Monday, March 16, 2009

The Stand (book and movie)

My mom made a special request of me: that I also review the books I read. Since I just watched The Stand miniseries after reading the omigod long version of the book, I thought I'd start with that.

The Book:

I love Stephen King. I have not read everything he's written, I don't think I could ever catch up especially with the rate at which he publishes, but I've read a fair number of his books and watched his movies. In fact, I'd just finished the entire Dark Tower series, all seven books, just before I launched myself into the somewhat vague DT tie-in The Stand.

That was a big mistake.

The Dark Tower was massive, but somehow it didn't feel as massive as the 1500 page tome that the expanded Stand is. It's just...large and filled with so many characters that I didn't, or couldn't, really latch onto any of them as favourites (Mother Abagail aside, of course.) Only Larry Underwood and Randall Flagg really have any sort of arc. Most of the characters don't change or evolve or get any deeper. I had a glimmer of hope that Fran Goldsmith would be a good character, but that was pretty quickly dashed. Dayna Jurgins had a wonderfully strong part, but since I hadn't travelled with her for very long, I felt no connection to her. King wanted to show this massive, country-wide scale epic monstrosity of an apocalypse and did so very well. I simply did not connect with most of the characters.

The strongest parts are the journeys and the dreams. And nearly everything without Frannie.

Overall, not my favourite King book. Right now, that would be entire The Dark Tower. However, it is worth a read for the sections that are incredible, like Vegas and the stuff with Trashcan Man. I haven't read the original version so I can only recommend grabbing the expanded edition.

The Movie:

King's imagery is so vibrant and yet so personal feeling that it's often hard to watch a movie adaptation. I think the best adaptation of his work would have to be The Mist. I love, love, love that movie and love, love, love Frank Darabont for making it. I would say that it's among my top favourite movies of all time. That said, the most prolific and literal adapter of King's work is Mick Garris. He's built a career on directing and adapting King's work to the screen. He's done other stuff, sure (Hocus Pocus and the unfortunately short-lived Masters of Horror,) but his main thing is King. Out of 21 IMDb-listed directing credits, seven of them are Stephen King and four of those have been for teevee.

The cast for The Stand, which was made in 1994, is pretty impressive if not entirely accurate. Gary Sinise was a wonderful Stu Redman, Molly Ringwald (not my favourite of the Brat Pack) was the perfect Frannie, and you can't get much better than Ruby Dee as Mother Abagail and Ossie Davis as the underwritten Judge Farris. I just read that Moses Gunn was originally cast as the Judge (oh, that would have been marvelous...), but had to say no because he was battling cancer.

Bill Fagerbakke was wonderful as Tom Cullen, the always great Miguel Ferrer was wonderful, of not underused, as Lloyd Henreid, and Matt Frewer was PERFECT for Trashcan Man. I loved Ray Walston as Glen Batemen, but I did miss the "baldy" stuff between he and Stu. Adam Storke was good as Larry, but I imagined someone different. Jamey Sheridan was a great Randall Flagg, but I couldn't get the image of Charles Dance out of my head (this stems from a painting of Flagg / O'Dim in The Dark Tower) and I think he would have been marvelous. Or Lance Henriksen, but that's casting to type...

On the flip side, Rob Lowe was miscast as Nick Andros and Laura San Giacomo was good as Nadine, but I wouldn't have cast her. Someone mentioned that Diane Lane was going to play Julie Lowry (which eventually went to Shawnee Smith, later of the Saw flicks), but I think I would have cast her as Nadine.

Other notable faces in the show are Ed Harris as General Starkey, Kathy Bates as Ray (the radio host,) Sam Raimi as one of the two ill-fated border guards who encounters the Judge, Howard Sherman as one of the Virginia doctors (BUB!!), and of course Stephen King as one of the Boulderites. Can't honestly tell you which one without looking at the IMDb, he wrote so many of them...

Stephen King tried his hand at adapting his own work, originally aiming for the silver screen with George A. Romero at the helm. The material was then handed over to another writer and ABC offered to make it as a mini-series with Garris directing, fresh off his "triumph?" on King's Sleepwalkers. The constrictions of working with a network aside, the script was clumsy and felt just like the book in that it glossed over everything and focused on nothing. I really, really missed Rita. She's the most important part of Larry's transformation and without her, his arc seems so empty. Combining Rita with Nadine was a good move to save time and money, but Larry starts out as an intensely selfish character and needs the...geez, look at me telling the ether how Stephen King should handle his own characters...but anyway, Larry needs the push of Rita's death to go from the Taker to the Giver and that was missing here. Also missing was his connection to Joe / Leo. Okay, you can't really have a kid running around in his underwear for the majority of his screen time, but there was simply nothing between them.

The problem with Garris as a director is that his work is always very bright; there's always a lot of light. All of his work feels like television instead of a movie that happens to be made for television. He had what could have been an incredibly intense scene when Larry and Nadine go through the Lincoln Tunnel to Jersey and ruined it. His episodes of Masters of Horror aren't much better. Garris's next project is King's Bag of Bones.

Overall, I guess I would recommend the mini-series, but with reservations especially if you're a fan of the book. If you've never read the book and still want to see the movie...that's up to you...


NoelCT said...

You're review perfectly nails both. Epic in scale and scope, uneven in execution.

I've never been a huge fan of Mick Garris as a director. As a writer, he excels at both scripts and prose, but his direction is weak and heavy-handed. When it comes to King adaptations, I think second to Darabont is Craig R. Baxley, director of STORM OF THE CENTURY, ROSE RED, and KINGDOM HOSPITAL.

I've read the screenplay Rospo Pallenberg (EXCALIBUR) wrote for Romero. It's not bad and does a surprising job of compressing everything, but so many great little moments are missing and the characters are just a shade of who they were.

Lori said...


I haven't seen Storm of the Century and I couldn't even get through the original Lars von Trier Kingdom Hospital (but I really should try again...that was at least ten years ago.) I really liked Rose Red, though.