‘The Stand’ is one of Stephen King’s quintessential novels. The hardcover version released in 1978 was set in 1980, and the paperback version that came later updated the timeline to 1985. An extended novel dubbed ‘The Complete and Uncut Edition’ was released in 1990 and the story was updated again to fit that decade. ‘The Stand’ was first made into a network miniseries in 1994, and now in 2021 a new series is available on Paramount+. There’s lots of material to draw from to create a great apocalyptic horror movie.
When word first came out that ‘The Stand’ was being updated for the screen, it was rumoured as a feature-length movie in theatres. Over the years, many ideas were floated as to what form it would ultimately take. Finally it ended up being a limited series on CBS All Access (which became Paramount+). Right around the time the ‘The Stand’ started shooting, the CoronaVirus pandemic hit. This brought a potentially more scary perspective to the telling of the story. Perhaps a few rewrites could play off the fears of a world in lockdown, true horror that pushed people’s imaginations and somehow brought them out the other side. Turns out that was too much to expect.
The new version of the ‘The Stand’ (2020) doesn’t do the book justice and mostly feels like a jumbled rewrite of the original miniseries. The writers didn’t capture the essence of the book, which slowly builds intensity from start to finish. Instead they used a time-jumping flashback technique that killed any momentum from developing. The book and the 1994 miniseries were both told in a linear narrative, the tension slowly building until the moment of THE STAND between two opposing forces of human nature. This new take’s time jumping completely kills the central motivating force that drives the story.
Instead of showing the spread of the pandemic and meeting the survivors as they find each other in the aftermath of viral armageddon, the first episode shows people arriving safely in Boulder, Colorado. As characters are introduced, there are flashbacks to how they found each other some months earlier. The intrigue of how they decided to head across the country to seek the mysterious old woman they had all been dreaming about is gone.
Other changes also weaken the story. Hemingford Home was recast from a mysterious house in the corn fields of Nebraska to an old folks’ home near Boulder, Colorado — yet for some reason the corn fields remained in the dreams people were having of Mother Abigail. (In the book they gather first in Nebraska and go to Boulder together.) The relationship between ‘conservative’ Stu from Texas and ‘liberal’ Frannie from Maine loses its meaning with this approach. The Nick Andros and Tom Cullen story is pushed into the background so as to not matter, and the connection between Larry Underwood and Nadine Cross is downplayed to the point where it doesn’t make sense unless you know the book. Later on, there are scenes of depravity, nudity, and sex thrown in for a cheap thrill, but that’s the only thing that makes this series for an ‘adult’ audience. It ends up being far less interesting and scary than the ABC network miniseries of the 90s.
This version of ‘The Stand’ also seems to have fallen victim to a current wave of timidness and political correctness in American television and film. Rather than challenging people to understand cultural forces like racism and sexism, the writing comes off as scared to offend anyone. The races and genders of a few characters from the book are changed, but the reimagined characters and relationships often come off as less interesting than the original.
Larry Underwood is black, whereas in the book he is a white singer who people say sounds ‘black’. Nadine Cross, originally a raven-haired mousey woman with mysterious sex appeal, has been changed into a blonde knockout. This kills the sense of mystery surrounding her and ruins the plot moment of her hair turning white overnight when she is impregnated by the dark man. Imagine the tension and prurience if Nadine was cast as a woman of colour who wanted Larry to save her from the dark man (Flagg) and his hold of ownership over her soul. That would be more interesting than a blonde white woman throwing herself at a black man at the last minute; an act that makes little sense here because it’s never set up like in the book.
There’s so much that could be done with ‘The Stand’ to make a great movie. Instead this version falls flat with a campy script that plays off the old miniseries and feels scared of being too horrific or doing anything new. Why make horror that’s scared to be scary? It feels like a shame and a wasted opportunity because another version of ‘The Stand’ probably won’t be attempted for a decade or more, if ever. So a quintessential Stephen King horror novel ends up being just another timid Hollywood fluff piece.