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?
After all, we've heard some truly deranged ideas in recent months. I wouldn't greenlight one Robin Hood movie these days, much less a whole “Hood-verse.” And the reported plans to take the various Universal monsters and turn them into superheroes in an interconnected film universe smells to me of marketing driving filmmaking, not a storytelling opportunity.
Boone made an appearance on the “Hollywood Babble-On” podcast, and he talked about how he started by trying to condense everything into a single film, told in a more non-linear fashion, set to be made for $87 million.
That's ambitious. No doubt. But the studio came back to him with a chance to expand it into something much bigger, and here's where I just don't know what to make of the news. He says they're going to make four films. Making that plan before you've released one film is a very big, very risky proposition. Warner Bros. has certainly made that sort of gamble before, and in just a few weeks, they're releasing the culmination of what has to be one of the most expensive series of films of all time, “The Hobbit,” so if anyone's equipped to take this chance, it's this studio.
Even so… really? I'm a huge fan of King's work, and I certainly love this particular book… but do I really need another eight hours or more of watching these events play out, no matter how well made?
I think it's a weird choice. I think Josh Boone is a good filmmaker, and the podcast is certainly worth a listen. But I've been mulling this one over all day, and I just don't get it. Now I'm curious to start hearing announcements about this cast that Boone says is going to “blow people's minds.”
Boone says production is set for the spring. We'll see.