a rapist, a paedophile or a terrorist." -- Oh, but don't you see how easily that could be turned into the backbone of the divide between Boulder and Las Vegas? Again, it's a matter of hitting the right notes in the story; they're all there, waiting to be played.

      " A more accurate reflection of the fears of a cocooning society is what is currently popular now: post-apocalyptic zombie movies." -- It's been pointed out by numerous people that "The Walking Dead" owes a big debt to "The Stand," which means that to some degree "The Stand" is indicative of a story that would resonate in our current climate.

      "This is why I think adding a big battle to the end of "The Stand" wouldn't help matters: realisation of personal faith is a small, intimate thing." -- It is, but it can be turned into an epic thing from a storytelling standpoint. You just have to come at it from an emotional (pardon the pun) standpoint; make these into characters an audience cares about, and the audience will follow you almost anywhere, provided they don't feel like you're cheating them or being dishonest.

      "Shame you stopped blogging on here, your observations on King are enjoyable." -- I'm not by any means done. I've just found it necessary to take an extended break, so as to recalibrate my approaches to how to achieve it most effectively. But I appreciate the kind words, and the terrific food for thought!

  7. Who the heck is this anonymous commenter at the end, here? Fantastic review of the book. Chapeau, anonymous commenter.

    I just finished my own re-read of The Stand and was thinking something similar about its 70s-ness not integrating well with the new time frame. I shrugged it off - I mean, I guess it's all in the past now, so we can look at it as a level of the tower where the 80s were just the 70s again, or something - but these are all very intriguing points.

    Particularly about Larry/Springsteen.

    Interesting to consider how even Identity Politics on campuses and throughout the media-academe have metastasized even further since these comments first appeared.

    1. That's kind of its own plague, isn't it? Maybe not as lethal, but let's not rule it out.

      I don't know who my anonymous commenter was here. They had a lot to say, and said it very well, though; I probably said it somewhere in my replies, but I figure I must be doing something right if I'm attracting the occasional comments like those.

      At the risk of courting spoilers for the DSO retrospective, how'd the reread hold up for you?

    2. I think King is a better or more-in-control-of-his-powers writer in the 21st century than he was in the 20th, but The Stand, I mean, what can you say? It's so damn readable. I have a few criticisms, and I think sticking the landing (particularly the point you underscore many times: the kind-of blahness and unsatisfactory-character-arc-ness of the whole "stand" idea - but it seems (and maybe this is just my recent From A Buick 8 re-read) that King really likes that idea of things not adding up to any satisfactory one-theme/answer, I don't know) kind of bulletproof, even in 2016.

      That said, I think it's two books in one - a rational end-of-the-world one, and an irrational end-of-the-world one - and the most critical Constant Reader in my head deducts points in columns he doesn't deduct in things like Duma Key, Tommyknockers, Needful Things, and The Green Mile.

      (Three of those works are 20th century King, so I already contradict myself!)

    3. I think you're definitely onto something in saying that it seems like King enjoys things not fully adding up. "The Stand" isn't the only place where he employs a defeating-expectations strategy. Intellectually, I can support him on that; but emotionally, I want to shy away from it. Ultimately, I think he's doing himself a disservice when he goes that route, but the journey is so strong that it helps make up for the weakness of the destination.

  8. The ending derives much from the book of Job, and is better fleshed out in the nivel, but it's not for us to understand God's will - where we're we when He made the world. It is enough that God wants a sacrifice.

    I have no doubt that either Vegas or Boulder gets destroyed by the blast. Without the sacrifice, Trashy still finds the bomb buy Flagg doesn't create the ball of fire and the Hand of God doesn't come down. That bomb goes to Boulder without the stand made by our heroes.

    1. That's a good point about Boulder being the next likely target. I wish the miniseries (and, to a lesser extent, the novel) made it a little more forcefully, but it more or less works as is.