The Stand
directed by Mick Garris
(Lions Gate, 1994)

Stephen King fanatics such as myself waited a long time to see a cinematic version of The Stand, the apocalyptic epic that many fans then and now consider King's masterpiece (although The Dark Tower series may have passed it in terms of importance to King's legacy). Personally, I consider the novel It to be King's magnum opus, but The Stand naturally means a lot to me. One wondered if a film version could ever be made that could do the original novel justice; certainly, King himself would not proceed with such a project until such time as he felt he could pull it off.

This six-hour miniseries is fantastic, due largely to King's hands-on overseeing of what can be called "his baby." This was a massive undertaking, and it yielded a final product just about as good as it could possibly be. The obvious truth is, though, that even this monumental film pales in comparison to the novel. While the onset of the superflu and its horrifying effects is told extremely well and in great detail, other parts of the story are glossed over to some degree, particularly the activities in the Free Boulder Zone; more importantly, there simply isn't enough time to flesh out all of the important characters, and it is this unfortunate yet essentially unavoidable quandary that somewhat diminishes a fan's enjoyment of the story.

By and large, the casting is excellent. Gary Sinise is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, and he essentially becomes Stu Redman in this production. Jamey Sheridan is more than acceptable as Randall Flagg, Ray Walston is brilliant as Glen Bateman, Rob Lowe gives a powerful performance as deaf-mute Nick Andros, and Bill Fagerbakke often steals the show as the mentally challenged Tom Cullen.

Molly Ringwald is good, but she just didn't become the Frannie Goldsmith I had long ago created in my mind, her character becoming rather aggravating to me in the later segments of the production. Laura San Giacomo really brought Nadine Cross to life, and the raw yet tapped sexual energy she brought to the role makes me think she could have tempted me over to the dark side without a heck of a lot of trouble. Matt Frewer simply is Trash Can Man; it's just a pity that his character was not explored to the much more significant degree found in the novel.

The one character I have a problem with is that of Harold Lauder; Corin Nemec overdoes things a little early on, but the real problem is with the character more than the actor. It's not simply a matter of Nemec not really looking like Lauder; the problem is that Nemec's character is thoroughly unlikable from the very start, whereas the Harold Lauder of the novel is someone I sympathized with to a significant degree (at least up until his little surprise parting gift to Boulder). Of course, no discussion of the actors and actresses assembled here is complete without a chorus of praises sent Ruby Dee's way for her remarkable portrayal of 106-year-old Mother Abigail Freemantle. I was shocked to learn that Ruby Dee was actually a vibrant, far from elderly woman. One must also mention Stephen King's fine acting performance here, as he puts in much more than just a brief cameo appearance.

The Stand does have some weaknesses in terms of the special effects, notwithstanding the amazing makeup job on Ruby Dee. While the explosions and decayed bodies are brought off quite well, the transformation of Flagg's face between human and demon leaves much to be desired, and some of the special effects at the climax of the film are not very impressive at all. The way in which masses of dead bodies were displayed was quite effective, but I was a little bothered to see dead men and women hunched over buffet lines, poised in the seats of tractors in the field, etc. "Captain Trips" was not some type of poison that killed you instantly; you suffered with the flu for some time before death came knocking, and I can't believe gravely sick people were doing some of the things they were purportedly doing when the end came.

In the final analysis, Stephen King's The Stand is far from perfect, and watching the miniseries is by no means a substitute for reading the epic novel. You don't get a chance to really know these characters inside and out over the course of a mere six hours, and those who have not read the novel may question why some characters were even there in the film. Still, The Stand represents a monumental achievement in miniseries and film production, and I for one am thankful that a network allowed King as much time as it did in order to bring the pages of his novel to life.

by Daniel Jolley
10 September 2005

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