The end of the world is just the beginning.
A sweeping epic of good and evil amidst the backdrop of a depopulated world; this is a six-hour long mini series adapted from Stephen King's novel. Unlike other of his works, King had direct involvement with this project as executive producer, screenwriter, and actor. The results are a story as closely devoted to the original novel as network television would allow.
I've been a Stephen King fan for as long as I can remember. While some of his works grabbed me more than others, none have stayed with me like The Stand. It's a huge novel, and only a mini series could have come close to doing it justice. It took 125 actors and 19 locations to shoot the film, and even then they had to take shortcuts. The plot weaves many characters and stories together from separate threads into a whole tapestry.
The story begins at Project Blue, a California bioweapons facility. They've developed a nasty little flu bug that spreads like wildfire and mutates. The facility has an accident and one security guard panics and gets out before the gates clang shut. Unfortunately he gets as far as Arnette, Texas before he succumbs, infecting whomever he came in contact with along the way. But Arnette gets special attention, as the Army moves in to quarantine and cover up the outbreak. One of the men in Arnette, named Stu Redman, is taken with his friends to a Disease Control Center, but doesn't get sick. For reasons none of the scientists can discover, he appears to be immune. Though less than 1% of the population, quite a few other people are immune as well.
We watch though as the superflu spreads across the country, and presumably the world, and in less than a month none but the immune are left. We are taken to various parts of the country where those that survive face the deaths of nearly everyone they knew. The survivors, if they didn't have it bad enough, are all having the same dreams; either of an old black woman in Nebraska who wants them to "come and bring all your friends" or a much darker nightmare concerning a man with blue jeans, boots, and glowing eyes. The dreams draw the survivors together according to the natures of their souls; the basically good folk go to see Mother Abigail in Nebraska, and onward to Boulder, Colorado, while the basically evil flock to Randall Flagg, the Walking Dude, in Las Vegas. Many of the characters are interesting in their own right; one of Stephen King's strengths is his vivid characters. But the main thrust of the film is the confrontation between good and evil, between God and the devil, and what type of world will be rebuilt from it's ashes.
Gary Sinese (The Green Mile, Apollo 13, Forrest Gump) brings in a strong performance, as do Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and Miguel Ferrer (Robocop, Point of No Return). Rob Lowe (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Contact, The West Wing) is reasonably adept at playing a deaf-mute in a real departure for him, and Jamey Sheridan (Cradle will Rock, Wild America, Chicago Hope) is amusingly sardonic as Flagg.
The film was shot on 16mm stock to cut costs, but I think it's pretty well done considering. Since it was shot for network television it is in full frame. Colors are sharp enough, though I did see some jaggedness in a few places. Audio is an adequate but uninspiring Dolby 2.0. Again, since it was done for television several years ago, it's more the fault of the medium than this disc. Artisan did give us a fair number of extras, including a commentary track with the director Mick Garris (Psycho IV, and the miniseries The Shining), Stephen King, actors Miguel Ferrer, Rob Lowe, Jamey Sheridan, Ruby Dee, and the film editor Patrick McMahon. We also get a relatively useless and promotional "Making of" five-minute featurette, storyboards, production notes, and some stills of the special effects. One noteworthy mention is that this is done on a DVD-18 disc, dual layered and double sided. This enabled the layer switches to occur between the four episodes as they aired on television, a nice circumstance.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite the fact that I really enjoyed the show as a whole, there are some bad elements. First and foremost are the special effects. We see morphing and glowing eyes that are just trite now; in fact I think Flagg could have been more sardonic without them. The other special effects fare no better. My biggest wish for this series would have been for it to have been done on cable, like HBO. To do this story justice it really required an R rating. To nitpick a bit, it would have been nice to shoot the New York City scenes in say, New York City. The commentary track could have been better; considering the number of people they had working on it, there were still some long gaps toward the end with no comment. The few real stunts in the movie had no explanation of how they were done, which I felt was lacking. I still recommend the commentary though, if you can handle six hours of it.
If you're a fan of Stephen King, I'd buy it. You can rent it, but be prepared for 12 hours of viewing time for the miniseries and the commentary together. While it doesn't replace the novel for me, it doesn't embarrass itself next to it either. All in all, I recommend it.
Stephen King and the cast and crew are acquitted, as is Artisan, the studio who released the disc. The next time they need to do a miniseries though, I advise them to talk to HBO or Showtime instead of ABC.
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