Tuesday, January 12, 2021

M-O-O-N, That Spells Reboot

Like many of you, I have spent the past week wondering WHOA WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN AMERICA and so I will take this opportunity to write about a topic that has ZERO to do with anything in the news. I'm talking about The Stand 2020, the CBS All-Access nine episode miniseries based on the Stephen King novel.

I should warn you, this entry will contain  MANY spoilers, not just about the new miniseries but also from the 1994 miniseries and from the book itself. It will also be more interesting to you if you happen to be a Stephen King fan, and a fan of his epic novel, The Stand.

So SPOILER ALERT big time, if you're OK with that, let's go:

I was curious to see this new version of The Stand, even though I couldn't see why they were making a new one, since the 1994 miniseries was pretty good. Now that I have the 2020 Stand to compare it to, I want to say the 1994 version was great. My only complaints about the 1994 version were minor: it seemed a little comic book-y in spots and I would have made a couple of casting changes (Larry, Flagg, and Stu), but other than that, it was pretty excellent and you can watch this version, in two separate parts, on YouTube for about $5.

Interestingly, since I am into Twitter, I have been able to follow the many tweets of people watching the 2020 version. Most of them are unhappy with it and many of them are people who never saw the 1994 version AND never read the book. These people are confused beyond belief because the 2020 version is all over the place.

For some reason, in this new Stand, they tell it in nonlinear fashion. This format works for some stories, but not for this one, since it's very premise kind of demands an A+B+C+D kind of telling. SPOILER: in this version, they start the story in the middle, with people already in the Free Zone and burying bodies in a mass grave. This is when I started yelling at my TV. In fact there were many moments when I thought excellent scenes were about to come up when they were just POOF gone. The excellent opening which shows the entire plot as Don't Fear The Reaper plays on a jukebox, POOF, gone. The empty Times Square POOF gone, the lovely scene with Harold and Fran listening to Don't Dream It's Over on a battery powered record player, which then booms into stereo as we see a montage of empty America POOF gone. Frannie leading the Free Zone in the National Anthem POOF gone. OK that one I need to add: we do get Larry Underwood standing on a roof, playing the Jimi Hendrix version on an electric guitar, so that was okay. In most of these instances, not only are wonderful scenes missing, but they aren't replaced with anything. It's just kind of blah.

For some reason, we aren't really introduced to any of the main characters very well, with the exception of Harold Lauder. For how much time they devote to developing Harold's character, you would think he was the only survivor of Captain Trips, not just one of them. As you know, Harold is an important character but he isn't one of the main characters and he isn't in the story for long, so this is weird. One person we do not get to know very well is Fran Goldsmith. That's OK because they make Fran less likeable, so I didn't really want to know her.

This brings me to the second time I yelled at my TV. Fran is intended to be a strong character. Strong, determined, fiesty. In the 1994 version Molly Ringwald was casting perfection as Fran. (In fact, when I was first reading The Stand, I was picturing Molly Ringwald as Fran, so I'm glad Stephen King caught my vibe) In the 2020 version Fran, played by Odessa Young, alternates between being boring and weak. In fact, after burying her father, guess what they have Fran do? They have Fran attempt suicide.

Verbatim, what I yelled at my TV was: "WHAT?! WHOA WHOA WHOA"

Not only is Fran supposed to be strong, she's also pregnant and prior to even hearing about Captain Trips had decided she wanted to keep the baby. When we see Fran adjusting to the reality of the plague, she is hopeful that her baby will survive. This is uncertain because the father of the baby did not have immunity to Captain Trips, so the baby could die of it after birth and in fact it is too early to tell if any of the women with a natural immunity to the plague will be able to deliver healthy babies, even if the babies are from two immune parents. It's possible the Superflu has ended the human race and the survivors are the last people who will walk the earth.

Sorry, got off on a tangent there. Anyway, Fran would not overdose on pills and try to kill herself. No way. And yet in the 2020 version, she does. Good thing Harold is there to stick his finger down her throat and make her instantly throw up all of them. Or was it all of them? We don't know. Did they affect the baby? We don't know and Frannie never seems to ask.

