Stephen King’s The Stand

Stephen King’s The Stand (1994) – Not rated

“When a super-flu decimates most — but not all — of the human race, the lonely survivors divide into two civilizations which are destined to clash. Based on the best-selling novel by Stephen King.”

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” – Yeats but quoted by Ed Harris in the show

Stephen King’s The Stand runs for six hours and still feels a little rushed in the storytelling department. I have no idea how they originally planned to make it into just a movie. It is also currently being thought of for a reboot because apparently American memories were wiped during Y2K. That said be aware that this is a long haul (albeit with a good payoff).

Mick Garris has made a good living from Stephen King. He directed 1992’s trashy but fun Sleepwalkers and somehow became the go-to guy for Stephen King adaptations. Perhaps this is because he is one of the few directors to have actually read the books but that is just speculation on my part. After The Stand, Mick would go on to direct The Shining mini-series, Quicksilver Highway (which adapts King’s “Chattery Teeth”), Riding the Bullet, Desperation, and the just aired Bag of Bones. He also wrote the screenplays for Quicksilver Highway and Riding the Bullet.

Stephen King wrote the screenplay based on his own magnum opus so this is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel. He does an excellent job of juggling a huge and disparate cast of characters. King can’t resist appearing in his films and here he plays Teddy Weizak in the last two episodes.

Gary Sinise is fantastic as Stu “Country don’t mean dumb” Redman. Also excellent are Ray Walston (Glen Bateman), Ossie Davis (Judge Farris) and Ruby Dee as Mother Abigail. They are ably backed by Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Miguel Ferrer, Jamey Sheridan and a host of others. Regrettably a few of the actors are not so good, either too over-the-top (Matt Frewer as Trashcan Man, Rick Aviles as Rat Man) or just plain off the wall (Laura san Giacomo’s Nadine is not exactly a model of sanity so I suppose I should cut her some slack).

The episodes break down into fairly neat story arcs. The first episode is the best movie/TV depiction I’ve seen of an apocalyptic outbreak (until this year’s Contagion anyway). The second episode is all about the journeys of various characters after the apocalyptic events. The third episode is about community and the fourth is all about faith. It doesn’t break down perfectly but pretty close.

People Watch: Look for Ed Harris and Kathy Bates in uncredited cameos as a General and radio jock respectively. Yes that is former NBA superstar Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the doomsayer. The cane used by a character in the fourth episode is the same cane from Storm of the Century.

The Fourth Protocol – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is Weapons of Mass Destruction week. The Fourth Protocol is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Fourth Protocol

PASS: The Fourth Protocol (1987) – Rated R.

“In an effort to shatter NATO alliances, Russian spy Valeri Petrofsky (Pierce Brosnan) plots to explode a nuclear bomb in Britain and blame the act on America. It is up to British agent John Preston (Michael Caine) to foil the plan, despite the skepticism of his superiors. Based on the book by best-selling author Frederick Forsyth, this well-crafted espionage thriller also stars Joanna Cassidy as a second Russian agent.”

“He is armed with a bomb.” – “How big a bomb?” – “Atomic bomb.”

Director John MacKenzie does a capable job here. Unfortunately that is the best that can be said. This is a typical by-the-numbers Cold War spy thriller. There is no particular flair or artistry involved.

Author Frederick Forsyth helped write the screenplay from his novel. The script is very literate but there is very little life or passion in it. It is strange that with so much attention to detail, the antagonists assemble the atomic bomb with their bare hands, including handling the radioactive material.

Gasp! John Preston (Michael Caine) is a rogue agent who does not play by the rules! In one scene he notably stares at a countdown timer as it reaches 007. He is a little past his prime here but always enjoyable.

Pierce Brosnan (post-Remington Steele, pre-James Bond) is our primary antagonist. He drives a  motorcycle with the tag C700 OBL (yet another 007 reference). Joanna Cassidy is his cover “wife”.

Ian Richardson is the only standout in a good cast. He is simply superb in his brief screen-time as Sir Nigel Irvine. While I have not reviewed them yet, his starring role in The House of Cards trilogy is extremely highly recommended.

The rest of the cast is quite good as well though they seem somewhat wasted. Julian Glover is the priggish boss, Brian Harcourt-Smith, who refuses to believe any evidence simply because he hates John Preston. Michael Gough plays outgoing boss, Sir Bernard Hemmings (so we have both of the recent Alfreds, faithful butler to Batman). Ned Beatty plays Borisov.

None of the action is exciting. A car does a 180 degree screech to a halt so Preston can grab a train. A van hits two other cars to pull out of a traffic jam. Ho hum.

There is nothing wrong with this thriller (well other than that it is not very thrilling) but there is nothing special about it either. In spite of the good cast, I cannot really recommend this.

People Watch: Matt (Max Headroom) Frewer has a small part here as Tom McWhirter. He puts quite the twang into his voice. Frederick Forsyth cameos as a radio newsreader.