Aug 30, 2020

Baby, Can You Dig Your Remake

Owen Teague as Harold Lauder in the 2020 adaptation of The Stand
(source: Robert Falconer / CBS)

The Stand
CBS All Access (2020)
I recently listened to Round Table #92 from the Dark Tower Palaver podcast.  The episode was centered around my all-time favorite novel, The Stand, and it's upcoming miniseries that will stream on CBS All Access on December 17th.

As much as I love The Stand, I've kind of pushed this project to the back of my mind.  Stephen King film adaptations have historically been hit or miss, however when they miss, they miss by a country mile.  The best example of this is when Sony Pictures attempted to cram eight novels and a short story into a single movie with their release of The Dark Tower in 2017.  They tried to call it a sequel to the books.  It wasn't.  It was a half-assed attempt to cash in on perhaps the best series of novels ever written with a poor film that, at best, contains a handful of references to its source material.  The Dark Tower movie is to The Dark Tower universe what Family Guy: Blue Harvest is to the Star Wars universe, and even that is giving it far more credit than it deserves.

This isn't the first time The Stand has been turned into a mini-series.  The first attempt aired on ABC in May, 1994, and it's surprisingly good for a King adaptation.  It over-simplifies much of the plot and its characters, and it leaves quite a bit out, but I found it to be an enjoyable 7+ hours that succeeds in capturing the spirit of the novel.

I didn't realize until listening to this podcast that they were as far along in the mini-series remake as they are.  Much of the cast has been announced, and some production photos have been published by Vanity Fair, so I'd like to take a moment to compare the actors and actresses that have been announced for the upcoming mini-series to the one that aired on ABC 26 years ago, and to the character as he or she is presented in the original novel.

James Marsden (left) and Gary Sinise (right)
Stu Redman
2020James Marsden
1994: Gary Sinise

Marsden has an impressive resume, but he's got very big cowboy boots to fill in The Stand.  Gary Sinise was absolutely perfect as Stuart Redman.  He came across naturally as "just another good old boy in a dying Texas town" who discovered his place in the world only after it ended.  My initial reaction was that he's too young for the role, but he's definitely not.  The man is 46 and he looks like he could be ten years younger than me.  That being said, I think Marsden might be a bit too GQ and polished for the role, but I'm sure people said the same thing about Rob Lowe in the original mini-series, and he was amazing.  I'm going to go ahead and set my skepticism aside when it comes to the new Stu Redman.

Odessa Young (left) and Molly Ringwald (right)
Fran Goldsmith
2020Odessa Young
1994: Molly Ringwald

It's been over 20 years since I first watched the original mini-series.  I've watched it at least a dozen times, and I'm still not sure how I feel about Molly Ringwald's performance as Frannie.  I guess I don't hate it, but I don't think she fully captured the young woman that King wrote about.

I've not seen any of the films or shows that feature Odessa Young, so I know nothing about her, but I'm pretty happy about that.  I think part of the problem with the original mini-series is that it was sometimes difficult to see past the star of the 80's Brat Pack films to fully appreciate the Fran Goldsmith of the book.  I'm interested in seeing how she is brought to life.

On a side note, I hope they find a way to include the confrontation between Frannie and her mother in the parlor.  I have a hunch it's not going to make it to screen, and I can understand why, but I think the scene does a great job of explaining Fran Goldsmith and where she came from.

Rob Lowe (left) and Henry Zaga (right)
Nick Andros
2020Henry Zaga
1994: Rob Lowe

Rob Lowe is right up there with Gary Sinise for his masterful performance as Nick Andros.  It couldn't have been easy to play a deaf mute and to capture the essence of a character whose only speaking lines come in a couple of dream sequences, but Lowe did a tremendous job.  I've only ever seen Henry Zaga in 13 Reasons Why.  He's a competent actor who seems like he'd be up to the challenge.

Bill Fagerbakke (left) and Brad William Henke (right)
Tom Cullen
2020Brad William Henke
1994Bill Fagerbakke

When I watched the original mini-series for the first time, it took me a moment to separate Bill Fagerbakke from his role as Dauber in Coach, but it didn't take long for him to melt into the role.  I think I'm going to run into the same situation with the remake as I try not to see Captain Piscatella from Orange Is The New Black.  I think that getting Tom Cullen just right may be even more challenging than the role of Nick Andros, particularly in the world today when so many are just aching for an excuse to hop on their soapbox and feign outrage, but Henke is a brilliant actor and I think he'll do a great job.