And then there is Whoopi Goldberg. Hearing she was being cast as Mother Abagail gave me hope, but Whoopi failed me too. Whoopi is 65 and in this miniseries looks all of maybe 68 and her character is supposed to be 108. If only they had something like makeup artists in Hollywood, maybe they could have made her look older. Not only that, but Hemingford Home is no longer her family homestead, it is now A NURSING HOME. Oh yes. She's sitting around in a room full of corpses, talking to them, and now we aren't sure if she's an instrument of God or just a lady who is off her rocker. I've watched four full episodes and she's gotten maybe six minutes total screen time.

Larry Underwood: in this new version, Larry is black, which has no effect on his storyline at all, but they have made bad changes for Larry, played in 2020 by Jovan Adepo. For one thing, we don't know that he's a musician who had a hit single zooming up the Billboard chart at the time the plague hit. We're given the information that he plays the guitar, and when he meets Rita Blakemoor and she asks him what he did for a living before Captain Trips, he says he can show her, and then he proceeds to point up at a poster of an album. Larry's picture is not on the album, it is not a billboard, it just looks like a poster of any old album and this did not make me yell at my TV but did make me make a face. For all we know, perhaps Larry is a graphic artist and he designed the album cover? We have no idea really. Rita is played by Heather Graham who, although being the right age to play a middle aged lady, actually looks about the same age as Larry, so this is a bit off, also.

He and Rita do not escape New York via the Lincoln Tunnel. Instead, for some reason, they go into the sewers (like we are watching IT and not The Stand) and using this method, somehow they travel miles by walking about 20 feet. Later we see Rita alone, swallowing some pills and swigging some booze and then we just don't see her again and two episodes later, Larry mentioned that she killed herself. We also hear Larry comment, when he is irritated with Rita, he should have taken the million dollars a man had offered him for her earlier. This makes Larry seem like a real creep and we aren't sure if we hope he meets a clown in that sewer or what.

Nadine Cross: OK in this version Nadine is played by Amber Heard and Johnny Depps's extremely loyal fans (known as Deppheads) want people to boycott this miniseries and anything else Heard appears in. My complaint about Heard has nothing to do with her breakup/divorce/lawsuit with Johnny Depp, it is that she is blonde. Very light blonde. This is all wrong for Nadine, who, you may remember, was a brunette promised to be the bride of Randall Flagg. As the story progresses and Nadine gets closer to her fate, her dark hair will have streaks of white which become more pronounced until her hair is fully white, as if to resemble a bridal veil.

How are we supposed to see streaks of white in light blonde hair?

So you see, this is my only complaint about Amber Heard. So far, other than that, she seems to be doing a pretty good Nadine. And speaking of Johnny Depp, he would have made a MIGHTY fine Randall Flagg.

Stu Redman: Disaster. In the 1994 version I wasn't too keen on Gary Sinise for the sole reason that he has a weak chin. Sorry, I'm just keepin' it real, I didn't like his chin. Other than that, he made a great Stu: he was an everyday kind of guy that you might not pick to be the hero, and he did a good job playing a good ole boy from East Texas. The new Stu is played by James Marsden and he is not at all believable as being anyone from the South, and seems like a pretty boy, and an airhead. Also problematic is that although in the book and in the 1994 version Stu is about 13 years older than Fran, in the 2020 version Marsden is a full 25 years older than Fran, and it's a creepy age difference onscreen. Also, Stu's escape from the testing facility at the beginning seems to be fairly easy and he walks down a couple of hallways and out the door.

Randall Flagg AKA the Dark Man, the Hard Case, the Man With No Face, The Walkin' Dude: didn't like the casting of Jamey Sheridan in  the 1994 version and have no real opinion about the 2020 Flagg, Alexander Skarsgard, except that the actor is the brother to Bill Skarsgard, who played Pennywise in the most recent IT, and they look so much alike that it's confusing. It looks like the clown just took his makeup off and is still being evil but not eating people.

Glen Bateman: played to perfection by Ray Walston in 1994, this time Glen is much younger and played by Greg Kinnear. I will still happily marry Greg Kinnear the minute he asks me, but in this miniseries he doesn't seem to have had more than 5 or 6 minutes to prepare for the role and mainly poses, holding a pipe.

