I’ve been a Stephen King fan way before I even realized I was a Stephen King fan. One of my earliest childhood memories is that of 7 year old me watching the 1979 CBS 3 hour miniseries, Salem’s Lot, with my mother, herself already a fan at that time. Images of the CREEPY AS HELL Ralphie Glick floating outside of his brother’s hospital window would continue to plague my nightmares for many months afterward! However, instead of that traumatic experience turning me away from horror and Stephen King, it utterly fascinated me and, as I grew to manhood, I would chew up and spit out every King book I could lay my hands on!
I began reading King at an early age (10 years old) and can even remember the first King short story, novella and novel I ever read (The Mangler, The Mist and Salem’s Lot, respectively) but I was well into my teens by the time I decided to tackle his, at the time, magnum opus, The Stand. At 823 pages, that’s some feat for any teenager but by the time I’d decided to delve into that massive tome, I’d already read IT so I felt I was well prepared and jumped right in!
A tale of the apocalypse via a government created Super Flu, aka Captain Tripps, that’s ‘accidentally’ unleashed on the world, decimating most of the world’s population in a horrific fashion. The survivors, those immune, are not only tasked with trying to find each other and regain some semblance of normality, but they’re all beginning to experience dreams. Some dream of a Moses like character in the form of a very elderly black woman named Abigail Freemantle (‘folks around these parts call me Mother Abigail. I’m 106 years old and I still make my own bread’), directing them to “come find her”. Others begin experiencing dreams, or nightmares, from someone else. An Anti-Christ like figure known as Randall Flagg, aka The Walkin’ Dude aka The Dark Man aka The Man in Black aka…well, you get the idea. Flagg is a likable kind of guy; ready with a charming smile, willing to help you out of any bad situation you may find yourself in (such as being the only one left alive in prison…still in a cell, looking at the dead and decomposing prisoner in the next cell over like he’s steak tartar), willing to take care of you at the low, low cost of your immortal soul. Soon, battle lines will be drawn between the forces of Good and Evil and before it’s over, God’s chosen heroes will have to make a stand.
The Stand has already been given the live action treatment once before. Directed by Mick Garris’, the 1994 ABC miniseries was an incredibly faithful adaptation of the novel and starred a plethora of famous faces including Gary Sinise (Stu Redman), Molly Ringwald (Frannie Goldsmith), Rob Lowe (Nick Andros), Matt Frewer (Trashcan Man), Ray Walston (Glen Bateman), Adam Storke (Larry Underwood), Ruby Dee (Mother Abigail) and Jamey Sheridan (Randall Flagg). Adapting a novel like The Stand would be a daunting task for anyone, but Garris and company wisely decided to divide the epic tale into four parts; The Plague, The Dreams, The Betrayal and The Stand.
I wanted to avoid comparing this latest adaptation of The Stand with Garris’ version, especially since so much time has passed between the two. However, Garris’ version, while having it’s own issues (primarily due to it airing on ABC), is so faithful, not comparing the two is next to impossible. One reason for this is that King’s novel is so well known and so beloved. The other reason is that Mick Garris and company did an outstanding job of staying true to the source material. Sometimes that doesn’t always work out for the best. For example, personally speaking, King’s dialogue in his novels doesn’t always translate the best when actually spoken. It’s one thing to read what someone says in a novel but sometimes that same dialogue can sound very awkward, making one think, “Real people don’t speak that way”.
Josh Boone’s (The Fault in Our Stars, The New Mutants) 2020 nine episode miniseries, The Stand, now streaming on CBS All Access, not only updates the story for a new generation (and gives us more ‘realistic’ dialogue) but also foregoes Garris’ version, namely keeping the same basic plot but changing up how the audience gets the information. Where Garris’ version was a fairly straightforward adaptation of how the novel progresses, Boone’s approach is to start in the middle of the tale, then backtrack 5 months, backtrack even further to show the backstory of one of the main characters (Harold Lauder), then flashes forward again. All intermingled with the same, often confusing, introduction to another main character (Stu Redman), i.e., jumping back and forth along his timeline. I can only imagine how confusing this might be for those unfamiliar with the novel or Garris’ previous adaptation. I’ve not only read the original novel several times but I’ve also read the complete, uncut version, also several times, which weighs in at a whopping 1200 pages (depending on which edition you get), the graphic novel adaptation, have watched Garris’ version so many times I can practically quote it verbatim and I was a bit confused!
