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Stand By Me Stands Test Of Time

Film Spotlight:
"Stand By Me"

Author Stephen King describes the novella as something isn't very commercial, a tale that's too long to be called a short story but not long enough for novel status. In the publishing world, that's a big strike. "The Body" also had the strike against it of being a non-horror story by the world's most popular supernatural writer. On paper, this tale about four twelve year old boys going to see a dead body looked like an all-time loser as a script property.
Ace Merrill (Keifer Sutherland) and his goons advance on Chris in the climax sequence of "Stand By Me."
Which is why Stand By Me became the sleeper hit of 1986 for a simple reason: characters. Through the eyes and thoughts of Gordie LaChance (Wil Wheaton), we go through Labor Day in 1957 just before school begins. We're at the rickety old clubhouse playing three penny-scat with Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), brother of local hood Eyeball. Crazy Teddy DuChamp (Corey Feldman) is there too, with his nuts-as-hell attitude, thick glasses, hearing aid and dreams of being in the Army. We know all these kids because we grew up with them. Reiner makes it so real that we remember the age of twelve again.
And there's a pounding at the secret entrance. Somebody has forgotten the secret knock, and once again it's Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell), but he's got something for the guys to hear, something that is "so boss" that it's going to blow them away. They ridicule him. Then he drops the question.
"You guys wanna go see a dead body?" he asks nervously.
It seems that Vern was under his porch digging for his pennies again (see the movie for the explanation, it's worth it on that alone) when his older brother's crybaby pal Charlie comes outside with his friend to have a cigarette. "Jesus Christ dude, we gotta do something," he stammers to Billy (Casey Siezmasko), who doesn't appear to really care about the dead body of the missing Ray Brower. The one that everybody's on the radio looking for. Vern keeps his ears open and finds out where the body is, then runs to the treehouse to tell his buddies.
Corey Feldman, Joeery O'Connell, River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton face the object of their quest: the dead body of Ray Brower.
A plan strikes Chris immediately: go out to the location where the body is. Check it, call it in to the cops and get their pictures in every paper and maybe even on the television.
Teddy is enthusiastic. Gordie, not having anything else better to do, shurgs and agrees to be in on it. Predictably, Vern is not so sure, until he's noogied into going along.
This is basically the plot device on which the movie hinges, and it's a pretty thin one. Four kids walking down the railroad tracks for the next ninety minutes has the potential for putting audiences into big-time comas if done even the slightest bit off. But Reiner never stumbles once as his cameras follow them down the eternally winding tracks, listening in on their conversations about Might Mouse vs. Superman and other dumb things. He watches them acting like only twelve year old boys can be, Gordie degrading their mothers by saying they lick up vomit. Well, boys will be boys and this was always a classic way to earn respect from your friends... at twelve.
King's novella was the best of the 1982 collection Different Seasons, and a couple years back The Shawshank Redemption received several Academy Award nominations for Morghan Freeman, Tim Robbins, screenplay, picture and director. It beats me how Stand By Me could have been overlooked that year, but I guess Platoon is pretty tough competition.
One thing critics usually target Stephen King movies for is the writing. The adpated screenplay is amazingly faithful to the tone and words of the original story, much the same as Shawshank (and Misery, another Reiner adaptation). With the recent failures of turkeys like Needful Things, The Dark Half and Stephen King's Thinner, it seems that Hollywood has not yet learned the lesson of successfully adapting Stephen King for the screen: characters, characters, characters. If we don't care about these people, all the special effects in the world aren't going to carry it (see my Fifth Element review for another example).
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