When you cover filmmaking and write about the business and the art of it, there are many times you find yourself criticizing a studio for choices that are being made, and sometimes, it starts to look like you're beating up on a particular studio or playing favorites. The truth is much less interesting, though. The truth is that I react to each project, each film, each announcement, as its own thing. I can't count the number of times I've disliked a film's marketing only to end up loving the movie itself, or vice versa, and it's taught me that each movie exists separate from the conversation around it.
So with that in mind, I am not trying to beat up on Warner Bros. I think ambition is a great thing. Without ambition, there is no greatness. Mainstream filmmaking is a difficult balancing act between fiscal responsibility and artistic intent, and any time anyone navigates that the right way, I find it impressive. I hope that we look back at the upcoming run of DC films and say, “Wow, they did something really special and fun and gigantic.” I hope we look back at the trilogy of upcoming JK Rowling “Fantastic Beasts” films and say, “That was a great and different extension of all things 'Potter,' and more fun than I would have expected.” And now, I hope that when all is said and done, four movies based on Stephen King's “The Stand” is a creatively-driven choice that pays off and not one of the weirdest money grabs I've ever seen.
The attempts at turning Stephen King's sprawling Apocalyptic novel “The Stand” into a feature film have been many and disastrous so far, and I'm amazed there are still people trying. By now, I feel like we've seen a number of things that have played with some of the same ideas as “The Stand,” and it's going to feel very familiar by the time it shows up if it hews closely to the book.
More than that, though, the sheer sprawl of “The Stand” makes it a daunting prospect. King has described the book as his take on “Lord Of The Rings” with a familiar American setting. “… instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg. The land of Mordor… was played by Las Vegas,” he said in his introduction to a restored and expanded version of the book.
George Romero was the first person to take a shot at turning the book into a movie. He worked with Rospo Pallenberg, the screenwriter of “Excalibur,” to find a way to crack it, and they wrote a screenplay that was gigantic. There was no way anyone was going to hand Romero the money it would have taken to make that, though, and it's a shame. I wonder what would have happened if they'd pulled it off. How many more Romero movies would we have now? What would a big mainstream career have looked like for him?
At the time, Warner Bros. thought the project was simply too big, impossible to put together for a budget that made any sense at all. It was years later that ABC let Mick Garris put together an eight-hour miniseries version, and that picture of Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald above is from that. I knew Mick really well at the time, and he was in heaven working with King directly on that project. I think the miniseries is a very direct translation of the book, done on a TV budget. More than anything, it convinced me that I don't really want a movie version of “The Stand” anymore. I don't see doing it in one or two movies, and I don't think it really works when you bring it to life.
Okay. It's a big book. If you want to dramatize every single second of every single page, it may well turn out to be something that will be four hours long. But is that what anyone's asking for? Is this further proof that Hollywood is being driven insane by the demand for multi-movie franchises?