Any man can tell you that life is a series of good decisions and bad decisions. The more good ones you make, the more enjoyable your life is destined to be. But, if you must make bad decisions, at least make them memorable ones, for entertainment’s sake. Unfortunately, in the case of The Stand, turning a novel into a six hour plus marathon was a bad decision that was neither memorable nor entertaining.
The reason this took two weeks to review was because I got so little enjoyment out of viewing, that I broke it into several segments to complete. Ultimately, this was about as effective a technique as chewing portions of a large aspirin rather than just swallowing the thing whole and getting it over with.
-Note, there isn’t actually a tornado in the film. Cool artwork, though.
The plot is based loosely around what amounts to King’s interpretation of the book of Revelations. However, sitting through the film should feel more like a test of God to the viewer than to the main cast of characters, most of whom suffer from, frankly, poor acting. The best performances came from Gary Sinise (The big money actor they brought in), as well as Rob Lowe, who played a deaf-mute character fairly convincingly. Everyone else caused me to cringe at the majority of their lines, the way I do at myself when I see my own acting (Spoiler alert, I’m not good at it).* When the acting is poor enough to bring the viewers’ attention to it, it ruins the experience by constantly reminding the viewer that these are in fact, very poor actors and not the characters they try so hard to portray. When King, who himself plays a moderately sizable role in the film, doesn’t stand out as a bad actor by comparison, you know you’re in trouble.
It starts with the majority of the world’s population dying of a super flu. Only a few hundred immune survivors live on. This has some fun creative possibilities, from the battle over territory to the increased individual importance and legacy of such chosen survivors. But King abandons much of this in favor of a tired Good vs. Evil battle, in which the outcome and characters are purely black and white, aside from the (inevitable) betrayal of one of the good characters.
One big reason why this film doesn’t function well is the dialogue. You should reasonably be able to guess all the lines before they happen. This is a consequence not only of lazy screenwriting, but of a plot that is equally predictable. In watching, you’ll feel like you know the story already, and for a six hour feature there should be only one or two real surprises for the viewer. “Dreadfully dull” is the most accurate description that I can come up with without breaking the colorful language barrier. First and foremost, the experience suffers from being painfully and tediously drawn out. A few scenes come to mind; one of which they sing the entire national anthem with nothing but a pan across all of the main characters that conveys nothing emotionally, nor does it add to the plot. Just about every shot could have been done quicker and more concisely, and this is coming from a guy who watched Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited, where two guys sit in a room and talk philosophy for an hour and a half, and enjoyed it. I’m not the kind of guy who needs films to be fast paced, but it needs to be good enough for your patience as a viewer to be rewarded.
The entirety of the first episode is basically giving backgrounds to each of the major characters (Fifteen to twenty minutes apiece). At least you thought they were the main characters. Between episodes, dozens of new characters will join the fray with little to no explanation of their own personal backgrounds. The story continues with an indiscriminate mix of developed and undeveloped characters. It made me wonder whether I’d actually skipped an episode (mercifully, I hadn’t), or perhaps if King was convinced he’d lulled the viewers to sleep effectively enough to slip a couple past us. Either way, it feels utterly disjointed and confusing, considering prior insistence on establishing long backgrounds for other characters.
If you enjoy the story, and you might, it seems as though the solution would be to read the book, and leave this abomination on the shelves. I had heard good things about it in the past, and went into it with high expectations, but instead found myself disappointed with poor execution, few surprises, and an antagonist who looks like a bad 80’s arena rocker.
See you in court, Al Jean.
*Ed Note: Twist! He actually is.