The Stand - King's Corner Review
Welcome to King's Corner. A recurring series of reviews based on the screen adaptations of Stephen King's work, reviewed and released in order of the original source material publishing date.
You've just released your biggest novel to date with The Shining. Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time is working on adapting it to the big screen. The world is your oyster and where do you decide to go next? For Stephen King the answer was The Stand. A post apocalyptic tale of good versus evil, it would serve as his magnum opus. It would be for him what The Lord of the Rings was for Tolkien with the setting in modern day America rather than a fantastical world like Middle Earth
Directors: Josh Boone, Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy, Chris Fisher, Vincenzo Natali, Tucker Gates
Starring: James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Odessa Young, Amber Heard, Owen Teague
Written by: Josh Boone, Benjamin Cavell, Owen King, Jill Killington, Knate Lee, Eric Dickinson, Taylor Elmore
Produced by: Jeff Braver, Jill Killington, Benjamin Cavell, Owen King, Knate Lee, Stephen Welke
Cinematography by: Thomas Yatsko, Elie Smolkin, David Stockton
Original Score by: Mike Mogis, Nate Walcott
After the world is in ruins, due to a man-made plague, a battle of Biblical proportions ensues between the survivors
Since its publication in 1978 there have been many attempts made to adapt the novel to film but efforts from the likes of George A. Romero, John Boorman and even Dario Argento never got off the ground due to the sheer size and undertaking that would come with such a project. With this difficulty in mind the focus shifted from big to small screen. In 1994, Mick Garris directed a popular four part mini series (scripted by King) which gained approximately 19 million viewers per episode in it's initial run.
The recent resurgence in King's work on film with the success of 'IT', led to new attempts to adapt the novel to film. They carried the same problems as before with many directors including Ben Affleck and David Yates being unable to adapt it into a film and many studios reluctant to do a series of films. So again it was decided the best route to adapting King's great tale of "Dark Christianity" (as he described it in the introduction of his novel) was to update it for the age of prestige television with another miniseries (only this time comprising 9 episodes rather than 4).
Adapting a 1,152 page novel is no easy feat but shouldering that task were the creative talents of Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell. Their approach was a rather ambitious one whereby they utilised a disjointed narrative with the story jumping back and forth in time. This approach is nothing new for television with the most famous example of it in recent memory being 'Lost'. Now whilst that worked remarkably well at expanding each character's back story away from the island in 'Lost' it is a huge detriment to 'The Stand'.
For such a sprawling epic where characters are introduced individually before meeting up together in either the Boulder Free Zone or New Vegas a linear approach would have worked best as we get to know and understand each character through their individual journey before they join their respective communities. Now this could work with a disjointed narrative but given the nature of the story in 'The Stand' it undermines any sort of tension or cliffhanger when we jump from story to story. For example in Glenn Bateman's introduction to the show he talks about the dreams he's had of Mother Abigail calling him and others to the Boulder Free Zone but by that stage we've already met her removing any sense of mystery about that character and we know which characters have already arrived there safely. Part of the appeal of the book was trying to figure out what was going to happen next making it an absolute page turner whereas the series truncates itself with it's approach.
Imagine this approach applied to any other story of this scale like 'The Lord of the Rings' or 'Star Wars'. Jumping from the Fellowship leaving Rivendell to the battle at Helm's Deep or Luke blowing up the Death Star to rescue Han Solo from Jabba's Palace. It's hard to imagine that they would be as successful or revered as they are if this approach was taken. For fans of 'The Stand', they would be able to follow the story with this approach (as grating as it is) but to anyone coming to it with no previous knowledge of the book it would be hard to see them latch onto the series leaving audiences disconnected.
As with the 1994 iteration 2020's 'The Stand' boasts an impressive cast with the likes of James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg, Greg Kinnear, Alexander Skarsgård and Ezra Miller. Whilst most of them fit seamlessly into their respective roles but others miss the mark completely. James Marsden is an ideal choice to play everyday man Stu Redman swept up in the battle between good and evil in the embers of a plague ridden world. He embodies the goodness and reluctant leadership bestowed upon him. Opposite him as his girlfriend Frannie Goldsmith, Odessa Young is solid but the chemistry between the two is somewhat stifled.
As head of the Boulder Free Zone, Whoopi Goldberg's Mother Abigail is slightly different to the novel and the 1994 series (ironically she was considered for the role back then) as she carries less gravitas in that her portrayal is trying to escape the trappings of the "mystical black person" by being more of a messenger than a saviour in an effort to update the character. For the most part it works but it doesn't entirely escape this issue. The rest of the Free Zone characters including Greg Kinnear's Glenn Bateman, Jovan Adepo's Larry Underwood and a gender-flipped Ray Brentner played by Irene Bedard do a fine job in their respective roles.
Perhaps the stand out performance amidst the characters of the Free Zone is Brad William Henke as the kind hearted mentally challenged Tom Cullen. He plays the character with a great deal of integrity and respect that many other actors would over exaggerate to the point of it being problematic. Speaking of which, Ezra Miller's interpretation of the troubled pyromaniac known as the Trashcan Man is just plain insulting to people with mental health issues. His swing at playing a larger than life character sees him screeching every other word and flailing his limbs in the air like an ape making it a far cry from Matt Frewer's more tragic interpretation in the 1994 series.
When talk of an adaptation of 'The Stand' first began King went on record to suggest that Robert Duvall would be an ideal actor to bring one of his most infamous villains, Randall Flagg to life. Alas that never came to fruition with Alexander Skarsgård playing the role this time around. Skarsgård relishes the revelry of The Walkin' Dude's misdeeds while exuding an animalistic magnetism making it easy to understand how so many are seduced to pursue his dark path. However the writing on the show never really lets him completely live up to the character's potential.
In terms of the New Vegas cast of characters, Nat Wolff's performance as Flagg's right hand man Lloyd is irritating and Amber Heard's corrupted Nadine is too bland to be memorable. Having said that Owen Teague is fantastic as the pitiful Harold. Throughout the show you can't help but hate him but there are gimmers of sympathy to his character. One such moment comes when he tries to suppress his sociopathic tendencies by practising to smile like Tom Cruise in front of a mirror to pass himself off as being normal.
Ironically the show was released in the midst of the global pandemic we are slowly but surely making our way out of. Shooting had just finished before the first lockdowns and post production was conducted over Zoom meetings. Perhaps this would explain why the show feels underwhelming. Whilst it is able to push past the sex and violence restrictions imposed on the 1994 version, the big moments from the novel such as the bombing of Free Zone or the first Free Zone committee meeting don't have as big an impact as they should.
Like the 1994 series, music plays a major role in the 2020 iteration which boasts a wide range of music from Lou Reed to Black Sabbath to Weezer but none have the impact of Blue Öyster Cult's 'Don't Fear The Reaper' playing over the images of the staff of Project Blue succumbing the effects of Captain Trips. It is one of the most memorable moments in King's work on screen. The score used throughout is standard stuff too doing little to elevate the desaturated and lifeless look of the show.
Watching the show, you can't help but feel that it is a missed opportunity. There is no doubt that it is a story best suited to be told in a mini series format but the manner in which it is done in the 2020 version is cluttered and whilst attempts are made to improve on the weaker aspects of the novel, they almost bypass the fundamentals of what made King's novel so revered amongst it's fans. As Tom Cullen would say M-O-O-N that spells disappointment.
- Joseph McElroy