Adam Storke (left) and Jovan Adepo (right)
Larry Underwood
2020Jovan Adepo
1994Adam Storke

One of the current trends in television and filmmaking is to cast a black actor in a remake of a work that was previously played by a white actor.  It has the same effect on the general public pretty much every time: racists will express outrage while liberal-minded people will insist that the job should be given to the person with the most talent and who is best suited for the role regardless of their race.  The latter is a noble sentiment, but it's tainted with hypocrisy as these views are often expressed by the same groups who insist that all white actors step away from roles of characters that have a different ethnicity, such as Hank Azaria in The Simpsons or Scarlett Johansson in The Ghost In The Shell.

As usual, the douchebags who take these issues to the extreme have the loudest and most obnoxious voices in the discussion, so they shout down anyone in the middle who express a reasonable, adult opinion on the matter.  Therefore, if you don't enthusiastically agree that the world has gone to hell because black actors are portraying characters who have traditionally been white, you're called a libtard snowflake by one group of douchebags.  If you don't fall in line with the opinion that any actor can play any role, except for white people who must only accept roles for white characters, you're called a racist Nazi by another group of douchebags.  Naturally, both groups of douchebags are completely unaware of how asinine they are because they're obsessed with coming up with a zinger (which the little kiddos now call a "clapback") to "own" people who don't conform entirely to their world view.  This is mostly done as a public performance for the purpose of receiving positive reinforcement from their fellow douchebags ("say it louder for the people in the back").  The more I deal with people, the more I almost wish Captain Trips was real.  Anyway, at the risk of offending anyone in a world where we have all become Big Brother to each other, I will offer my opinion on this casting.

I absolutely love the way that Adam Storke brought the character to life in 1994, particularly when he takes a break from his trip across the country to play Eve Of Destruction for a traffic jam of the dead outside of Des Moines.  He played the role with a pitch perfect attitude to the source material, and his progression from a self-centered musician who "ain't no nice guy" to a family man who is willing to lay down his life to stand against evil is captured beautifully by Storke's performance.  These are big shoes to fill.

While I was critical of the casting of Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, I don't feel the same way about the casting of Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood.  Unlike the lead role in The Dark Tower, there is no reason in the story for Larry to be a white guy.  Adepo is the right age for the character, and although I'm unfamiliar with his work, he has a look that I can definitely see as a musician from New York City who has the bad luck to have his big break coincide with the end of the world.

Laura San Giacomo (left) and Amber Heard (right)
Nadine Cross
2020Amber Heard
1994Laura San Giacomo

This may be the most appropriate casting in the whole project.  I don't remember seeing her performance in any movies or television shows that I've seen, but I can absolutely buy her in the role of the twisted, manipulative and evil Nadine Cross.

I wasn't a huge fan of how the Nadine was presented in the 1994 mini-series.  A large part of that is due to the fact that they omitted the Rita Blakemoor character and shoehorned her story into that of Nadine.  This also eliminated the relationship that Nadine had with "Joe", both on the road and in Boulder, so the end result was that Laura San Giacomo was playing a bastardized version of Rita and Nadine that didn't do justice to either one.  Her performance is all over the place, and I don't feel that it connected strongly to the motivations or story arc of the Nadine Cross character.  I know nothing of Amber Heard's work, but if she's half as good of an actress as she was in her Oscar-worthy performance of playing the victim to Johnny Depp, I'm intrigued.

Corin Nemec (left) and Owen Teague (right)
Harold Lauder
2020Owen Teague
1994Corin Nemec

Although I like Corin's performance in the original mini-series, I'm not crazy about how he was written at the start of the story.  The Harold Lauder in the first episode of the 1994 series is a socially awkward nerd who borders on being lovable.  In contrast, the novel presents him as highly intelligent, but absolutely obnoxious and not the least bit lovable.  When viewed through the lens of modern psychology, Harold comes across as a highly functioning autistic who recognizes that people don't like him without understanding why.  This causes him to become bitter and mistrustful of people while, at the same time, crafting an artificial persona to make it through the day, such as when he spends hours staring into a mirror to practice smiling.  As an autistic, I can definitely relate to this.

