The Stand (Redux)

You’ll often hear Stephen King described as a “cinematic writer”, someone whose work is so visceral and visual it can be turned directly into a screenplay without much effort. So the question comes to mind, “Why does Hollywood mess it up so exuberantly and so regularly?”

The first reason has to do with length. King’s best adaptations are of his novellas and short stories. When it comes to the novels, there’s just so much there it can’t all be packed into even a three hour runtime.

But this should no longer be a problem with the rise of the limited series. After all, they made an excellent adaptation of The Stand in the 90s by stretching it out into a miniseries.

So if we’ve already had one good adaptation of The Stand for TV, why did we need another one and how did it go so spectacularly wrong? Well, I can’t answer the first question, but I have a few guesses on the second.

First of all, its time framing is terrible. By making the plague and the journey into flashbacks and the Boulder settlement the present, they robbed the story of its mystery. King has written stories, namely It, that work best by flipping back and forth between the past and the present, but The Stand isn’t one of them. The Stand is the story of a magical journey and you don’t start a magical journey at the end.

Secondly, they hollowed out the characters. This grim, mushmouthed defeatist is not Stu Redman. I know Stu Redman. Stu Redman was a friend of mine, and this guy is no Stu Redman. The book (and Gary Senise’s portrayal in the miniseries) really fleshes the man out. The book is full of complete characters with depth and behaviors who are in the process of discovery, some heading to one conclusion and others to a different one.

What happened isn’t the story. It’s the process of surviving an extinction event and coming to understand your place in this new world. This reboot is boring because it’s a dreadful trudge instead of a magical journey.

This reboot reminds me — in the worst possible way — of the truly awful 2004 remake of Salem’s Lot. There is something about modern development execs who really don’t get the fun and joy of a Stephen King story and their response is to darken it down to a gray smudge.

The one brilliant exception this was the movie version of It. That was a fun movie that captured the true Stephen King spirit.

I have to admit I only made it through two episodes of the reboot. We have so many options for high quality entertainment now that there’s just no reason to put up with a ponderous, slow-moving dirge that sucks the fun out of one of the all time great fantasies.

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