The Stand (1994) — This is how the world ends

“Pleased to meet you, Lloyd. Hope you guess my name.”

Justin’s rating: Excellent… and the book is even better.

Justin’s review: What better subject for a miniseries than one of the most beloved cult books of all time? Stephen King’s The Stand is one of my all-time favorite apocalyptic novels — and for a good reason. Instead of dickering around with saving the world from a deadly virus (a la Outbreak), King goes for the jugular and kills off 99.9% of the world’s population in the first episode.

The survivors find themselves congregating into two camps: The “good” people who follow prophetess Mother Abigail to Boulder, and the “bad” people who gather forces in Las Vegas under the demonic Randall Flagg. On one hand, it’s about the death and rebirth of America and civilization, but more ultimately, it’s the ultimate showdown between good and evil in the apocalyptic sense.

This six-hour miniseries is as faithful an adaption of this book as I could ask for. Released on ABC in 1994, The Stand holds up quite well even to today’s standards, approaching movie-like level instead of mere TV-adaption. I first experienced The Stand when it came on TV in ’94, when it popped on after a show I was watching. I promised myself, “I’ll just watch the first ten minutes” and then, “ten minutes more.” After that, I couldn’t wait until the next night, to find out what happens after the end of the world!

It is kind of hard to give you an impression of the genre this falls in, because it’s really a mix of quite a few. At the beginning, it’s a sci-fi apocalyptic fantasy. Then you have some romance, quite a bit of moving drama, a Tolkein-esque adventure odyssey, and (of course!) horror smattered in with good measure. It’s the ultimate haunted house: A world populated by the dead. There’s some pretty freaky moments, particularly when Stu (Gary Sinese) is trying to escape from the disease clinic; then again, some of the horror (the devil morphing didn’t convince me of foul terror) does fail on the small screen. Something for everybody, that’s for sure.

Anyone who’s a true fan of King will tell you that his true skill lies in his characterizations, in creating believable people with interesting depths. Add to that a number of terrific actors and actresses, and therein lies the strength of this miniseries. I’ll point out my favorites first. Gary Sinese, as the main hero, does an excellent job of portraying the world-wise Texan who does more with a grimace than most actors do with main billing.

Also excellent in the first chapter is the military disease control commander, played by Ed Harris, who really gives a knockout performance in his grief and helplessness. Surprisingly, Rob Lowe forgoes being a jerk goofball to fill the shoes of Nick Andros, a deaf-mute who says little but becomes one of the most unforgettable characters of the story. It was hard to recognize Lowe at first in this role, he was that good. I’d also like to extend kudos to Miguel Ferrer (who plays Flagg’s second-hand man with a mixture of resolve and conflict), Bill Fagerbakke (the dumb guy on Coach who plays even-dumber yet supernaturally knowing Tom Cullen), and Matt Frewer (as the explosive-loving Trashcan Man).

Of course, with a cast this large (and it’s big!), almost everyone is going to find roles that they hate. I wasn’t too personally fond of Molly Ringwald, who sneers and pouts in her role as Fran like she was back in her ’80s heyday. Molly, go into retirement! It was also a bit of a let down that the morally conflicted character of Harold was not presented as a largely overweight greaseball as in the book; merely, he has pimples, a bad haircut, and glasses, all of which speed his transformation in mid-story.

I can’t burble on long enough about my love for The Stand, and it’s because I can’t narrow it down to just one thing. The sense of scope, of an epic quest, is breathtaking. They filmed in dozens of states and locales, and that allows for a huge range of… well, everything. You got prisons, disease clinics, New York city, cornfields, Las Vegas (boy, that makes my day), and Colorado! Actually, a major secret I’ll let you in on is that The Stand really infected me with a desire to move out to the west, and I’m glad I did. I’ll be near the survivors when the holocaust comes! Anyway… what keeps me coming back to The Stand is how much it makes me think. There are endless questions that a dead world and few survivors bring up, and what I would do in that situation?

I will end with a totally random observation. The best moment of this miniseries is one of its most quiet. The plague has ended and two survivors — Fran and Harold — listen to an LP of that Crowded House “Don’t Dream It’s Over”. As the song plays, numerous scenes are shown, giving a terrific impression of the stillness after death, and the small hope that remains. This is the human race, signing off…

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