The original mini-series also short changes the crossroads that Harold comes to after he and his group settle down in Boulder.  In the novel, Harold gets so good at faking his way through the social landscape that he actually becomes respected and well-liked.  Stu even begins to warm up to him.  Eventually, Harold begins to question his desire for vengeance and seems on the cusp of leaving the negativity that plagued his mind in the past, until Randall Flagg and Nadine Cross nudge him back down a road that will damn him.  If not for their influence, I think "Hawk" would have eventually found himself in this new world, much in the same way that Larry Underwood did.

All of this nuance is lost in the original mini-series.  Harold goes from a nerdy, lovesick puppy to a murderous psychopath with very little exploration of his character.  I'm not at all familiar with Owen Teague's work, but I'm hoping that the remake of the mini-series can finally do justice to Harold Lauder on the screen.

Whoppi Goldberg (left) and Ruby Dee (right)
Mother Abagail
2020: Whoopi Goldberg
1994: Ruby Dee

The iconic Ruby Dee infused Mother Abagail with heart.  If you ever listen to the director's commentary track from the original mini-series, it will be clear to you that she loved playing this role and she put all of herself into the character.  I can think of no better actress for the late Ms. Dee to pass the baton to than the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg.  I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have ever seen Ms. Goldberg in, and I can't wait to see the energy she brings to the 108 year old from Hemingford Home, Nebraska who still bakes her own biscuits.

Ray Walston (left) and Greg Kinnear (right)
Glen Bateman
2020Greg Kinnear
1994Ray Walston

The old bald-headed sociologist is probably my favorite character in The Stand overall.  I know many readers might disagree with me, but I feel as if Glen Bateman is the old man that Harold Lauder could have grown to become if he could have charted that blue and lonely section of hell and come out the other side.  Glen came out the other side as a distant loner with a dim view of the human race, which is summarized nicely in a conversation he has with Stu:
 “Shall I tell you what sociology teaches us about the human race?  I’ll give it to you in a nutshell.  Show me a man or woman alone and I’ll show you a saint.  Give me two and they’ll fall in love.  Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call “society”.  Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid.  Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast.  Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice.  Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare.  Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”
Ray Walston is probably best known as the titular character from My Favorite Martian, and he was perfect as Glen Bateman.  He was 79 years old when the original mini-series was filmed.  This time around, the've decided to go with 57 year old Greg Kinnear.  Kinnear is only 11 years older than James Marsden.  Unless they're planning to use makeup or CGI to age him up, I feel like this casting choice might alter the relationship between Glen and Stu.

Jamey Sheridan (left) and Alexander Skarsgård (right)
Randall Flagg
2020Alexander Skarsgård
1994Jamey Sheridan

The casting of The Dark Man is interesting to say the least.  Alexander Skarsgård is the older brother of Bill Skarsgård, who plays the iconic Pennywise in the film remake of Stephen King's It.  He looks a bit like Bryce Harper in the production photo, which has given me the visual of Randall Flagg bowing to the fans in right field at Citizens Bank Park.

When I first saw the mini-series, I liked Jamey Sheridan as Flagg.  I thought the special effects to turn his face into a demon were a bit silly and unnecessary, but he was unnerving and made me feel like this is someone I'd want to be friends with, not because I'd enjoy their company, but because I'd be afraid not to be.  However, as I worked through The Dark Tower series and realized that Flagg is just one of the many forms that The Man In Black has taken over the centuries, Sheridan doesn't seem right.

I was hoping for Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but if Alexander Skarsgård is half as creepy as his little brother in the clown makeup, he'll make a great Randall Flagg.

Miguel Ferrer (left) and Nat Wolff (right)
Lloyd Henreid
2020Nat Wolff
1994Miguel Ferrer

I'm not sure how to feel about this casting.  On one hand, the novel describes Lloyd Henreid as "the unrepentant baby-faced killer" when his murder spree in the pre-pandemic world generates headlines in the newspaper.  On the other hand, Miguel Ferrer delivered what was probably my favorite performance in the original mini-series when he was in his late 30's.  He was masterful, and for that reason, I have a hard time separating Ferrer from Lloyd when I read the book, even though the actor might have been older than the character was in the source material.

My knee jerk reaction to seeing that Nat Wolff cast as Lloyd was "Oh, come on!  Why do they always cast young, fresh-faced kids in roles meant for characters in their 30's and 40's", but I don't want to be unfair to the actor.  He's not too much younger than the character as it was originally written, and he very well might do a tremendous job and bring more of the source material to the screen.

