In “The Stand,” Stephen King designs a post-apocalyptic confrontation between good and evil. ABC leaps into May sweeps with an ambitious, eight-hour visualization of King’s expansive 1978 novel, scripted by the author. While it’s no “V,” it’s not bad; the mini probably would have played better at six hours but should sustain the interest of King fans, who number in the millions, and may pick up some non-King followers.
The basic plan is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in that ordinary people, evidently randomly selected, are compelled by an unknown impetus to gather for an unknown purpose.
In this case, there are two forces: Good, personified by a 106-year-old black woman, Mother Abigail (Ruby Dee), living in Nebraska, and Evil, one Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan), an “apostate of hell” who occasionally takes the form of a crow.
The backdrop is a killer epidemic, released when a government biological warfare experiment misfires; before long, practically everybody in the U.S. is dead or dying. (King has said the original prototype was Legionnaires’ disease, updated to an AIDS parallel when he rewrote the book in the mid-’80s.)
Gary Sinise stars as Stu Redman, an East Texan who becomes the story’s main focus as he trav-
els from home (where he escapes the flu) to the Center for Disease Control in Vermont and on to the final conflict.
Along the way, he’s joined by rock star Larry Underwood (Adam Storke); deaf mute Nick Andros (Rob Lowe) and his traveling companion, the mildly retarded Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke); retired professor Glen Bateman (Ray Walston); retired judge Farris (Ossie Davis); and Frannie Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald), a young Maine woman who’s pregnant by her former boyfriend.
Along, too, are Laura San Giacomo as Nadine Cross, whomUnderwood picks up while leaving New York City; and Corin Nemec as Harold Lauder, a somewhat geeky fellow who harbors an unrequited crush on Goldsmith.
Those not watching from the beginning (or who haven’t read the book) are doomed to near-hopeless confusion. At the beginnings of parts two and three, characters have been added without telling the audience; others are referred to as if they were significant, though their screen time (if any) is minimal, perhaps due to last-minute cuts. Still, those who watch closely should be able to follow along.
Flagg and his troops — headed by lieutenant Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer) and including arsonist the Trashcan Man (Matt Frewer) and pistol-hot cowgal Julie Lawry (Shawnee Smith) — have headquartered in Vegas, where they’ve set about constructing something-or-another (lots of hard hats in sight, little actual building) and prepping for a final “stand” with Mother Abigail’s retinue.
Emphasis is on character, which is just as well in that much of the special-effects work, while fine for TV, is below current feature standards. Still, the showdown in front of the Union Plaza Hotel is a stunner.
Scripter King and director Mick Garris don’t let details get in the way of the big picture, resulting in inconsistencies and unanswered questions. Has the “flu” moved outside the continental United States? Maybe.
Underwood is introduced as a musician whose first hit single, according to a single stretch of dialogue, either “has cracked the top 50,””is 21 with a bullet ,” or “hasn’t cracked the Hot Hundred yet.” Such inconsistencies may be the result of sloppy writing or last-minute cuts for time; in any case, they ultimately don’t interfere with the momentum.
Garris manages to maintain momentum as characters mix and match, and the look of the film, other than those few subpar makeup and matte effects, is pro. Vernon Ray Bunch’s score is quiet and Western, making much use of acoustic guitar and fiddle.
Acting is fine throughout and commendably understated.
Warranted exceptions are San Giacomo, who is allowed to climb the walls once she comes under Flagg’s influence; Frewer as the wacked-out firebug; and Sheridan as Flagg himself.