Sunday, June 29, 2014

Taking the Stand for The Walking Dead

All you have to do is stay on the pedestrian catwalk and in no time at all you'll be... strangled by the walking dead. 
Larry Underwood, The Stand
I've just spent a very pleasant few hours catching up with Season 4 of The Walking Dead, which for reasons unclear to me now, I'd been putting off seeing for months. I'm about half way through at this point and I can safely say this has been the strongest series so far as Southern cop Rick Grimes and a rag-tag band of survivors desperately cling onto the last vestiges of civilization in the increasingly eroding world of the living. Despite the show's somewhat listless narrative drift and the endless scenes of people aiming guns at one another, I find it all compulsively watchable, whether it be the astonishingly gory head trauma inflicted on the zombies, or the unrelenting bleakness of it all as the fortunes of the survivors wax and wane, but mostly wane given the show's eagerness to kill off cast members at any given moment.

Post-apocalypse Atlanta in The Walking Dead series

I'm not sure why it hadn't occurred to me before now but The Walking Dead satisfies one major itch I've been wanting to scratch for years now and that is to see a worthy adaptation of Stephen King's end-of-the-world saga The Stand, or at least the novel's first and most powerful section Captain Trips, in which a killer flu virus destroys 99% of mankind, and in turn transforms America into a post-apocalyptic wilderness very much in the vein of The Walking Dead. The scenes in the series of people probing dimly lit corridors where something is inevitably shifting in the darkness seem like they could have been ripped from the pages of The Stand, like the scene in the book where Larry Underwood gropes his way through a darkened Lincoln Tunnel strewn with decomposing bodies and automobile wreckage. The character of Rick Grimes feels like he's cut from the same cloth as The Stand's Stuart Redman who emerges from the Disease Prevention Center in much the same way as Grimes leaves the hospital in the first episode of The Walking Dead, both men discovering the extent of the catastrophe that has befallen their world. Similar too are the characters of The Walking Dead's Hershel Greene and The Stand's Glen Bateman - both wiser, older, men who offer advice to their younger counterparts.

Post-Apocalypse New York in the 5-part comic The Stand: Captain Trips

The idea for a film of The Stand was first mooted in the early 80's when Stephen King entrusted George Romero with the daunting task of bringing his 900-page epic to the screen. Ultimately the sheer size of The Stand ruled out a 140min film (or two films, which was considered at one point), and King's screenplay passed from Romero to Mick Garris who turned in a very pedestrian 8 hour television film in 1994. I suspect The Stand in its entirety might be best left read rather than seen, the book suffers from far too much mythologizing, degenerating into a banal clash between the forces of Good and Evil leading to an insufferable corny climax when the hand of God Himself descends upon the Babylonian city of Las Vegas to detonate a nuclear missile. When Kim Newman reviewed the DVD edition of the mini-series for DVD Delirium, he wryly observed that this divine ending looked laughably similar to the then UK National Lottery advert depicting a huge hand pointing at one lucky lottery winner, announcing "It's you!"1 Perhaps Frank Darabont felt likewise and saw in Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comic, a proxy version of The Stand which dispensed with the Tolkien nonsense and focused on characters whose colors weren't necessarily fixed to the mast. Whatever the case may be The Walking Dead series has most likely put paid to any future adaptations of The Stand film, TV series or otherwise, and that I must concede, is probably a good thing...

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Notes
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1. "On its first UK appearance the show was hobbled in its big finish because God manifests in exactly the same way as in a series of TV ads for the then new National Lottery"
Kim Newman, The Stand DVD review, DVD Delirium Volume 3

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a.... large animated hand - The Stand series climax vs. National Lottory ad

13 comments:

  1. Hi there! Long time no comment. Hope you've been well.

    I too enjoyed the fourth season of the WD. Aside from Darabont's pilot, seasons one and two really didn't do it for me, but it was season three when I finally sat up and took notice. A lot of people seem to have disliked S.3, but I found it be the most in the spirit of Romero's original trilogy. In particular I could see a lot of Day of the Dead in it. And S.4 continued to engage me, to the point that I'm now looking forward to S.5.

    Honestly one of the things that keeps me coming back is the (always) top notch work that KNB puts into the zombie makeup and animatronics as well as the gore.

