Turn Back the Clock
Television Miniseries / DVD
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures and CBS DVD
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Several years ago, I was a huge Stephen King fan. I scarfed up every book he wrote, borrowing some, buying others, reading and re-reading my favorites and cringing every time someone proposed making a movie - especially a made-for-TV-movie - based on one of his novels. There’s something about a Stephen King novel that doesn’t always translate well to the movie format. So, when they announced a television miniseries based on one of my favorite Stephen King novels, I was worried. As it turns out, they got it right with The Stand and I have watched it numerous times since it first aired in 1994.
The Stand is an apocalyptic tale of sorts. No, the world doesn’t implode and tornados, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes don’t wipe out the inhabitants of Earth. The destruction of man does not come at the end of a nuclear warhead. The destruction does definitely come via the hand of man, though - through a man-made supervirus created at a military installation and accidentally let loose upon the world.
It starts with a breach in quarantine at a military installation located in the California desert. Charlie Campion (Ray McKinnon) leaves the facility with his wife and child instead of locking it down for quarantine. Campion travels across America, exposing numerous individuals before dying at a gas station in Arnette, Texas, cradled in arms of a quiet, unassuming man named Stuart Redman (Gary Sinise). When people start getting sick in Stu’s town, everyone is quarantined and all those present when Campion died are taken to a special facility for diseases in Vermont. Scientists attempt, to no avail, to discover why everyone around Stu is dying from the superflu while he seems to be immune. He eventually escapes the hospital when everyone dies from the flu and heads west.
All over America, the virus spreads, taking most, but leaving some who are strangely immune. Down on his luck rock star Larry Underwood (Adam Storke) is one of them. Having left behind his mother after she died from the flu in Queens, New York, Larry sets out searching for survivors. He finds drug-addicted and highly paranoid Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo) and the two begin traveling together. In Maine, Francis Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald) buries her father (Ken Jenkins) in his garden with the help of her awkward and infatuated neighbor, Harold Lauder (Corin Nemic). Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), a deaf mute who finds himself on the road again after everyone in Shoyo, Arkansas dies from the flu. He takes up with a mentally disabled man named Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke).
All of the superflu survivors begin having dreams about an elderly woman named Mother Abigail Freemantle (Ruby Dee) who lives in Hemingford Home, Nebraska. In their dreams, the woman urges them to come to her and to be wary of the dark man. They also dream about this dark man, a mysterious and threatening man named Randall Flagg who also urges them to come to him. Most gravitate toward Mother Abigail, but quite a few feel the lure of Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan). His followers include the maniacal pyromaniac known as The Trashcan Man (Matt Frewer); Lloyd Henried (Miguel Ferrer), a down-on-his-luck petty criminal saved from starvation in a Phoenix jail by Flagg and Nadine Cross who has a special destiny linked to Randall Flagg.
Mother Abigail’s followers flock to her in Nebraska and still more head out to meet her in Boulder, Colorado. It is there that her followers, including Stu Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, Larry Underwood, Nick Andros, Tom Cullen and all those they have picked up along the way begin to set up a place they can call home. Meanwhile, Randall Flagg and his followers set up a base of operations in Las Vegas, Nevada.
We begin to see that this is not just a tale about survival from a superflu, but a fight of good versus evil. Randall Flagg is the embodiment of evil, a sort of embodiment of the devil if you will. Abigail Freemantle is likened to that of Jesus Christ, bringing followers to her and teaching them faith in her God, believing in him to the last and taking her lead from what she learns from him in prayer. It is through Mother Abigail that her followers learn that they must find Flagg’s operation and destroy it before Flagg makes his move to wipe them out and create a new Hell on Earth.
Mother Abigail’s followers are met with numerous trials, which include a Judas-like betrayal. There are times that they are inclined to turn back and forget what they have learned, but blind faith in Mother Abigail’s teachings pushes them forward and they somehow find a way to carry on, facing down and destroying Flagg in a fiery climax.
You might say, “What the hell?! You just told me the ending!” Actually, I have told you only a part of the ending and, besides, with this movie, half the fun is just getting there. The miniseries is four parts in length, about six hours in length, but well worth the watch. The Stand miniseries is the closest I’ve ever seen anyone get to recreating one of Stephen King’s novels. Yes, there are some small differences thanks to time constraints and the need to move the plot along, but for the most part, the movie stays very close to the novel, hardly varying at all from the path.
The movie carries a huge cast and some incredible actors who performed their roles perfectly. Each and every actor was totally believable in their roles. In addition to the incredible casting of Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald (who recreated herself as an actress in this role), Matt Frewer, Jamey Sheridan, Miguel Ferrer, Rob Lowe, Adam Storke, Laura San Giacomo, Ruby Dee, Bill Fagerbakke and Corin Nemic, there were quite a few enjoyable performances by such big name actors as Ray Walston, Peter van Norden, Kathy Bates, Ed Harris, Ossie Davis and more. Even Stephen King makes an appearance in this film as Teddy Weizak, a Mother Abigail follower.
The special effects in this film weren’t the best, but they were good enough to get the point across. It would be hard to recreate Randall Flagg’s true self for the television screen, but they did the best that they could with the effects available to them at the time.
I loved the attention to detail when it came to the sprawling sets - the streets of New York City, including the Lincoln Tunnel, the deserts of Nevada and Arizona, the sprawling cornfields of Nebraska, the beauty of Maine, the canyons of Colorado. The film may have its dark moments, but the scenery is simply remarkable and often times incredibly beautiful.
The Stand is a terrific movie from start to finish. It has a well-thought out story which contains an apocalyptic event that we can actually conceive of happening. The underlying plot of good versus evil is also well-thought out and incredibly interesting. The characters are complex and easy to relate to. The acting is terrific. The miniseries may sound like its long, but it is incredibly fast moving and captivating. You feel a need to watch it to the very end just so you know what has happened to your favorite characters. The Stand miniseries is a perfect example of how to adapt an epic novel to film. It’s one of those adaptations that make you want to read the book all over again.