MAY 31, 2009
When The Stand came out on DVD, it got some decent press, due to the fact that it was the first DVD 18 (dual layer on both sides), which allowed the entire movie to fit on one disc. But I am willing to bet that I am one of the few that took advantage of this by actually watching the entire goddamn thing in one sitting (well, between parts 2 and 3 I took a shower), as opposed to over a period of like a month, which is what I did when I was 14. As I had since forgotten everything about it, and that’s no way to watch a movie anyway, I figured it qualified for HMAD.
Another thing that helped my lack of memory is the fact that I have yet to read the book, and the movie makes a pretty good argument that doing that would have been a far better use of my six hours. The film starts off strong, but the 2nd half is plagued from a story that is seemingly moving too fast yet at the same time seems to be stuck in neutral. Characters are literally introduced on their death bed, and other events, such as Stu Redman meeting Mother Abigail, are skipped entirely (I don’t think Gary Sinise ever shares a scene with Ruby Dee). While it’s technically preferable to have King adapt his own novel, in this case I think it would have been better if someone else tackled it. Maybe it was just the result of having to cut things that were shot, but it seems more likely that his close attachment to the novel left him unable to discern how a new audience could follow the material.
Take, for example, the character of Lloyd Henreid. He’s a pretty interesting character, and he’s played by Miguel Ferrer, which is even better. But the movie seemingly skips an entire chunk of his character arc; he’s suddenly a bit remorseful about siding with Flagg, yet feels compelled to stick by him for rescuing him from starvation. And it’s never clear why Flagg puts him in such a prominent role in the first place; all we know about him is that he’s a petty criminal. His storyline, and several others, always give me the impression that “in the book it makes sense”. Like the first two Harry Potter films, I suspect that the filmmaker was merely filming the book instead of making a movie.
If I may, I’d like to compare this film with It (which I have read). Yes, the movie version isn’t as compelling and skips entire chunks of the original novel. BUT, and this is far more important, it never FELT like it was missing things. It told a complete, coherent story. Not the case here. As the film went on, I found myself growing more and more confused as to why characters were behaving in certain ways, to the point where I considered grabbing the book off the shelf and reading along to fill in whatever gaps the movie was leaving. Characters also disappear for long stretches, to the extent that when the movie gets around to them again, you’ve forgotten what they were up to the last time you saw them. Granted, It had a smaller cast, but it also only had half the time, and it never felt rushed or left its characters by the wayside.
Then again, maybe it’s just the simple matter that Tommy Lee Wallace (who directed/adapted It) has proven himself to be a better filmmaker than Mick Garris. I liked Garris’ version of The Shining (it’s better than Kubrick’s from a “coherent story” point of view, if only in that regard), but his movies generally suffer from awkward pacing and a lack of any sort of discernible passion for the material. One exception would be Riding The Bullet, which is his strongest film and unlike his others, found him having to make a feature out of a short story instead of a massive book. Maybe he should stick to short stories, if he must work only within the world of Stephen King, which seems to be the case (he’s currently attached to Bag of Bones, which actually MIGHT work as a two hour film as the book could have used some tightening anyway).
Also, the “end of the world” cutaways don’t really make a lot of sense in this movie. Even in the final section, Garris still keeps cutting to corpses laying around, doing whatever they were doing when they died. Some make sense, such as a guy sitting at his breakfast table or even driving. Others, however, are wholly illogical when you consider how the super flu works. It doesn’t kill you instantly; you get the flu and slowly die. So why would people die in the car wash or at work? At the point where they finally died, they’d be pretty sick, so you’d think getting their car cleaned would be the last thing on their mind. And these shots make up the bulk of the “horror” as the narrative grinds to a halt (whether this is true of the book or not I dunno, but nothing fucking happens from the moment Nick dies at the end of part 3 until the climax at the end of part 4), so it’s a bit distracting when half of it doesn’t even make any sense.
One thing the movie definitely delivers is a strong cast. Gary Sinise disappears for long stretches, but he’s still a much higher caliber than we usually get for a lead in a Stephen King TV miniseries (which are often plucked from Wings). And Rob Lowe is surprisingly strong as Nick. Matt Frewer also appears, in the first of a trilogy of “end of the world” scenario films in which he plays a role under heavy makeup (the others being Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead 04). The minor roles are more often than not played by recognizable character actors (or directors - John Landis and Sam Raimi both pop up), so you get a Sam Anderson or Troy Evans in a few scenes as well. Speaking of Anderson, both he and Sherman Howard are in this film, which is worth noting as they played the pair of “yuppie drug dealers” in I Come In Peace (which was directed by Craig Baxley, who has helmed a number of King TV projects himself).
There’s also a guy that I could have sworn was Michael Moriarty, but was actually a guy named Robert Knott. Sorry about that, Mr. Knott.
And despite the 2nd half flaws, it’s still a decent movie. At six hours, I was expecting to get pretty antsy, but the first half flew by and there was enough good stuff in the 2nd half to keep my interest, not to mention a pretty terrific score by ‘Snuffy’ Walden I also love the idea that the final battle for the fate of mankind would occur in Las Vegas. And it made me want to read the book, so that’s good. Speaking of, I actually own both the original and the revised/uncut version from a few years ago - which one is better? Does the added material slow the book down or make it better? I sure as hell ain’t gonna read both.
The DVD has a commentary, but you can be damn sure I’m not going to listen to it; it was hard enough to set aside the time to watch the movie once. There are also some production notes, a few stills, and a featurette, nothing special (though the featurette is worth a look if only to see Rob Lowe inexplicably made to look like Dennis Miller). The movie aired before the rise of HD programming, so the full-frame presentation is fine, but the audio is terrible. Whenever there is a loud sudden noise, the audio dips out for a while. Weak.
So there you have it, a six hour movie that suffers from rushed storytelling. Maybe they should have just done a “Season-long Miniseries”, like with Kingdom Hospital, which would have allowed more time for character development and a finale that didn’t feel so abrupt. M-O-O-N, that spells missed opportunity!
What say you?