This week we continue our look at the beautiful gift from God that are mini-series with The Stand, the 1994 adaptation of Stephen King’s epic post-apocalyptic novel.
Having recently gone back and rewatched the mini-series for the first time since I was a kid, I have to admit being a little disappointed that the series does not hold up to the lofty memories I once had of it.
A lifelong Stephen King fan, I have eaten up almost every single adaptation of the King’s literary work that has been released to date — even the godawful direct-to-video sequels to Children of the Corn that have been churned out over the last dozen years.
I had always remembered The Stand being the pinnacle of Stephen King television adaptations — of course, this may have had a little something to do with the fact that The Stand is my favorite Stephen King novel of all time.
Directed by Mick Garris, a filmmaker forever tied to Stephen King (he has adapted five of Stephen King’s stories), the mini-series follows the same story of the original novel relatively faithfully — a superflu nicknamed Captain Trips proceeds to systematically destroy the infrastructure of America and kill the majority of its population.
With society on the skids, the survivors of the plague begin to gravitate towards two opposing forces — Mother Abagail Freemantle, the personification of bible-thumping, God fearing righteousness, and Randall Flagg, the faceless dark journeyman who may or may not be Satan himself.
From there, the series becomes a wild and rambling rumination on good vs. evil and predestination.
The mini-series, which runs about six hours in length, starred Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Jamey Sheridan and Ruby Dee. An incredible supporting cast included such names as Laura San Giacomo, Ossie Davis, Miguel Ferrer, Matt Frewer and Rob Lowe. The series also included cameos from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kathy Bates, Ed Harris, Sam Raimi, John Landis and Joe Bob Briggs.
I hadn’t seen the series in its entirety since I was a kid — shortly after I had first read the novel. Rewatching it, I can gladly admit that the television adaptation certainly got a lot of things right.
Jamey Sheridan was a great Randall Flagg — decked out in a Canadian tuxedo (denim jacket over denim jeans for those not in the know) and sporting a constant shit-eating grin. His sardonic wit and irresistible charisma helps sell the pure dark evil that King’s character embodied.
While the makeup and computer morphing effects that Garris used to show Flagg’s more externally visible darkness didn’t quite work — the character was a great adaptation of one of King’s most popular figures.
In the audio commentary that accompanied the original out-of-print DVD release, Garris talks about how they had originally approached actors such as Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe and James Woods to play Flagg. While the thought of any one of those actors playing Flagg would seem like a neat idea on the surface, I believe that casting an actor recognizable for his sinister appearance would have hurt the audience’s ability to loose themselves in the mini-series fantasy. Instead of seeing Flagg brought to life on the screen, they would have seen Christopher Walken doing more of his usual shtick — this time occasionally turning into a crow and menacing old black women.
Unfortunately, the majority of the mini-series, while impressive for its time, doesn’t hold up to today’s television standards. While it pushed the standards of what you could show on television in the early ‘90s, the show is, by far, pretty tame and more often then not prone to be excessively sappy.
The mini-series’ biggest crime, though, is its lack of scale. Sure it was filmed for television — but a single episode of Lost often feels more epic then the entirety of the four-part mini-series. A lack of quality special effects combined with not enough sheer expansiveness of scope prevented the series from achieving that larger-than-life feel of a blockbuster.
Ultimately, it came down to a lack of budget. Television, at the time, just couldn’t afford to visualize the images that Stephen King wrote in his 1978 novel. The effects of the plague are rarely showcased on a large scale. The music, composed by W.G. Walden, though, did help sell some of the Norman Rockwell Americana feel that the novel exuded in spades.
While the main cast, primarily Sheridan and Sinise, did admirable jobs, a lot of the roles — especially Ringwald as Frannie Goldsmith, the series’ female lead – suffered from c-listeritis a.k.a. bland unmemorable performances from bland unmemorable actors.
But don’t take my word for it. The Stand, long out of print on DVD, was rereleased a few years ago in a gift pack with a couple of Stephen King’s other mini-series, The Langoliers and Golden Years.
Or you could always watch the entire mini-series in under three minutes thanks to this YouTube video:
While I would be initially tempted to say that The Stand should be remade as a theatrical motion picture — I am afraid that producers would be tempted to try and squeeze the massive novel’s 800+ pages (1000+ pages for the expanded edition) into a single movie. Or, even worse, they would film the first part of the novel and then never greenlight a second part.
Instead, I have to say that the idea of a HBO or Showtime produced adaptation of The Stand would be the best medicine for my extreme case of apathy surrounding the initial mini-series. Heck, even AMC or FX could probably turn in a quality remake of the series. As long as the series is given a little more room to breathe (a few more hours would be great) and a quality cast is assembled, I think the time is right for another go at the source material.
I know who I would love to see have a go at some of the characters from Stephen King’s classic novel — but you’ve already read enough of my ranting.
Who would you like to see combat Captain Trips in a new version of Stephen King’s The Stand?
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.