It’s Stephen King’s world; we’re just living in it. During New York Comic Con, CBS All Access dropped the first official trailer for its ten-episode limited miniseries of The Stand, an adaptation of King’s sprawling 1978 post-apocalyptic fantasy novel about the aftermath of a deadly pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population.
(Some spoilers for the Stephen King novel below.)
The Stand is widely considered to be among King’s best work, with a sprawling cast of characters and multiple storylines. It’s also his longest, with the 1990 Complete and Uncut Edition surpassing even It in page count. King has said he wanted to write an epic dark fantasy akin to The Lord of the Rings, only with a contemporary American setting. “Instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg,” King wrote in his 1981 nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. “The land of Mordor (‘where the shadows lie,’ according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.”
The novel opens with the accident release of an especially contagious and deadly influenza virus (dubbed the “superflu” or “Captain Trips”), developed as a biological weapon in a secret US government laboratory. The accident kills everyone in the laboratory except for a security guard named Charles Campion, who escapes and tries to flee with his family. But he is already infected, and spreads the virus before he dies. Even imposing martial law can’t contain the virus, which eventually spreads worldwide, killing over 99 percent of humanity within a month.
But some people prove to be immune—including the main protagonist, Stu Redman—and these survivors must figure out how to rebuild some semblance of a functioning society. They are aided by mysterious shared dreams. In one, “Mother Abigail” Freemantle calls for them to come to her Nebraska farm; the other involves terrifying visions of a “dark man” named Randall Flagg. Each survivor must choose one or the other. Stu ends up leading a group of survivors in Boulder, Colorado; Flagg sets up a brutal totalitarian government in Las Vegas, where he is worshipped as a messiah and crucifies all those who displease him.
Adapting such a huge novel proved daunting, with a film version languishing in development hell for a decade. In 1994, ABC aired a miniseries adaptation of The Stand, starring Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Ed Harris, Miguel Ferrer, Laura San Giacomo, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee, among others. The miniseries was nominated for six Emmy awards; it won two, for makeup and sound mixing.
Around 2014, Warner Bros. and CBS Films began developing another film version of The Stand—at one point there were plans for four separate feature-length films to truly do justice to the breadth of the source material. That project eventually morphed into the current limited miniseries on CBS All Access, co-written by Josh Boone and Ben Cavell. King and his son, Owen, penned the final episodes. King’s 1990 uncut version of The Stand included an epilogue in which Flagg awakens on a beach with no memory of how he got there, and soon earns the worship of the local natives. Apparently the final chapter will be markedly different from the novel, and King has written a new coda for the CBS All Access limited miniseries.
In this version, James Marsden stars as Stu Redman, who leads the Boulder group that includes disillusioned pop singer Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo); a teacher named Nadine Cross (Amber Heard); pregnant college student Frannie Goldsmith (Odessa Young); sociology professor Glen Bateman (Greg Kinnear); teen nerd Harold Lauder (Owen Teague); and a mentally challenged man named Tom Cullen (Brad William Henke). Alexander Skarsgård co-stars as Randall Flagg, with Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail.
There was a bit of controversy over the casting of a hearing actor, Henry Zaga, as the deaf/mute Nick Andros, but Boone assured critics that the actor had learned ASL and there were deaf consultants on set. Heather Graham plays Rita Blakemoore, the Rat Man is now the Rat Woman (Fiona Dourif), and the character of farmer Ralph Brentner (now Ray) has been gender-swapped as well, played by Irene Bedard. Marilyn Manson appears in an as-yet-undisclosed role; he also recorded a cover of The Doors “The End” for the miniseries. And Mick Garris, who directed the 1994 miniseries, will appear in a non-speaking role.
Judging by this first trailer, we can expect this new adaptation of The Stand to also follow the novel fairly closely, at least until the reworked ending. We see Larry leave New York City and find his way to Stu’s group in Boulder, where he is surprised to find Stu has been expecting him, thanks to visions from Mother Abigail. “All I know is that we dreamed of her and she was real,” Stu says. “She brought us all together to keep us safe in these uncertain times.”
Skarsgård’s Flagg (aka Dark Man) is appropriately menacing, and we get a glimpse of his wolf form threatening Mother Abigail. She predicts “bitter days” ahead, filled with death and terror; she’s probably right. There are shots of the totalitarian society in Vegas (complete with crucifixions) as Flagg assures his flock, “They told you it was wrong to want more. Their time is at an end. Our time has begun.”
Given how good the 1994 miniseries was, I’m not sure why another miniseries adaptation is warranted—perhaps to introduce a new generation to King’s dark apocalyptic vision, which is particularly timely coming in 2020. The Stand debuts on CBS All Access on December 17, 2020.
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