The Stand is a 336-minute, four-part adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus, a 1,100+-page behemoth about the survivors of a superflu pandemic and the role they play in the ensuing battle between good and evil. Some consider it King’s best work (I disagree, but won’t argue the point). The miniseries was written by King himself and contains a massive cast comprised of ’80s washouts and ’90s up-and-comers, most of whom do a pretty decent job with their characters. A few big cameos also appear, driving home the fact that The Stand came out in what might be considered the height of King’s marketability as the master of horror.
In preparation for the upcoming 10-episode miniseries debuting in 2020, CBS Video has released a new remastered Blu-ray set of the series.
Despite the low budget, The Stand has as aged remarkably well, especially compared to many more recent adaptions of his work. Movies like It (2017 / 2019) and Pet Sematary (2019) have a difficult time eschewing the popular modes of big-budget horror (i.e., jump scares), which render the emotional and relatable elements of King’s novels inert on screen. The Stand, however, is faithful to the novel in spirit and text. Characters like Stu Redman (Gary Sinise), Nick Andros (Rob Lowe) and Frannie (Molly Ringwald) split their screen time with a half-dozen other characters and plotlines spanning the United States as it collapses and then gets worse.
Like King’s book, the best bits of this miniseries involve the introductions of and interactions between characters. It’s beside the point that the various depictions of looting, death and destruction all look like an amateur production — better brief and somewhat silly moments of anarchy than prolonged, self-serious inanity like The Walking Dead. Fortunately none of the heroes here is as interested in shouting philosophical jargon about the cost of living because that hadn’t yet become the dominant trend in post-apocalyptic fiction.
That said, the elements of the novel that don’t quite work still don’t quite work here. Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg play opposing forces battling over the souls of humanity from their respective outposts in Las Vegas and Boulder, Colorado. King’s “hand of god” climax is literalized here, creating an even more anticlimactic moment when conflict comes to a head. King’s strengths are writing people, and his skills never feel fitted to forays into cosmic forces untethered from human wants and needs.
Mysterious Walkin’ Dude Randall Flagg maybe King’s most vivid villain, and the oft-goofy performance by Jamey Sheridan is appropriate for who the character is in the context of King’s story and the larger themes about evil that span his work. My defense of Sheridan: When King writes an evil character, he ultimately leans into their most pathetic and unsexy elements because outright evil is inherently pathetic in his stories. Flagg is the greatest example of that in practice, as he constantly appears to cause trouble in multiple stories King wrote over the course of four decades. No doubt the sexier version portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård in the forthcoming 2020 remake will receive accolades, and I’m sure it will be great, but there’s something unsettling in the way Sheridan plays him here.
No doubt, older audiences have a lot more to say about the casting because many were known for other roles of which I’m simply unaware. For instance, Matt Frewer of Max Headroom fame plays the arsonist Trashcan Man. I have no familiarity with Frewer and no opinion on his other roles, but enjoyed him here. Also, I like Ringwald as Frannie. She seems sweet. I also haven’t seen most of the John Hughes movies she starred in because I was born in 1989.
Extra features include audio commentary by several of the stars, as well as Stephen King himself, who is always a delightful listen. There is also a substantial making-of documentary. This is a fantastic DVD release, and one that feels appropriately timed to counter-balance an otherwise disappointing year of cinematic Stephen King content.