Futuristic Movie Month: "The Stand" Review

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Rating: UR
Length: 366 minutes
Release Date: May 8, 1994
Directed by: Mick Garris
Genre: Adventure / Drama / Fantasy

In 1978, Stephen King released a novel about a world overcome by a super-powered flu virus. "The Stand" became one of his most beloved books, even earning an expanded release in 1990. This 6-hour miniseries adaptation explores the epic story in a way that wouldn't be possible in a shorter film.

The story opens with an accident in a military lab that releases a deadly virus, one capable of killing more than 99 percent of those infected. As it sweeps across the country, a few people find themselves immune to its effects, often becoming the sole survivors in their community. Eventually, the survivors begin to find one another, some traveling to learn more about the cause of the virus, others drawn to Nebraska or Las Vegas by prophetic dreams.

Eventually, two communities form, one based around the angelic Mother Abigail, played by Ruby Dee, the other following the sinister Randall Flagg, played by Jamey Sheridan. Eventually, both communities realize they're nothing but pawns in a greater battle between good and evil. In the end, a few chosen heroes must make a stand against the forces of darkness to save humanity.

"The Stand" features a large and talented cast. Gary Sinise stars as Stu Redman, a levelheaded Texan who becomes an important leader in the community. Molly Ringwald stars as Frannie Goldsmith, a young woman whose pregnancy may hold the key to the survival of humanity. Adam Storke plays Larry Underwood, a tormented singer who finds a new life after the apocalypse. Rob Lowe is the deaf mute Nick Andros, a perceptive drifter who befriends a developmentally disabled young man named Tom Cullen, played by Bill Fagerbakke. Corin Nemec plays Harold Lauder, an unpopular teenager who finds just as many problems fitting into the post-flu world as he did before the end of life as he knew it. Miguel Ferrer is Lloyd Henreid, a dangerous convict who finds himself placed high in Randall Flagg's administration, and Matt Frewer is the Trashcan Man, a pyromaniac who takes this opportunity to indulge in his love of destruction.

The story of "The Stand" evolves throughout the series, with the early episodes focusing on the destruction of society as the flu wipes out humanity. Eventually, prophetic dreams lead the survivors into the real conflict, a battle between the forces of good and evil. The tale culminates with a crusade, in which the chosen few must stand before the prince of darkness with only their wits and faith to protect them.

The miniseries is full of capable performances, especially those of Rob Lowe and Bill Fagerbakke. Lowe manages to show off some impressive acting skills despite his silence, and Fagerbakke's Tom Cullen is simultaneously amusing, tragic and noble. Matt Frewer's Trashcan Man evokes Renfield and other cinematic villain sidekicks of the past. He's both servile and psychotic in his quest for more powerful weaponry. Jamey Sheridan is a somewhat different take on King's iconic villain Flagg from the books, but he manages to imbue the character with the combination of charisma and malice necessary for the tale.

The biggest problem of the series is the pacing. The original story was several hundred pages long, and the expanded 1990 version filled the tale out to more than 1,000 pages. The story begins with widely scattered characters, including many vignettes that serve only to illustrate the fall of society. Even expanding the running time to 6 hours meant that considerable parts of the narrative had to be compressed or left out, and in some places, the story suffers for it. The major story notes all survive, however, and the main characters are all well realized and help carry the series through its rough spots.

The special effects are also a bit clunky in a few places. The final confrontation in the novel describes some impressive supernatural events, and what makes it onto the screen may not have ultimately done the scene proper justice. Similarly, the effects in the story's final coda seem a little forced, bordering on the silly at times. The practical effects throughout the miniseries are fine, however, and director Mick Garris does a good job threading the needle of what's acceptable for a television broadcast.

Ultimately, "The Stand" is a reasonably well executed adaptation of one of King's most well-known works, and fans of the books will find plenty here to enjoy. Those new to this story might do well to read the novel first to get the uncut and uncompressed version of the tale before exploring it on the screen.

Tags: The Stand