    Interesting to note the similarities between WD and King's The Stand (I've read quite a bit of King, but never that epic). And by the sound of it, Danny Boyle may have cribbed a bit from The Stand for 28 Days Later?

    Finally I just watched your link to the final 10 minutes of the mini series, and that has to be one of the most ridiculous things I've seen in a while. That certainly was a laughably small nuclear warhead. Nice to see Shawnee Smith though.

    If you need your post-apocalyptic itch scratched, I highly recommend David Michod's new THE ROVER with Guy Pearce. Grim, violent, nihilistic fun. Very stylish too.

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    1. Hey dude, great to hear from you, thanks for dropping by, hope you are in good form and health... I must apologize up front for laying a big spoiler in the text and not alerting anyone - totally unforgivable ! I foolishly assumed everyone had read that book ! Yeah, there is a lot of Day of the Dead in The Walking Dead, the chronology does fit nicely, with the feeling in Romero's film that time is really running out for the survivors, and the missile silo comparable to the prison in The Walking Dead. If there are cliches present, then at least The Walking Dead is putting them to good use, and as you say the KNB work is fantastic, really setting a new watermark for zombie get-up. I did notice a dumbing down of the budget for Season 4, I dunno if it's my imagination but the show looks even more grittier now...

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  2. Great comparison there, Wes, and unfortunately I haven't read The Stand to fully jump in there with you. I was always put off by the length of the novel, and it's one of the only pre-car crash books King has written that I haven't gotten to yet (apart from the Dark Tower books, which I just cannot get into). It's probably because I saw The Stand TV mini series when it aired, and I wasn't ever really impressed. I loved the first half with the world falling apart, but it just seemed so sanitised. Saying that, there was so much classic King evident in the show, that it was obvious who the source was even if you missed the opening titles, so I should have known that the book would be the full on experience. I might rectify that this year, and dive in.

    But yes, I can recognise the tropes well enough, and the Walking Dead (much like King himself) uses many classic moments from both horror and sci-fi cinema and literature as a springboard for ideas. I'd like to think that, seeing as we are in the 'golden age' of really great, boundary pushing TV, that we might just get a one-off series that the likes of Showtime, FX or HBO might be willing to invest in.So, never say never on seeing a new The Stand... hey, if they are gonna make Preacher, then why not!

    I stopped on The Walking Dead just into Season 3, I believe. It was early on in the prison, and a major character had just been killed. I was quite enjoying it, actually, despite the moments you referenced above being issues. But I just never felt truly compelled to keep going, in the same way I was in the comics. In fact, there was one point in the comics in which I got so enraged at what had just happened, that I flung it across the room in disgust, feeling the author was a bastard for putting me through that emotional wringer! That's a sing that something is definitely working in your material...

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    1. Yes The Stand is very much required reading - I have big problems with the third act but what comes before that is really magnificent. One thing I would say is to track down King's short story collection Night Shift and read Night Surf which is a sort of dress rehearsal for The Stand, written in 1969 and is the first appearance of the Captain Trips virus... Yeah, The Stand mini-series was a huge disappointment, and I re-visited most of it when it was on Horror last year but damn, it's so watered down it becomes unwatchable towards the end. And I'm not anti-TV adaptation - I really liked Storm of the Century from 1999, and after warming up to it, I really got to like Under the Dome (even though the book is a one thousand page story that could fit comfortably into a 25min Twilight Zone episode)... They're making Preacher ? Hmm... It's been a long time now, but a girl loaned me some issues in college and thinking of it now, I wonder how a series would work... It took me several goes to find a way into The Dark Tower, I must have abandoned The Gunslinger, four, five times but I pushed ahead and read the entire series in no time at all - a vast and hugely impressive work, don't fully close the door on it just yet... Yeah, to create something that causes it to fired across the room in anger is something. I'd imagine Kirkman would be thrilled to hear that !

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    2. I think we could probably say the same with several of King's works - endings that try to go beyond mere horror and into the realm of mythos building fantasy, but just don't seem to sit right. IT is a good example of it, a cracking horror novel, but the ending is somewhat flat. I have Night Shift here, though it has been years since I read it, will definitely read that short before diving into The Stand.

