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Friday, December 18, 2020

Don’t Fear the Reaper: Revisiting Mick Garris’s “The Stand” Miniseries

Tackling an adaption of Stephen King‘s apocalyptic saga The Stand would be daunting for any filmmaker. No matter the edition, King’s densely packed novel assembled a large cast of characters from across the country, following civilization’s collapse and an epic battle of Good vs. Evil from its ashes. Even condensed down to a 366-minute miniseries, 1994’s The Stand made for a vast undertaking for even the most experienced filmmaker. While it undoubtedly took tremendous effort, director Mick Garris made it look easy, delivering an adaptation that garnered accolades and impressive ratings.

Since its publication, plans for an adaption popped up more than a few times throughout the years, with horror masters like George A. Romero and Dario Argento among those approached to direct before development crumbled. Then the idea for a miniseries came to pass, with King himself penning a 420-page teleplay. Enter Mick Garris, who King previously worked with on Sleepwalkers. Garris had only directed three feature-length movies when he was handed the reigns for the large-scaled television event that featured 125 speaking roles, multiple locations, and 225 sets.

King wrote his script based on the original novel but included the opening prologue scene added to 1990’s The Complete and Uncut Edition that depicted the outbreak’s source. At a rural Californian military lab, a secret weaponized version of the flu, Project Blue, gets accidentally released. U.S. Army soldier Charlie Campion chooses to flee with his family instead of following orders to lock down and secure the compound. His harrowing escape as the gate closes cues Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” an audible portent that plays as the camera tracks through the facility and pans over the throngs of dead bodies. All of the victims stopped dead in their tracks, a clear sign of how contagious and lethal they engineered the virus. At the open gate sits a crow.

The Stand follows the novel’s central plot beats in an easy, linear fashion. The large-scaled tale of the apocalypse breaks down into four distinct chapters, aired over four consecutive evenings. The first, “The Plague,” spends all of its time with the initial outbreak and its subsequent spread while introducing its major players, like Stu Redman (Gary Sinise), Frannie Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald), Larry Underwood (Adam Storke), Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo), Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer), Mother Abigail (Ruby Dee), and Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan). Episode two, “The Dreams,” starts to draw the dividing lines between good and evil among the remnants of humanity. “The Betrayal” makes for a dramatic build in the conflict and preparations for the final confrontation that takes place in the conclusion, “The Stand.” All of it a logical and accessible approach to the epic, with the appropriate ebbs and flows in action and pacing to keep viewers tuning in each night.

Even at a 366-minute runtime, much had to be condensed for length. Many of the scrapped subplots or supporting characters and backstories would never have made it past TV censors anyway, like the psychopathic The Kid who planned to kill and usurp Flagg as the leader (a character scrapped for time in 2020’s adaptation as well). The novel’s abridgment meant an oversimplification of its characters in many ways; there’s a clear division between who’s destined for Flagg’s Las Vegas and who belongs with the pure Mother Abigail. There’s no moral ambiguity among any of the characters in this iteration, just an almost absolute commitment to Team Good and Team Bad for the significant players on the board. Team Bad is prone to infighting and insecurities, simply because that fits with villainy. Team Good remain steadfast in their faith and support of each other, often to a surprisingly unwavering degree.

It fits for the miniseries, with so much ground to cover in so little time. Gary Sinise’s portrayal of hero Stu Redman became the standout performance, earning him a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries. Garris slipped in a few notable cameos, too, for the horror fan. Kathy Bates appears as a Radio DJ. In the first part, John Bloom appears as Sheriff Joe-Bob Brentwood, the name an intentional nod to his more well-known persona, Joe Bob BriggsJohn Landis has a blink-and-you’ll miss it role, credited as Russ Dorr. So, too, does Garris himself as Henry Dumberton, though wife Cynthia Garris has the beefier part of Susan Stern. Sam Raimi plays bumbling hitman Bobby Terry, who runs afoul of Flagg when he botches a task to keep his catch alive. Of course, not many adaptations of King’s work go without a cameo by the author, and he appears as plucky ally Teddy Weizak. Perhaps because King plays Weizak, he’s given a far kinder ending in this miniseries.

The Stand earned several Primetime Emmy nominations but won for Outstanding Makeup For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special and Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Miniseries or a Movie. Prominent special makeup effects artists Steve Johnson, Bill Corso, David Dupuis, Joel Harlow, and Camille Calvet were tasked with transforming Ruby Dee into a 108-year-old woman, the gruesome look of the infected, Flagg’s monstrous appearances, and the stages of radiation poisoning for Trashcan Man (Matt Frewer).

Looking back, it’s easy to see why The Stand’s story remains timeless. “The Plague” hits a bit too close to home these days as if it’s holding up a mirror to today. It’s also a bit of a time capsule of an era of television long gone. Mick Garris’s miniseries was a major event long before the digital age that brought instant gratification at our fingertips. You had to tune in each night to see how it ended, and the large budget has kept it aging gracefully. The massive set pieces and shooting locations went far in conveying the epic scope of the story. Other elements, however, haven’t weathered as well over time; TV can get away with so much more in terms of violent and adult content these days, making The Stand relatively tame in certain scenes with Flagg.

No adaptation can capture every nuance and detail of a novel, no matter its page count, because books and movies are two vastly different mediums. So, this miniseries is both faithful and wildly different, making shortcuts and alterations for the sake of its canvas; but it’s King doing the editing this time. Garris, who rivals Mike Flanagan in the number of King adaptations, always has his pulse on the author’s sentimentality and imbues his adaptation with a deep feeling of hope that still resonates to this day.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3645432/dont-fear-reaper-revisiting-mick-garriss-stand-miniseries/

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