I feel that I just addressed what I didn’t like about the episode and that may change, depending on how the rest of the series plays out. As far as the rest of the episode goes, there were several reasons why I ultimately ended up enjoying it.
As I stated earlier, the episode opens by jumping right into what would be almost midway through the original novel; the survivors in Boulder, Colorado, clearing the city of the dead. It’s here that we’re introduced to one of the main characters, Harold Lauder. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible for those of you who have absolutely zero knowledge of the entire plot. Harold comes across as a nice guy and really is trying to do what he can to help restore some semblance of normality in what is known in the novel as the Boulder Free Zone. However, Harold (played by Owen Teague, who also played another King character, Patrick Hockstetter, in Andy Muschietti’s updated and outstanding adaptation of IT ), has some issues; mainly his unrequited love for one Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young, known for Assassination Nation), as well as being an outsider in he and Frannie’s hometown of Ogunquit, Maine. We’re given more of Harold’s backstory that was missing from the novel which I was happy to see because I feel it will ultimately make the audience sympathize with his character. Throughout a series of flashing forwards and backwards, we learn some of Frannie’s story and find out what brings the two of them together.
Interspersed throughout this episode we also learn, again through flashbacks, about one of our other main characters, Stu Redman (James Marsden, known for The X-Men) from Arnette, TX. Stu, and several of his friends from Arnette, are quarantined due to their exposure to Charles Campion, the catalyst that unleashes the Super Flu on an unsuspecting world, at their local gas station. As the flu continues to rage across the world, we soon discover that Stu is immune. He’s eventually moved to a more secure location where further study can be done. However, Stu soon finds himself in a life-threatening situation that has nothing to do with the Super Flu-at least, not directly!
Before the episode ends, we discover how the flu escapes the confines of a military instillation and we’re introduced to Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg, an inspired casting choice) as well as The Walking Dude himself, Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard, again, an inspired casting choice). Since I’ve mentioned ‘inspired casting choices’ more than once, I might as well add that I was happy to see a third inspired casting choice-J.K. Simmons (known for Spider-Man 1-3 and Spider-Man: Far From Home), however, I’ll keep who he’s playing to myself. I don’t want to give away every surprise!
One thing that Mick Garris’ 1994 adaptation of The Stand was lacking was showing just how brutal the Super Flu can be on those not immune. Don’t get me wrong, the plague victims in the ABC version looked as gruesome as could be allowed on ABC at that time, but the 2020 version takes that concept and ratchets it up to the 10th power. Victims of Captain Tripps (the Super Flu in case you’ve forgotten 🙂 This IS a rather long review!) die horrifically, throats expanded to the point of bursting, mucus pouring out of their noses and mouths. The severity of this particularly virulent strain of the flu is hammered home, time and again, either by us being shown the aftermath or victims in the final throes of complete suffocation by what appears to be gallons of mucus.
Although I’m still unclear as to why director Josh Boone has chosen to tell the story of The Stand as a series of flashbacks, one thing that is clear is that the same story is being told, albeit in a different way. At this point, the basic beats are all there, with only the occasional, minor (at least to me) changes to the plot or characters. I felt that the changes that were made will serve the overall story better and will in no way affect the main story-hopefully. A few of the principle characters have been introduced and I was extremely satisfied with the actors performances. Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg are barely introduced but, being a fan of both Whoopi Goldberg and Alexander Skarsgard, I expect I’ll be applauding their performances by the time the story is complete.
This is indeed a timely story when we ourselves our dealing with a particular virulent strain of the flu that’s killed hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Josh Boone’s updated version of The Stand has been in the planning stages, in some form or another, for quite some time but it’s completion and ultimate release during this time seems to be, if not planned, almost prophetic.
I wonder, when you go to sleep tonight, who you’ll dream about? Will it be about a kindly, elderly black woman who resides in Nebraska, or will it be of a Dark Man, promising you the world, if you’ll only say, “My life for you!”.
I wonder what choice you’ll make.