Thursday, February 07, 2008

Thoughts on The Stand

Ian lent me the TV miniseries for The Stand, and I'm slowly working my way through it. Before I talk about how I feel about the miniseries, I should probably say two things, the second of which is a caveat to the first. On the whole, I really hate Stephen King's writing. I think he's schlocky, cheap, and manipulative. Considering that I don't care for his work, I've actually read a pretty surprising amount of it, and on the whole it just leaves me....meh. That said, a friend of mine from Teacher's College lent me The Stand a few years back, and it is, for lack of a better term, holy shit good. Great story, full of tension, drama, and very interesting characters. It suffers from many of the same problems as the rest of his work, of course, but the story is so compelling that I'm willing to overlook the things that normally bother me.

So I was pretty excited for the miniseries, because I think the story has a number of qualities that would transfer well to that medium, and also because King wrote the teleplay himself. (I like to think that when an author has such a direct hand in creating the final product, it ought to be of reasonably good quality.)

Good movies happen when the writing, directing, and acting all converge in a way where the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. I would say that The Stand is somehow less than the sum of its parts, but the sum of its parts really doesn't add up to very much, which is made even more apparent by how poorly the miniseries has aged--I'm pretty sure even the CBC had better production values in 1994.

Point One: The Acting. I hardly know where to start here. There's the good, which can be summed up in two word: Ed Harris. There's the serviceable, like Gary Sinise, Corin Nemec, and Kathy Bates. There's the bad, like Molly Ringwald. There's the forgettable, like Ruby Dee and Jamey Sheridan. And then there's the just plain bizarre: Rob Lowe as Nick Andros (if one of your central characters is a deaf-mute, maybe you could try casting someone with actual charisma?) Laura San Giacomo as Nadine Cross (She's really wonderful in other roles, but girl is in way over her head in this ingenue rule--she is not convincingly sexy at any point). Bill Fagerbakke as Tom Cullen (Because developmentally delayed translates to "speaks slowly and softly"--interestingly, he's probably getting more work than anybody else in this trainwreck, as he is the voice of Patrick on Spongebob Squarepants).

Point Two: The Writing. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the problem here is the acting or the writing. All of the Nick parts really suffer because nothing interesting happens for such a long time, and that's partially Lowe as an actor, but it's also King as a writer, like, just DO SOMETHING already. Ditto Molly Ringwald, who is out of her depth here, but is also saddled with some truly clunky dialogue. I also understand, from King's point of view, that it's very difficult to cut 1000+ pages of writing into something manageable for the small screen, but some of his choices are bizarre. If you're not going to do anything with the Joe/Leo storyline, maybe you could just cut it? We continually get such shallow snapshots of the book's major characters that none of their actions ever have the impact that they should. Do we ever really have a sense of why Harold goes off the deep end? Do we ever really sympathize with Franny as she prepares to have a baby who might die from the same illness that has killed everyone else she loves? Do we ever get to enjoy Glen Bateman's verve and wit as he sees all of his abstract sociological theories play out before his eyes? Do we even get to see Larry's progress from the arrogant rising star to the thoughtful caretaker?

Point Three: Directing and Production. I don't know what to say here, exactly, because the first two factors have already significantly handicapped the production, but it is worth noting that if you don't have the money to do something properly...maybe you just shouldn't do it. I know it's a TV movie from 1994, but there was some quality stuff being made at that time, and some of the visuals in this just look so amateurish. The other major problem from a directorial point of view is the pacing. There is absolutely no tension or urgency to this story. When I read the book, my heart was pounding the entire time, and I could hardly read fast enough to fit it all in. By comparison, the movie just crawls along...and there is virtually nothing in it that is actually scary.

There are a few good visuals--mostly relating to the Flagg/crow imagery; the one that comes to mind is the one where we see Flagg sitting like a crow on top of a telephone pole, but overall, it's too little, too late. I'd love to see this story given the treatment it deserves. What's HBO upto these days?


Castor Rouge said...

While I appreciate your comments and criticisms of The Stand (and trembled at its awesomeness when it first came out on tv... if for no other reason I got to stay up late to watch it with my dad) I think you omitted two points that ultimately make the series unforgiveable.

1) Randall Flagg... scary in the early 90's, but when you come back over a decade later as an adult Satan isn't so scary anymore coming at you're clad head to toe/cloven hoof in denim while sporting something on the verge of a mullet. He looks like he'd be a geek even in a country western bar. I mean honestly...

2) Something about the Boulder Free Zone reminds me too much of Utah (with the possible exception they let black people into their community). Honestly, I can see myself wanting to align myself with the forces of darkness to smite these people, which really shouldn't be a problem (and shouldn't be surprising to anyone that knows me) except, again, I'd have to follow Randall Flagg and would no doubt end up getting tossed to hell for snickering at his "doo".

Alright, my second arguement is pretty much an extention of my first, but I think I make my point.

Another Friday night well spent.

Castor Rouge said...
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Castor Rouge said...
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