Katherine McNamara (left) and Shawnee Smith (right)
Julie Lawry
2020Katherine McNamara
1994Shawnee Smith

Julie is first introduced to readers of The Stand as a 17 year old girl, but we very quickly learn that this might not be the case.  Stephen King clarifies the characters age by saying "She wasn't seventeen, or fourteen, or twenty-one. She was any age you wanted her to be... as long as you wanted her more than she wanted you".  In some ways, I find her to be the most realistic villain of any King novel.  Shawnee Smith did a great job in bringing madness and a smiling hostility to the character.  I still haven't gotten around to watching Arrow so I'm not very familiar with Ms. McNamara's work, but when I looked up a photo of her and found this one of her smirking, I was immediately on board with her in the role of Julie Lawry.

Jovan Adepo (left) and Heather Graham (right)
Rita Blakemoor
2020Heather Graham
1994: not included

Rita was cut out of the 1994 mini-series altogether.  They instead tried to fold aspects of her character into Nadine Cross.  I think that decision hindered Larry and Nadine, so I'm happy to see that Rita will be in the new mini-series.  King wrote her as an older, over-privileged widow who latches on to Larry.  My reaction to Rita is one of the reasons why I relate to the less desirable traits of Larry.  If I'm being completely honest with myself, Rita would have irritated me to the point where I would have bailed on her at the Lincoln Tunnel, if not sooner.  I know that's not the reaction King was going for, but what can I say?  I guess I ain't no nice guy, as the dental hygienist would no doubt have said if she met me - right after nailing me in the head with a spatula.

Heather Graham is an interesting casting choice.  When I was a teenager, she was Rollergirl in one of my favorite films, Boogie Nights.  I'm not sure if she's going to play Rita the way that King wrote her.  The production photo sure doesn't look like the Rita from the novel.  I pictured her to be more like Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls, but with the helpless, needy characteristics of Bill Dauterive from King Of The Hill.  You can't tell much from a single production photo, but I don't get those vibes from Graham as Rita.

Marilyn Manson - Photo source:  Christine Chew / UPI
2020: Marilyn Manson

The shock rock star has been cast for The Stand, but there was no announcement of what role he is playing.  Rumor has it that he will be playing Donald Merwin Elbert, better known to Stephen King fans as The Trashcan Man.

The Trashcan Man is one of my favorite characters in any Stephen King novel.  I've long felt that he's also one of the most misunderstood characters in the King universe.  Trashy is not an evil guy.  He was shaped into what he became by the world around him.  Whereas Tom Cullen was nurtured and cared for, Donald Elbert grew in a world of rejection and abuse.  Imagine a version of The Stand where he ignores The Dark Man, who preys on his weaknesses to draw him to Las Vegas - a world where he instead goes to Boulder to make a life in the Free Zone.  Would he have been welcomed, or would it have been Terre Haute all over again?

I see Trashy as an instrument of God much in the same way that Tom Cullen is.  He took a different path than Stu, Larry, Glen, Ralph and the "scouts" that were sent ahead of them.  However, he was put in the time and place that he needed to be to make his stand against The Dark Man.  Like Tom Cullen, he isn't fully conscious of his role, but if he wasn't there to play it, Randall Flagg's empire would have continued.  Gan works in mysterious ways.

It makes perfect sense for Manson to play The Trashcan Man, but something here seems fishy.  I think we're meant to believe that he's playing Trashy, but I have to wonder why Manson is the only known cast member whose role in the series hasn't been announced.  The production team has gone out of their way to announce most of the other major roles, as well as to release photos from the set, but there's been no photos of The Trashcan Man.  It makes me wonder if they're planning to shock us with Manson playing General Starkey, or the President of the United States, or some other straight-laced face of the system that allowed Captain Trips to come into being.  They could also be planning to spring him on us as one of Trashy's companions in the desert, if you can believe that happy crappy.  Wherever he is, I look forward to seeing Manson as a part of The Stand.

I'm so ready for this.  The Stand is my favorite work of fiction of all time, in any medium.  I've read the book, listened to the audiobook and watched the 1994 mini-series countless times since I first discovered it as a teenager.  I'm keeping an open mind that the people behind this new mini-series will learn from the mistakes of The Dark Tower film and deliver something worthy of this fantastic story.