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The Stand

Posted by martinteller on July 24, 2014

Like a lot of boys, I went through a Stephen King phase.  It started around 1981, when I was 10 years old (too young to be reading horror novels? nah).  I read everything he wrote — except the non-fiction Danse Macabre and, for some reason, the first Dark Tower novel — up until the moment I began to turn on him.  I can pinpoint this moment exactly.  It was in the 1986 novel IT, when Beverly — the only girl in a group of seven youngsters battling evil — discovers what her destined contribution to the group is supposed to be.  As I recall (and it’s been 28 years, so pardon me if I’ve got this wrong), the group is lost in the sewers and Bev somehow realizes that if she has sex with all the boys, they will find their way.  First of all, ick.  And two, say what?  It didn’t make a lick of sense and was clearly just in there for pedophilic jollies.  This subterranean preteen gangbang episode really made me angry, so nonsensical and pointless.  Nonetheless, I stuck it out with King for a while longer, reading almost everything from The Tommyknockers (incredibly tedious) through Gerald’s Game (not that bad, as I recall).  And then I was done.  I looked back on his work with a few fond memories, but I had outgrown him.

Probably my favorite novel by King was The Stand.  I read the original (823 pages) and the 1990 “uncut” version (1152 pages) at least once each.  I could remember so many specifics about what happens in the book — several lines of dialogue in the miniseries were instantly familiar — but I couldn’t really remember why I liked it so much.  The first half of this miniseries gives some indication.  A post-apocalyptic scenario is nothing new, but the way King goes about it is pretty compelling.  We shift from character to character, each in a different situation.  It’s interesting to watch them cope with a crumbled civilization, trying to converge at the same spot with vague hopes of rebuilding a society.  It’s interesting enough, at least, to forgive the flaws in the production.

By the second half, however, the flaws become overwhelming.  Stephen King is terrible at adapting his own work to the screen, perhaps because he’s too precious about it.  See, for example, the utterly horrible miniseries (like this one, directed by Mick Garris) of The Shining.  It doesn’t merely pale in comparison to Kubrick’s masterful rendition, but it’s a downright awful piece of work in every way.  Faithful to the source material is not always for the best.  What this project needed was a talented screenwriter, someone with the skills to distill the massive novel into something meaningful for an audiovisual medium.

But what we got is King’s own adaptation, and it’s pretty bad.  It taints all my memories of enjoying the book.  Was the novel really this corny and clichéd?  Were the characters so relentlessly black & white?  I guess they must have been… after all, it’s a story that literally divides the population into “good” and “evil” camps.  From the moment you meet each character, it’s clear which side they’re going to end up on.  No nuance here.  Each person is good or evil, given one character trait (if they’re lucky… what the heck do we know about Ralph?) and maybe a catchphrase (“M-O-O-N, that spells crap writing”).  And then there’s the main villain Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan), who is simply ridiculous here.  The hair alone is enough to kill any chances of taking him seriously, but he never poses any real threat.  Talk about the banality of evil… all this guy has going for him is a couple of horribly-rendered morph effects and the ability to be mildly persuasive in your dreams.

Which brings us to the confounding plotting of this mess.  The supernatural forces that guide events are inconsistent hogwash with no sense of internal logic.  The rules feel utterly arbitrary.  By part 4 (the final 90 minutes), my fiancée and I were pausing every few minutes to rant about how absurd it all was.  It gets to a point where anything could happen for no goddamn reason and who cares anyway?  Any goodwill you might feel towards the heroes — which isn’t much, although the actors do the best they can with such lame material — is squandered as the story becomes more and more garbled and unfocused.

There are assorted other minor problems.  The onscreen titles look terrible and there are some truly laughable special effects.  King felt it necessary for some reason to give himself a role, and during the town meeting scene the camera cuts to him no less than three times… for no apparent reason.  The music is pretty cheesy, too (and Larry Underwood’s hit song is just stupid).  But really, there’s no reason to nitpick.  It fails on the most basic levels.  The story is so clumsy and lazy, the dialogue is cliché-ridden, the characters are poorly drawn.  There’s no real sense of stakes, even though we’re led to believe this is an epic conflict between good and evil.  Instead, it’s a battle between the smug and the silly.  You don’t want either of them to win.  Rating: Crap (35)


4 Responses to “The Stand”

  1. I like that you picked a screen-grab that looks like Flagg’s fly is unzipped and opens into nothing. Not a bad metaphor for the series itself – a whole lot posturing with nothing behind the proverbial curtain.

  2. Skumbo said

    A lot of what you said here resonates with me. I, Like you, was very taken with King’s work as a young lad; I read pretty much all of it. I think I started to turn on him with the hedge animals in “The Shining”, but yes, that scene in “It” – ICK! I did love the novel “The Stand” (only read the longer version) – I couldn’t put it down once I had started it. And you are right – this adaptation of “The Stand” is a complete pile of arse.

    • Aw, I liked the hedge animals. In the book, that is. I think contrasting King’s miniseries with Kubrick’s adaptation proves that what works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on film. Thanks for commenting!

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