The Stand (1994)
Written by: Stephen King
Starring: Adam Storke, Bill Fagerbakke, Corin Nemec, Gary Sinise, Jamey Sheridan, Laura San Giacomo, Matt Frewer, Miguel Ferrer, Molly Ringwald, Ossie Davis, Peter Van Norden, Ray Walston, Rick Aviles, Rob Lowe, Ruby Dee, Shawnee Smith
THE STAND (1994)
When a manufactured virus breaches its military testing facility and wipes out 99% of the population, the immune survivors left in the USA begin to dream of a kind, old lady named Mother Abagail, who promises them hope in a time of despair. However, these dreams sometimes turn into nightmares with the appearance of a threatening, denim-clad male, surrounded by rats, named Randall Flagg. Lured by the warm embrace in their dreams, the first group of survivors head from all corners of North America to Nebraska to Mother Abagail’s farm before travelling to Boulder, Colorado to set up their community of survivors which continues to grow day by day. With the fact that the old woman from their dreams is in fact real brings many of the survivors to the conclusion that Flagg must also be flesh and blood too. Concerned that Flagg may have plans to harm the survivors and destroy their safe haven, Mother Abigail suggests that a few of the survivors head West, God willing, to stand against the wickedness that Flagg represents.
The audacious TV adaptation of Stephen King’s THE STAND, which King wrote the screenplay for, produced and even starred in, is a four-part series of 1.5 hour episodes featuring a whopping 125 cast members and shot across 90+ locations to deliver a feat that is eye-watering, even now 25 years on. With some pretty big names in the lead roles, expectations were high and the opening hour is a tight bit of television however it soon slips into a seemingly never-ending nightmare…
Essentially, THE STAND is about good versus evil at the end of times, packaged up with religious overtones as God wills the survivors to take a stand up against the evils of Flagg who’s only interests seem to be chaos, destruction and death… and in one particular case, birthing his spawn. With Mother Abagail as God’s messenger, the survivors, in particular East Texas native Stu, deaf mute Nick, retired lecturer Glen and musician Larry, blindly follow her instructions, trusting her word as gospel and knowing that God will follow through and aid them if they do their bit as they’re told. As someone who isn’t religious, this is a pretty hard thing to swallow. Even if I look past this and focus purely at the good versus evil concept, which is as old as time, the build up and execution of this battle, or stand, is tremendously weak and doesn’t justify the five and a half hour build up leading up to it. Which gets on to my second problem with this series: it drags. Oh boy, does it drag. Never before have I clock-watched so much. Despite the terrific performances from the cast, the story and script is as dull as dishwater and hardly anything happens with many scenes stretched out to give a feeling of isolation and despair in this new world that the survivors have found themselves in. Of course, Flagg and his crooked cronies are holed up in Sin City, Las Vegas, where anarchy rules but it seems Flagg’s poor choice in humans as his henchmen has backfired as more often than not they let him down and he has to resort to solving the situation himself. Only Miguel Ferrer as thief Lloyd Henreid proves his worth to Flagg. Outside of his little hellish paradise, the only threat that Flagg seems to pose is his choice of Status Quo double denim ensemble.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Some of the musical numbers are an excellent edition to the series, such as tracks from Crowded House and Blue Oyster Cult, and the choice to include an electric guitar score when musician Larry has a heart to heart with Nadine in Boulder, as she tries to worm her way back into his life, certainly fits the bill. The music is quite a juxtaposition due to the now desolate landscape of ruin that these towns and cities represent with bodies strewn everywhere; hanging out of car doors, collapsed on the ground, filling the seats of the local diner and church. These songs tie us back to some sort of normality and in some ways, represent the hope and joy that the survivors cling to as well as the choice of songs and their lyrics literally representing their situations.
Unfortunately, for me, THE STAND is a over-long, drawn-out, slow-burner of a story that simply lacks substance and who’s story cannot justify the running time. However, to its credit, its stellar cast do a terrific job and are one of the very few saving graces that this series has. Gary Sinise, Adam Storke, Laura San Giacomo, Ray Walston, Rob Lowe and Bill Fagerbakke in particular are the standout performances in what is a really tight cast with just a couple of iffy performances here and there from a couple of characters that seem to have played it a little OTT. My only wish is that the cast had something better to work with that packed more of a punch than the CGI flourished conclusion that leaves a lot to be desired.