The Stand (1994)



So it's been a little quiet around these parts for the last couple of weeks. I've been writing about the current season of 'The Walking Dead' over at 411mania.com, but there hasn't been much going on here. I plan to change that soon. The first step in dipping my toes back into the DreadWorld pool happened inadvertently when I stumbled across the Mick Garris directed mini-series based upon the Stephen King epic "The Stand." I had watched the mini-series, god twenty years ago now, when it first aired. Now like most things from my youth, 'The Stand' is on the Netflix. With nothing else to watch, I fired up the first "chapter" all the while wary of making a six hour commitment on a Saturday afternoon.

The first thing that struck me about the mini-series was how well done it is. Television has really evolved away from the "epic mini-series." Now HBO can do 8 episodes of 'True Detective' and call it
a season. Back in 1994, 'True Detective' would have been a 4 part mini-series "event" It would have aired over a month long period, at a two hours a week clip. But back to my original point. The first episode starts off with a bang, a bang that in this post-Walking Dead world seems all too familiar.

A "super flu" escapes from a military testing facility. The attempt to lock the facility down is thwarted by a malfunctioning gate. A terrified gate operator grabs his family and travels halfway across the country, infecting anyone he came in contact with along the way. When he finally succumbs to the disease in Arnett, Texas, the damage has already been done. Within a week the county is in turmoil. The Government denies all culpability, there are riots in the streets, bodies either litter the ground or are being burned in secret facilities. A week later and the country as we know it no longer exists. Most of the infected have already died or are well on their way. Rising from the ashes are a group of people who, for some reason, are immune to the super flu. As they begin to get on their feet, the dreams start.

Two sets of dreams begin to haunt the survivors. The first is of an old, withered, 106 year old, black woman in Hemmingford Home, Nebraska, Mother Abigail. The other, and far more frightening is that of a dark man. This dark man doesn't give his name, but his intentions are obviously more sinister than that of the tender Mother Abigail. As the survivors separate into the two camps, the followers of light (god) and dark (satan) a line in the sand is drawn and it becomes obvious that the ultimate battle between good and evil is going to be fought in the wake of the country and in fact the worlds destruction.

I mentioned it earlier, but the first episode in the mini-series starts off with a hell of a bang. From Campions escape, to the pairing of the Blue Oyster Cult hit "Don't Fear the Reaper' (more cowbell!) with the opening credits, everything hits on all cylinders during the first episode. The casting seems perfect. Gary Sinise (barely pre-Lieutenant Dan) is perfect as Stu Redman, the only survivor of the initial Arnett encounter with Campion. Molly Ringwald fits very well into Frannie Goldsmith, though her jet black bob may be a bit jarring to those of us who grew up with her fiery red locks in the 80's. It's always a pleasure to see both Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis on my television screen, whatever that capacity happens to be. And 'My Favorite Martians' Ray Walston brings a levity to the mini-series, an understood maturity that is needed to keep everything grounded in semi-reality.

That's the good as far as the casting goes...now on to the head scratching. Rob Lowe as deaf, mute, Nick Andros? I know Rob Lowe is an attractive man. Most women (and gay men - we are all inclusive here at the DW) probably don't care if Lowe talks or not. They are probably not listening anyway. But Lowe seems lost without his voice. He can act, we've all seen that in The West Wing. But here he just seems to be spinning his wheels, not quite sure what he should be doing. Plus, it felt a bit like stunt casting, where every time he's on screen all you can think about is "that's Rob Lowe." The Molly Ringwald casting feels the same way at first, but she's able to rise above it. That has a lot with her character actually having things to do, rather than just standing around. After Nicks confrontation with Julie (Shawnee Smith) he really does nothing but stand around reminding you that Rob Lowe can't talk.

The other big issue with 'The Stand' as a whole is that it sort of crumbles under it's own weight as it goes along. The cast gets too big. There is too much going on. Garris can't quite figure out where the focus should be. Should it be on the ultimate battle between good and evil? Or should it be on the rebuilding of a society under such horrendous circumstances. By the third episode of the mini-series there is just far too much going on. It loses focus on what made the first episode great, the characters. What starts out as a tremendous character drama ends with the computer generated "hand of god" exploding a nuclear device.

This actually happens a lot in Stephen King books. He tends to go for the supernatural explanation on the third act, and abandons the characters that have brought the reader that far. The Stand is a prime example, but if you want an even more contemporary one, look at the resolution to "Under the Dome." He does the same thing. While this resolves the story certainly, it does nothing to provide any closure to the readers, the viewers, or most importantly, the characters. The "hand of god" destroying a nuclear weapon certainly destroys what Flagg has built, but robs us of what we really want, or need to see, one of our 4 main protagonists destroying evil. Now, Flagg being destroyed by his own creation (Trash Can Man) is certainly straight out of 'The Twilight Zone' for Flagg, it means nothing to Stu, Larry, Glenn, or Ralph.

That is the the ultimate failing of 'The Stand'. It devolves over the last two episodes to a meandering mess that even the "hand of god" can't save or rather shouldn't have tried to save. I applaud Garris for tackling such dense material and Stephen King for trying to distill his 800 page tome into a six hour mini-series, but in the end what you get are some great moments, especially early, but ultimately a middling to good series about the battle between good and evil.

*** and a half stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always thanks for reading...and "Enjoy every sandwich."

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