After a long, long time - when did it first air? - I finally saw The Stand miniseries. It came on when I was in college, and although I recall seeing bits of it, I never did catch the whole thing. And... it was good. On balance. I mean, there were some parts that were great, and some prats that were lousy, so it averaged out. One thing's for sure: it's about the most faithful book-to-screen adaptation I think I've ever seen, and it was the adherence to the pretty flawless story of the novel that made the film work.
I did have greater hopes for it at the very beginning - the opening sequence was particularly excellent (the camera tours the carnage in a military research lab to the tune of Don't Fear the Reaper), but nothing else ever got quite there. The direction, of course. Always the directing. Some scenes seem off. Some roles are miscast. Some people really act as if it were the end of the world, and some seem as though they woke up on set, were told they had a role in this film, and went to work without benefit of script (I'm looking at you, Molly Ringwald).
So, again: the directing. Mick Garris, who is a cottage industry of Stephen King on television and film, always approaching the target but not quite hitting it - even when the constraints of television censorship are off. I can't work out what the problem is. It's not that he's too literal, or too dry - there are definite attempts at actual directing, here - but.
Here's a topic for discussion: how hard is it to make a good Stephen King movie? Well-established stylists seem to have a problem wrestling with the themes: Kubrick certainly got a mood of foreboding that hasn't yet been topped, but we completely lose any attachment to the story or characters, leaving The Shining a beautiful exercise in cinematic abstraction. Cronenberg picked the wrong time to play it straight, choosing to amp up the weirdness of the Johnny Smith character but leaving the film around him dull and unimaginative.
The ones that really work are Carrie, and Misery. I'll grant The Shawshank Redemption, but it's a lot easier to make a period prison film than to make one of King's patented fucked-up-supernatural-shit-with real-people numbers. Also, I think Shawshank is pretty dull and moralizing, but that's beside the point.
And if someone could make a digital mash-up of the cinematic Shining and the miniseries version, that would be right. Take Kubrick's tone, pacing and cinematography, and swap out the leads. Except Scatman Crothers, who did a better job than (WTF?) Melvin Van Peebles. Also, as grotesque as it would no doubt be to finally see, please put in the bit where Torrance (played now by Stephen Webber) smashes his own face to bits with the mallet in front of his son.
To date, the best King in a visual medium award has to go to The Storm of the Century, a really, really well-cast miniseries (starring Tim Daly) that sticks to its premise and delivers at the home stretch. Thinking I might need to watch that one again.
BTW: What's with the cast of Wings turning in these great performances in King adaptations? What odd cultural signifier is that?