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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
"I don't know how many ways I can say this: the so-called 'superflu' does not exist."
DVD Review"This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper." - T.S. EliotStephen King's The Stand depicts the mass destruction of over 99 percent of the human race, but the killer does not appear with a big bang or nuclear explosion. Instead, the apparently minor act of a security guard escaping from a testing facility inaugurates a deadly chain reaction. Society has finally caved in upon itself, and the few survivors must attempt to pick up the pieces. Although this premise could lead to just another run-of-the-mill horror film, King instead takes a more ambitious route and chronicles the ultimate war between the forces of good and evil. But this battle is not fought solely through military might and power. Instead, the winner must succeed on a more personal level and "stand" without regret for their beliefs. Originally published in 1978 and re-released in 1990 with additional material, King's novel is a far-reaching epic with hundreds of characters and subplots. Although the story appears perfect for filming, its extensive scope would cause severe headaches for anyone attempting to work it into an comprehensible movie. Luckily, this version was able to flourish due to two necessary elements: King penned the screenplay himself, and the ABC network chose to purchase his story as a landmark, eight-hour miniseries. This length allowed the author to retain many of the lesser characters that enhance the overall spirit and provide greater depth. The full edition of the novel runs over 1100 pages, so he still necessary to delete a tremendous amount of material, but the heart and soul of his vision remains intact here. The final result is the best television release of any King creation, and one of the most inventive miniseries in television history. For viewers unfamiliar with The Stand, here is a basic synopsis of this complex tale: With unbelievable efficiency, the plague spreads across the country and succeeds in killing almost everyone within a short time. Spurred by strange visions, the survivors gather into two groups, located in Boulder and Las Vegas. The characters in the first group are kind, good-natured folks who often originate from small-town America. They all dream of a very old woman namedMother Abigail Freemantle (Ruby Dee), who sits in a rocking chair and displays a strong belief in God. Their antithesis are the followers of Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan), also known as the "Walkin' Dude". Clad in jeans and sporting long, flowing hair, this amiable fellow hides a menacing evil behind his friendly grin. The images of Flagg are dark and disturbing, and his followers cover a wide array of small-time criminals and other hoodlums. Eventually, the two forces must clash in a series of small and major conflicts that will lead to a final showdown on the glitzy streets of Las Vegas. The true strength of this compelling miniseries resides in the large collection of memorable characters that stem from all walks of life. The centerpiece of the story is Stu Redman (Gary Sinise)—an everyman from East Texas who springs from the mold of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. His stern, quiet demeanor embodies the soul of Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper, and much of the action is seen through his eyes. During the first town meeting in Boulder, Sinise nicely exudes the nervousness, humility, and goodness of this man with only a few minor gestures. The other standout is the deaf mute Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), who displays tremendous intelligence and caring beneath the more feeble exterior. The surprise pre-West Wing casting of Lowe goes completely against type, but it works perfectly and truly conveys a new depth in his acting skills. Andros' moments with the mentally handicapped Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke of Coach) are some of the most touching in this film. Ruby Dee also does wonders for Mother Abigail behind a large amount of makeup that about doubles her age. Although her role could easily become a caricature, Dee stays true to King's vision and makes her a realistic individual. King places more emphasis on the Boulder community, but the quirky individuals in Las Vegas also receive significant screen time. The oddest one is easily the fire-obsessed Trash Can Man (Matt Frewer), a deranged fellow whose main intention is to create explosions. Yet even this destructive man has an emotional side, which appears with his total dedication to Flagg. He stumbles through the desert yelling, "My life for you!" and plays a large role in the final outcome. Another intriguing character is Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer)—Flagg's right-hand man. While obviously aligned with a demonic figure, his plight is understandable given his background. Finally, there is the luscious Nadine Cross (Laura San Giacomo of Sex, Lies & Videotape), a tortured soul chosen by the leader for a crucial purpose. Her progression throughout the story is troubling yet believable, given Flagg's power. Considering its length and ambitious nature, this production could have easily fallen among the ranks of bloated failures. However, director Mick Garris (The Shining, Sleepwalkers) and King retain a tight hold on the structure and never lose their way. Separated into four 90-minute episodes (without commercials), the miniseries plays quickly and deftly shifts the tension to keep our interest, without overwhelming the senses. The first episode—entitled The Plague—is a startling creation that hardly allows a moment's breath. The Dreams introduces more characters and elegantly stresses the otherworldly elements of the story. My least favorite entry is The Betrayal, but it still offers an impressive town hall sequence and a startling cliffhanger finale. This epic concludes with The Stand, a quick episode that answers most questions but still leaves a few open to discussion. Garris utilizes numerous locations across the country, and the large budget appears on the screen during some grisly sequences. However, the monetary limitations of television do appear at times. Several images are obviously crude visual effects, but these are fairly rare, and fail to detract from the overall presentation, which ranks far and above the usual network productions. The Stand contains so many subplots and intriguing scenes that it is impossible to mention them in this review. However, I would like to point out a few other memorable inclusions. Kathy Bates and Ed Harris both appear unbilled in smaller roles that add even more depth to this tale. Harris' Captain Billy Starkey is especially compelling, due to his obvious inner turmoil in denying the flu's existence. Also, several key sequences feature disturbing images that normally would not pass television censors. Larry Underwood's (Adam Stork) torturous journey through the dead bodies of the dark Lincoln Tunnel may not have the explicit blood and guts of R-rated horror films, but the intensity level remains. Garris and King deserve major credit for finding the delicate middle ground between the television barriers and the violence depicted. Regardless, this miniseries succeeds mostly due to its realistic characterizations and loads of acting talent, and this combination leads to a remarkable viewing experience.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The Stand appears in a full-frame version that corresponds with its television origins. This format limits its effectiveness, due to the lack of sharpness and depth possible on the best widescreen film transfers. However, the picture is virtually devoid of defects, and it showcases clear, bright images that work nicely. This is especially true during the eerie dream sequences, which contain a wide array of colors. Compared to the original television version, this presentation is much clearer and includes less grain. Given its hindrances, this is an exceptional full-frame transfer and impressively conveys the story.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track on this disc provides a clear sound, but lacks the force required to enhance the chilling moments. The extensive dialogue is easily understandable, and W.G. Snuffy Walden's melodic score resonates well, but the complexity is lacking. While some of the problems stem from the television origins, this is not a completely acceptable excuse. A 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track would have been a wonderful addition to this disc. However, this transfer still provides a moderately effective viewing experience and does not detract from the story.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 86 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Mick Garris, Writer Stephen King, Rob Lowe, Ruby Dee, Miguel Ferrer, Jamey Sheridan, and Editor Pat McMahon
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsStephen King's The Stand easily includes enough worthy material to fill an entire season of a standard television drama, and this four-part miniseries retains the true spirit of the epic novel. I am a casual King fan who has read some of the novels and watched many of the films. The movie productions often collapse because the screenwriters reduce the material to the bare bones. Luckily, King's decision to adapt his own work has saved this feature from that fate. This top-notch production showcases an excellent cast, nice direction, and plenty of heart, which makes it a complete success on nearly every level.
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