Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
The Stand (1994) Directed by Mick Garris, Adapted for the Screen by Stephen King.
“Pleased to meet you, Lloyd. Hope you guessed my name.”—Randall Flagg
The world is rocking along until one day, there is one tiny little accident in a government facility creating biological weapons. And one gate guard, instead of sealing the base, as he was told, took his family and ran. They ran all the way from the desert to east Texas, to Arnett (I figure Atlanta, or Linden, that area.) before succumbing to the disease. They die in Stu Redmond (Gary Sinese) arms. And then the government is there, rounding people up. Stu goes with them, because he’s not stupid. They will shoot him if he doesn’t. But he doesn’t believe any of the stories they tell him, and he is right not to.
The disease is called Captain Trips, and basically it is just the flu, but with 99% communicability, and greater than 99% death rate; you either don’t catch it, or you die. There is no “getting better.” And just like that, human civilization is over. And the handful of survivors must figure out what to do with their lives.
Some, like Stu, and a deaf mute named Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), grieving daughter Fran Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald) and rising rockstar, Larry Underwood (Adam Storke) have a dream, and hear a call. “My name is Abigail Freemantle (Ruby Dee) but folks round here just call me Mother Abigail. I’m a hundred and six years old, and I still make my own bread. You come an’ see me in Hemmingford Home, Nebraska.”
A centenarian black woman is an unlikely messiah, but there is an opposite number out there, Randall Flagg (Jamye Sheridan). He attracts his own, like the pyromaniac Trashcan Man (Matt Frewer) and the sociopathic Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer), the love sick Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec) and the damaged Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo). Mother Abigail is leading her flock to Boulder, Colorado, while Flagg’s people slink into Las Vegas.
What follows is a simple battle between good and evil, between the forces of democracy and self determination, and the forces of oppression and exploitation. The remnants of humanity must sort it out and see which way the race will go; the path of righteousness, or the path of darkness.
The book is one of King’s very best. It builds a mythos, it weaves a tapestry. It contains literally hundreds of characters, over a dozen of which are absolutely central to the story, with scores more whose roles are essential, or greatly enrich the story. So you can see why it was so hard to convert to a movie; King tried for years, even toyed with the idea of breaking it into two parts, then finally, the offer to make it a miniseries came along, and magic happened.
Stephen King’s novels don’t really convert easily to movies. It is almost always a crap shoot; only Frank Darabont seems to get it right everytime. For every success like The Mist, you have a failure like Children of the Corn. But here King is at the helm, well, writing anyway, and the story manages to survive the transition.
King is a myth maker. Randall Flagg is a personal boogeyman; you see him in other works by King, and this fight is one that goes on in many of his stories. Rarely is the story so clear cut, but hey, there are moments.
As a movie, the production works. The scope of it, the sheer overwhelming nature of a nation of dead people is nicely captured, even if the corpses seem remarkably intact after three months. There is horror, but it is mixed with hope. And that, I think, is where this differs from so many other King tales. Cujo was a miserable ride with a horrible pay off. The Shining, Carrie, Salem’s Lot, all are “won” but at horrible cost.
And it is the hope that is the message. It is the hope that makes the movie. It is the unfailing belief that every person has value, and a purpose that makes us cheer for Tom Cullin (Bill Fagerbakke) possibly one of the best savior figures ever.
Does the movie have the impact of the book? No. For that, it would have to be a series, running two seasons at least (hey, HBO, are you listening?) But the movie has the heart of the book down, conveys its spirit, and manages to do it in four ninety minute episodes that are completely compelling. Who can ask for anything more?
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older