Thoughts on “The Stand” (Miniseries)

So, after reading and commenting on the book, I sat down and watched the 1994 miniseries that I picked up in a Stephen King collection a while ago. The miniseries is the longest of his miniseries adaptations, coming in at right around six hours, and so I had to make sure that I had free blocks of time when I was unlikely to fall asleep to watch it. It was a long weekend here in Canada, and so that worked out for me.

The miniseries itself got a pretty good reception and, spoilers, that was a bit surprising to me. What I can say about it is that it drew in a number of well-known actors who put in good performances, it was in general well-crafted, and it was well-constructed (although it had a number of special effects failures, even in more normal scenes like in the control room of the disease control centre). But it runs into the problems the book had as well as the problems that Stephen King adaptations tend to have.

The book itself ended up being anti-climactic because most of the work focused on the plague, its aftermath, and assembling the communities. However, this mostly worked because it made sure that we knew that the focus characters were important and the slice of life moments were interesting in and of themselves. Having less room than the book, the miniseries had the same issue, but also didn’t have the time to really build up the characters, so a lot was lost. It also seemed to follow the trend of taking iconic scenes from the book but without being able to delve into the backstory to make them meaningful. The worst of this is the suicide of the general, as we never really get to see his internal struggle that leads to his suicide, and so the event is a bit less shocking than it probably should be. The work also, in general, makes the military figures much more brutal and unsympathetic than they seemed to be in the book, and Stu Redman is far more antagonistic towards them than he was in the book, where he was more implacable rather than openly hostile.

Now, in some sense having just read the book causes some issues with watching the miniseries, as I both am constantly comparing the two and noting the differences and also know what’s going to happen and so don’t feel any suspense. Without that, the miniseries might be more compelling. On the other hand, I know the characters already and so will have emotional connections to them even if the miniseries itself doesn’t really develop them enough to really pull it off. So call that a wash.

Anyway, the miniseries was obviously going to have to change things up a bit to fit everything in, but in a lot of cases those changes weren’t very good. The worst one is what happens to Nadine and Larry. In the book, Larry was someone who was a bit self-interested and certainly cared more about himself than about others, which his mother explicitly called him out on when he came to New York but clearly showed that she cared about him anyway. In the miniseries, she more considers him a deadbeat like his father and his good side or potential good side is never made clear. Nadine fits into the role that another woman he met — who dies of an overdose — on leaving New York, but that removes that event and how it impacted him. Then, Nadine leaves him later, and he takes up with the feral boy Joe and Lucy Swann. They keep the scene where Joe attempts to stab Larry, but take out any other interaction between the two and how they bond over the guitar, and also Joe returning to Leo and coming out of his shell, making the character pretty pointless … especially since he can’t get a funny feeling about Harold Lauder showing that Harold isn’t all that good anymore (more on Harold later).

This feeds back into the relationship between Larry and Nadine. In the book, they had traveled together and then met up with Lucy, and I believe all came into town together. This set up the idea that Larry was in love with Nadine but since she wouldn’t have him took up with Lucy instead. Then, when Nadine comes to him in a last gasp to avoid going to “The Dark Man” and being his bride, we can see Larry acting differently, deciding to give up what he arguably most wants because of how it would impact someone else, namely Lucy. This cements that he is a changed person, while ironically dooming Nadine and potentially giving “The Dark Man” a victory. But in the miniseries none of that is clear. Lucy seems jealous for little reason — at least little reason given in the miniseries — and while we can figure out that this is Nadine trying to dodge “The Dark Man” we don’t really have any reason to think that Larry would even be tempted to leave Lucy for Nadine. This carries over to her final scene, where Nadine jumps to her death while carrying “The Dark Man’s” child because she lost everything, even Larry. There’s no real reason for her to do that at that point, and no real reason for her to be that attached to Larry, and it also doesn’t work as well as “The Dark Man” killing her in a rage, which he just prior to that had almost done to his second-in-command.

Harold also gets far less development than he did in the book. In the book, there was a tension between his good qualities and his bad ones, which then culminates in his death scene where he comments that he was misled and apologizes. Without his crush on Fran and losing her to Stu, and without his being deprived of influence that he thought he deserved, he likely wouldn’t have turned against them and betrayed them. In the book, Larry follows his directions to Colorado, and seeks him out to thank him for that and show how impressed he was by what Harold did and managed to accomplish. And then Nick cuts him out of the committee, sending him irrevocably down the path to betrayal, especially with the reward of Nadine dangled in front of him. Here, though, Harold doesn’t ever do anything all that impressive. He mostly crushes on Fran and fights with Stu. Thus, there’s nothing to establish why he would feel that he should have been on the committee in the first place, and we don’t get to see any redeeming qualities that would make his death tragic. He doesn’t even get to try to kill Nadine and almost foil “The Dark Man’s” plan, which is the start of it all falling apart for “The Dark Man”.

In the book, one of the big issues with the ending was that “The Dark Man” in the first time we really get to see him in action pretty much grabs the Idiot Ball and through his idiocy everything falls apart, which turns a potentially frightening threat into something of a farce. In the miniseries, that doesn’t happen and he fails far less, but then it’s hard to understand why his followers were so willing to turn on him. They mention rumours that the Judge got away and that Tom Cullen definitely escaped, and there was the fact that his trusted follower Trashcan Man blew things up, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to get them to start leaving and for Whitney to stand up to him at the execution. And it certainly wasn’t anything the heroes there said, as their roles are as superfluous as they were in the book. So it all collapses for no real reason and not due to anything “The Dark Man” actually did.

So, it’s time to ask the question: would I watch it again? The problem with rewatching it is that it’s really, really long. It’s not a bad miniseries, although it does drag at times, but it’s just far too long to sit down and watch. I can imagine that it would be good sometime when I’m sick and just want to have something on that I can doze off through, but other than that it’s not likely that I’ll watch it again.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on “The Stand” (Miniseries)”

  1. Accomplishments again … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] season 3 right now) and am on the last season of Star Trek: Voyager. I also managed to squeeze in the miniseries of “The Stand”. I’m even feeling better about my ability to finish hour-long shows because I’ve changed […]

  2. Thoughts on “Christine” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] It’s really difficult to adapt that, especially in something that isn’t a miniseries (and “The Stand”, despite having the length for that, didn’t manage to really succeed at that either).  This […]

  3. Thoughts on “The Dead Zone” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] do in a movie and take up time that even miniseries don’t have the room to do, which led to my being disappointed with the miniseries of “The Stand” when I watched it after having re-read the book first.  King’s works are just really, really […]

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