1994 was a huge year for our friend Gary Sinise. In May, a couple of months before America saw him in his Oscar-nominated performance in "Forrest Gump," he starred in a massive television miniseries version of the epic Stephen King horror novel "The Stand."
That six-hour miniseries was recently restored and looks fantastic in a new Blu-ray Stephen King 5-Movie Collection. The set also includes David Cronenberg's 1983 "The Dead Zone" (starring Christopher Walken); both the original 1989 and 2019 remake of "Pet Sematary;" and the 1985 Gary Busey werewolf howler "Silver Bullet." That's four of the best King adaptations and a Busey movie in one package.
"The Stand," originally published in 1977, was one of the author's most beloved novels, but it proved too long and complicated for a movie adaptation. He revised and expanded the book in 1990 for a "Complete and Uncut Edition." That version is closely followed by this television series. It's an epic and complicated tale, and King has said he was trying to write an American version of "The Lord of the Rings."
The television series was written by King himself and directed by the gifted horror director Mick Garris, who reteamed with King for "The Shining" miniseries three years later. Garris is also the son-in-law of World War II and Olympic hero Louis Zamperini and worked as an executive producer on the 2014 movie "Unbroken."
Sinise portrays Stu Redman, the hero of King's story and one of the few humans immune to a deadly virus that wipes out most of humanity. The bleak truth here is that this particular virus was created in and escaped from a government laboratory.
Episode one is dominated by secret military teams mowing down citizens who have been infected and burying them in mass graves. Amidst the chaos, we meet a star-studded crew whose fates will entwine over the course of the sprawling tale.
Molly Ringwald, trying to transition to adult roles, plays Frannie Goldsmith, a small-town girl who eventually falls in love with and marries our man Stu. Love scenes between Lt. Dan and Samantha from "Sixteen Candles" are probably not anything you've ever imagined.
Rob Lowe plays a deaf/mute, Jamey Sheridan is the cult leader bad guy, Adam Storke is a rock star whose burgeoning career is stalled by the plague, and Corin Nemec (Parker Lewis!) is the nerd who's in love with Molly. There's even an uncredited cameo from Ed Harris as a general who loses his mind as he fails to deal with the virus. Bonus: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanders the streets as a doomsayer who shouts, "Bring out your dead!"
Once we get through the pandemic (far more terrifying to watch in September 2020 than it would've been back in January), "The Stand" is a story about rebuilding society in a post-pandemic world. Civilization restarts in Boulder, Colorado, and Las Vegas as survivors congregate into two camps.
Gary had one of his best roles here. He gets to play his angry working-class persona to the hilt, but he also emerges as a leader of the new society as the world tries to rebuild. He's a hero, wins the girl and his hair looks great.
"The Stand" is presented in its original 4:3 TV ratio. That's how it was filmed, and there's no clumsy recropping to make it fit your modern HDTV. There's a full-length commentary track from King and Garris that's a must for fans of King and the novel.
Streaming service CBS All Access (soon to be renamed Paramount+) completed a new version of "The Stand" just before the pandemic shutdown in March. James Marsden ("X-Men," "Westworld") is taking over Sinise's role.
The new version, set to premiere on the service in December, will certainly benefit from improved special effects, but it's hard to imagine a new version capturing the energy of the original.
Sinise's "The Stand" is worth another visit, and you get three more horror classics and one jaw-dropping Busey performance for one low price. Check it out.
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