Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat, Pizza Roll.
Stephen King’s 1978 novel The Stand (republished in its complete and uncut form in 1990) is one of the prolific author’s seminal works. Drawing inspiration from J. R. R. Tolkien, The Stand tells a sprawling story of good versus evil playing out across the United States among the small fraction of humanity that remains in a world that has been ravaged by a superflu known as Captain Trips.
This mammoth tome’s page count matches the massive scale of its plot. As The Stand taps into biblical allegory, the story expands into more than just a battle at the end times. But at its heart, the depth of its cast and their individual character journeys are what have endeared readers to the story for more than four decades.
The novel has been adapted twice for television over the years. First, Mick Garris and King himself adapted it into a four-part miniseries for ABC in 1994. More recently, in late 2020, Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell brought a nine-episode limited series of The Stand to CBS All Access (before the rebranding to Paramount+). The 1994 miniseries boasts teleplays written by King while the 2020 iteration includes an entire episode written by King that serves as a new and definitive ending to the story and two beloved characters.
Both adaptations are now available in a definitive Blu-ray collection from CBS Home Video.
The Stand (1994) — ABC
Garris’ 1994 miniseries adaptation of The Stand garnered two Primetime Emmy Awards (Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Miniseries or a Special and Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Miniseries or a Special) along with four additional nominations — and it remains the definitive, yet still flawed, version of The Stand on screen.
The miniseries benefits from the strong casting of Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald as Stu and Frannie and is heightened by a surprisingly fun and appropriately over-the-top turn by Jamey Sheridan as the larger-than-life sorcerer villain Randall Flagg. Rob Lowe and Adam Storke give a lot of heart and texture to beloved book characters Nick Andros and Larry Underwood.
Garris’ take on The Stand is definitely a product of its era and plays as well in 2021 as a still-early-’90s network TV miniseries can. But from the opening sequence showcasing the spread of Captain Trips scored brilliantly to Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” you’re left knowing you’re in good hands and in for a worthy adaptation from someone who knows the work well.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Audio Commentary with Garris, King and select cast members
Carried over from the miniseries’ original DVD release, this single commentary track runs across all four episodes. King’s portion is recorded separately, and some cast members pop up to talk about the show with Garris. It’s an entertaining and informative commentary track, especially if you want to hear King dive deep into one of his biggest works.
The Making of Stephen King’s The Stand — 5:29
This is a charming making-of featurette from 1994. It’s mostly promotional fluff that provides an overview of the story and the adaptation. There are some decent talking heads from the cast and crew where the excitement for the miniseries feels authentic.
The Stand (2020) — CBS All Access / Paramount+
Boone and Cavell’s 2020-2021 limited series adaptation makes some very bold choices with the narrative and features one of the strongest casts of any limited series in recent memory not produced by Mike Flanagan. While the writing doesn’t quite know how to handle Flagg in this iteration, the casting of Alexander Skarsgård as the menacing embodiment of evil is absolutely inspired. He gives a commanding and disturbing performance when the script allows him to and remains everpresent through the run of the series.
The rest of the cast is phenomenal. Owen Teague’s take on Harold Lauter is perhaps the best performance in either this or the 1994 miniseries. Jovan Adepo also gives a wonderfully understated performance as Larry Underwood.
This take on The Stand does unfortunately falter heavily due to some questionable narrative choices. In an attempt to juggle the multiple character arcs and threads, this series introduces us to the characters in the Boulder Free Zone rebuilding society (something that occurs 1/3 through the novel) and employs LOST-style flashbacks to the Captain Trips outbreak. This nonlinear structure only lasts for a few episodes but only serves to frustrate audiences with an even more convoluted experience than a straightforward adaptation would have provided. Because of this structure, we are shown character interactions in the Free Zone that lack dramatic weight because we are only given a condensed glimpse of these characters during the outbreak.
The series also makes some eclectic choices when it comes to Flagg’s camp in Las Vegas. The land of “New Vegas” is a bold and hedonistic riff on ’80s punk aesthetics that comes close to working some of the time. Most of the time, however, it is just a head-scratching display of a production trying way too hard when subtlety would have been a much better play.
The shining light in the murkiness of 2020’s The Stand is in its final episode. Written by King, “The Circle Closes” is an all-new addendum to the iconic story of The Stand. Telling the story of Frannie being trapped in a well and facing temptation, King finally tells the ending to the story that he’s been ruminating on for decades. Filled with plenty of King references, the episode is a wonderful epilogue for the story’s most pivotal pairing that embraces the magic and mysticism of the greater story.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
An Apocalyptic Epic: Adapting The Stand — 19:40
This was a pleasant surprise. It’s far more extensive than the promotional featurette included for the 1994 miniseries. It’s filled with plenty of talking heads and some behind the scenes footage sprinkled throughout.
Gag Reel — 3:40
Its a gag reel. There’s nothing much you haven’t seen in just about any other gag reel. But there are a couple moments of the cast riffing that stand out a little.
Stephen King’s The Stand (1994) looks gorgeous in this Blu-ray set and happens to hold up particularly well despite its age. Even though you can take or leave the making-of featurette, the audio commentary is also very appetizing as it gives the audience a more candid peek behind the scenes of the miniseries.
The Stand (2020) will keep the diehard completists and proponents of physical media satiated. Aside from the 20-minute making-of documentary, the bare supplemental materials for something that is available on a streaming platform in perpetuity is a bit dissatisfying. Despite this being the lesser adaptation of the story, the unique things it does with a great cast would have made for prime commentary fodder.
Fans of King really can’t go too wrong with this Blu-ray collection. Your mileage may vary in terms of enjoyment of the two series themselves but — for better or worse, in some cases — they are heavy hitters in terms of Stephen King’s TV and film presence and worth checking out.