Hail to the King!
Its one of those intimidating page counts that seems nigh-on unfilmable, but with Stephen Kings epic The Stand, the long-gestating film adaptation seems to finally be really, truly underway. Although a screen version does exist in the form of Mick Garris 1994 TV mini-series, The Fault In Our Stars director Josh Boone has landed the feature project after its been passed from pillar to post around Hollywood, with everyone from David Yates to Ben Affleck linked to the hot seat at one point or another.
Rather excitingly for fans of the book, casting stories seem to be gathering pace in recent times too, with Matthew McConaugheys involvement looking increasingly likely. It could very well be that after years of waiting, were finally getting the big-screen treatment of the sprawling 1200 page tome weve been waiting for. Heres our manifesto for how wed like to see the beast handled.
McConaugheys involvement has got tongues wagging, and while conflicting reports have the man of the moment down as playing either the iconic villain Randall Flagg or hero Stu Redman, its the kind of star power that can only be an asset to the film. Given that Redman is written as a quietly charismatic, tough fella from East Texas, this does seem a natural fit, but it would be equally intriguing to see McConaugheys natural charm brought to the menacing Flagg.
As well go into later on, its a story so steeped in character that the casting is sure to spark debate amongst the fanbase. While its all too easy to just grab A-list names out of the air, Seeing Jennifer Lawrence as Franny, or, if rumours are to be believed, Christian Bale as Flagg would be dream stuff. For our money though, we want Eva Green as the tragic, conflicted Nadine. Make this happen, please.
Dont shy away from the themes
The Stand takes on some awfully big themes for a book thats ostensibly about a post-apocalyptic society in the wake of a flu epidemic. While the novel is crammed with evocative images and hundreds of fascinating small moments, the overarching narrative about the struggle between good and evil with one or two blunter moments fairly explicitly referring to Christian theology is bound to draw scorn from the twitter age.
Given how audiences reacted to some of Interstellars more esoteric elements recently, its a brave move to adapt a story that so hinges on the spiritual on this scale, but its a large part of what makes The Stand such an enduring read. Maybe just tweak the ending a touch, after the fumble that was made of it in 1994
Nail the structure
The core issue is this: The Stand is long. Very long. Its a 1200-page novel that will not easily be compressed into a bum-friendly running time. The worry has long been that an attempt will be made to press it all into a single sitting, or possibly two, so Boones comments last week that four films may be trotted out are welcome.
The book quite neatly divides into four sections, all of which are vastly different in tone. The first section would see the Captain Trips epidemic turned into a medical disaster film, as the population of the United States is whittled down to the troops of light and dark. Secondly, the principle characters arrival in Colorado will make for a tight and intriguing portrait of post-apocalypse life. The third and fourth major chunks of the book could be crammed into one, though it seems that this would be split, as is the fashion with film series these days. Its important to give the story the space it needs, so keeping this multi-film structure in place is key.
This will not be an easy one to soundtrack. The second best thing from the 94 vintage (after Gary Sinise) is the main theme. That plucking, melancholy lone guitar, mourning humanity, gets right to the heart of the storys tone. At the risk of asking for fan service, itd be nice to hear it over the end credits or intro titles at least.
The biggest issue is how to make Larry Underwoods breakthrough hit 'Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?' not sound awful. Given that the book was written in the 70s, King might have had a different sound in mind, but its hard to imagine how this will be put together in the age of the X Factor. This might be an element that needs updating.
Stick to your guns
As much as this might sound like entitled fanboy whining, there is no way The Stand can be given the PG-13 treatment. This is a story in which the vast majority of the population die coughing in the streets, with violence and hard survival at its core. This is an R-rated tale that needs to be produced for a mature audience to sanitise this would rob it of its impact, especially for the first half of the book.
Spend time with the characters
Considering how huge the books themes and story are, its a remarkably character-driven narrative. The internal voice of so many of the main characters are vital to the building of Kings world, and the film version would suffer from not giving the key players the time and space they deserve.
A good example would be Franny a young woman who has gone through some seriously tough times, shes built up as a fleshed-out personality with a lot to deal with. Shes far more interesting than the previous adaptation made out, and is exactly the sort of character who would benefit most from sharp casting and the in-depth writing she deserves. Dont skip over anyones backstory, no matter how tempting it may be to focus on the more spectacular images the scale and settings suggest.
Handle Flagg properly
Randall Flagg is one of Kings most iconic creations. The Walkin Dude is a sinister combination of malicious intent and effortless charm, bewitching the weak-willed to carry out his commands. Its a role full of swagger and laconic good humour, occasionally erupting into a frightening intensity. He was well-handled by Jamey Sheridan in the TV adaptation, but there was just one problem.
No cringe-inducing demon face, please.