Nick Andros: no complaints here, in Henry Zaga, they have a decent Nick, although they have conveniently made Fran fluent in sign language so she has to translate for him, instead of him just writing things down. I was shocked when I watched the 1994 version with Rob Lowe playing this character because he was excellent, although for the majority of the miniseries he didn't speak. (this is similar to how I never understood why people found Tom Cruise attractive until I saw him play a gay blonde vampire, and then I got it)

Tom Cullen: Mixed rating. No one, and I mean no one was going to play Tom Cullen as well as Bill Fagerbakke, who absolutely breathed life into the book's character in the 1994 version. I wondered who would be crazy enough to try to take on this role and get the inevitable comparisons. In this version, they give us a slightly different Tom Cullen (in Brad William Henke) who is still intellectually disabled but does not seem childlike. This Tom is still vulnerable, but seems higher functioning and someone sassy. He isn't afraid to go off and be a spy, in fact, he seems excited about it. Too soon to say how this will play out but it seems like we lose something when Tom is not childlike and fearful because he isn't having to try to find the bravery needed to do this. Unlike Fagerbakke, who was absolutely believable as an intellectually challenged man, Henke seems like an actor who has memorized a few mannerisms and called it good.

The 2020 Nick and Tom do seem to have some chemistry onscreen but it pales in comparison to what we saw in 1994 with Lowe and Fagerbakke. It isn't even close.

Harold Lauder: I wonder why this character seems to be the one people are able to get right. In the 1994 version we had Corin Nemec and he made a fine Harold and in the 2020 version we also get a pretty good Harold in Owen Teague. There are differences: the 1994 Harold seemed to have more genuine love for Fran and the 2020 Harold seems to have specific masculinity issues. Also in the 2020 version there is a very gritty scene which was painful to watch and to understand THAT scene, you had to have not only read the book but also read the EXPANDED version of the book which contained material Stephen King later cut. 

So, we have two problems: we have characters which have been a little messed up and we have a nonlinear storyline that not only keeps viewers confused but also robs the story of any excitement whatsoever. That's really saying something, if you consider the plot of The Stand.

I noticed, on the credits: Hey, Stephen King's son cowrote the teleplay of this new version.

Why did Stephen King allow this? I have a theory. I think he allowed this 2020 version for two reasons. One: his book, The Stand, had ticked him off and he wanted to get even and Two: he is overly gentle with his son, Owen King.

Owen King, as you may know, or may not know, is the real life happier version of the Pet Sematary character Gage Creed.

Pet Sematary was based almost entirely on King's real life. He had been hired by a local college and given a house to live in and the house had a children's Pet Sematary in the woods behind it and a very dangerous road in front of it and King had two children, a daughter who was about five, and a toddler son. The son, Owen, really did take off running toward the road just as an 18 wheeler was coming and Stephen King really did run and run and then did a giant leap to try to catch the child's jacket and in real life, he did catch his jacket and his little boy lived. The thought of how close he came to losing him inspired the story and, I'm guessing, probably made King a little teary eyed about this kid from that day to this one.

And King himself has said whenever fans tell him The Stand is their favorite of his books it depresses him, to think that maybe his best work was written so long ago. Maybe when his son presented new ideas for this story, King just approved of whatever his son wanted. And maybe he secretly wanted to give this book a little dose of the Superflu.

Viewers on Twitter seem especially upset about the idea of Tom Cullen being sent as one of the spies. They wouldn't be AS upset if the miniseries had spent more time on Tom, but it didn't, and so the rest of the Free Zone committee just seem like heartless bastards for sending him. We also wonder about Judge Farris (male in the 1994 version, female in this one) because if she's important enough to be sent as a spy, shouldn't we have had her onscreen even one second before they send her? We don't really know her, so we probably won't care as much when she meets her end.

Speaking of ends, Ray Brentner will be one of the team sent out walking. In this version he is a female, Rae Brentner, and we've only seen her twice, very briefly, and her job seems to be helping Mother Abagail walk, so same thing, we'll lose her without ever getting to know her.

Some said that this 2020 version would have greater diversity in the cast but I have to disagree. Larry who had been white is now black but Judge Farris who had been black is now white. They've turned two male characters female but they took one bisexual character and seem to have made her straight. Whether the many minor cast members have greater diversity, difficult to say. To me the few hundred people in the Free Zone seemed to be no more ethnically diverse in this new version than in the 1994 one.

Anyway, this is what I've been doing: continuing to watch this new version, more out of curiosity than anything else. So far I've seen the first four out of nine episodes. The fourth episode seemed a little bit better but really all of them should be equally good, and any movie or miniseries based on a book should be able to stand alone, understandable even to someone who's never read the book. That is definitely not true for The Stand 2020.

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