      Both Storm of the Century and Under the Dome are on my radar... I might give them a shot. I haven't read the novel of the latter yet - mainly due to the same reasons as to why I haven't read The Stand yet. I really liked his JFK one, and Cell was good, old fashioned eerie fun. But I think the best one he has done in a long time was the Full Dark, No Stars collection. Reminded me of Four Past Midnight and being a 13 year old staying up way to late at night reading it.

      I tend to have stronger reactions to books than I do films or TV shows, and it's why I berate my friends for not reading the books of Game of Thrones instead of watching the show. The show is fine and all, but it really doesn't compare to the visceral punch of the novels. I've nearly roared in anger on packed buses while reading those ones...

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    3. John I was a huge Stephen King fan at one point but in recent times I'm less interested, and I haven't read any King past Under the Dome... Yeah, my biggest complaint with King was his ending which have been atrocious - I mean It was a book I loved reading, a book I loved living with for the 3 weeks or so I read it, and then that terrible ending which not only was a bad idea (a large spider wasn't it?) but incomprehensible... Fortunately, The Dark Tower saga ends very satisfactorily which was a huge relief. My favourite Stephen King is 'Salem's Lot which I think is just spectacular and holds it's nerve to the conclusion... I'm reading The Devil Rides Out at the moment - I found a Dennis Wheatley collection for kindle and that was part of it (and To the Devil A Daughter, a Hammer I have yet to see). It's quite close to the film so far, although it's dated not least by some of it's racial language and attitudes...

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    4. I too love Salems Lot, and The Shining is definitely King perfection. I like books also like Cujo and Pet Semetary; they are almost like perfect video shelf horror. Very vivid stuff. I still really like King, though for me he's a 'light read' kind of author...

      I read The Devil Rides Out and To The Devil a Daughter years ago - my dad had two lovely faux-leather bound editions of them from the 70's, and agree with everything you said - the racial stereotypes and the lack of feminism is pretty appalling... though I think that may be to Wheatley himself rather than the times they were written...

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    5. I have a slight ulterior motive for reading this (and hopefully more Wheatleys to follow) - and this dials in to what you said in your comment, but I picked up The Devil Is A Gentleman: The Life & Times of Dennis Wheatley by Phil Baker. I really enjoyed Baker's biog of occult artist Austin Osman Spare so I'm thinking the Wheatley book might be an illuminating read... Incidentally do an image search for Dennis Wheatly book covers and a lot of vintage paperback eye candy is returned, including some fabulously lurid seventies-era reprints...

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    6. Ah, I see! Off to google image I go!

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  3. Excellent post. I kind of lost interest in this after the second season bit I've been feeling like I really need to re-visit it and even though it might not ever work I'd love to see someone else give another stab at a film adaptation of THE STAND.

    Dick

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Dick, much appreciated ! Yeah, I was rather indifferend about picking up the series again - I had a stockpile of episodes on my satellite box so I thought I'd better start watching them, but after the first episode I was absorbed... It's funny, I was thinking of The Stand just last night - a freind gave me Rise of the Planet of the Apes to watch and while I thought the film was a good solid sci-fi picture, I was kinda disappointed that the third act didn't delve into the effects of the flu virus that the ape serum creates. I recently saw Steven Soderberg's 2011 film Contagion and thought it was a really good take on the first few chapters of The Stand, so in the hands of a good writer/director, a film of the book could really be something. I thought Frank Darabont did a great job with The Mist, and perhaps more importantly understands what parts of Stephen King work and don't work for the screen - he would be my first choice...

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  4. I felt the same about The Stand and the TV adaptation. The ending just wasn't that interesting... but then a lot of King does that. The thing I read of his was Cell.

    I do enjoy the Walking Dead but it is a show that stretches your nerd tolerance before pulling something cool out the bag every few episodes that suck you right back in. I've really liked that last season where the characters get split up as the individual episodes really torn it away from the repetitive group dynamic.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Wynter ! Yes I agree with you, the show does tend to sound like a civics lesson from time to time but I like the fact that no matter how much good governance Rick practices, the screenwriters always cook up something to tear it asunder. Personally I would have asked for a bullet in the head after Season 1, I'm definitely not cut out for life after the apocalypse. I haven't seen a single frame of the comic so I'm wondering if the show is reaching towards a conclusion ? I feel like this could grind away until its cancellation...

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