Lead actor: James Marsden, Alexander Skarsgard.
Creator/Executive Producer : Josh Boone
I find it odd that the IMDb page for Stephen King’s 2021 adaptation of THE STAND, his second as a TV miniseries, only mentions an idiot writing Killeen, TX in one scene. What if the whole damned production was stupid!!!
Let’s look at this logically. In 1994, STEND aired on ABC as a 6-hour miniseries. CBS’ All Access version is 2 hours and a half longer, almost 30 years later, and somehow manages to tell even LESS of the story. Is this some kind of weird voodoo magic I don’t understand?
STAND is one of King’s most famous novels, one of his greatest, and in my opinion, one of his most complete and accomplished books. It tells the story of a supervillain known as Captain Trips, who makes his way across the world and wipes out the human population. After that, what’s left of America seems to be divided into two factions.
On one side you have mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg), a 100+ year old woman in Nebraska who is faithful to God and all His commandments. Many characters take them on and create a new community in what remains of Boulder, Colorado.
On the other hand, we have Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood), a mysterious drifter who collects followers like the buttons on a denim jacket. They settle in the remains of Las Vegas and, like the former Nazis, Flagg makes sure the trains run on time. He has his followers to do his work, and that work is to destroy Mother Abigail and her disciples in Boulder.
Whoopi Goldberg as Abigail’s mother.
Flagg is a bad person, and King’s novel shows that over and over again. We see him in many guises, gathering his troops around him and trying to lure our heroes away from White. But that’s all our heroes are, heroes, and King wastes no words showing us these characters, developing them fully, and ultimately we don’t read the characters in a book, we spend time with people we know very well, real people whose lives happen to unfold in words on the page, as opposed to real lives that breathe. Yet they are the real heroes, because King wrote them so well, and we spend a lot of time with them during this journey.
The 1994 adjustment gave him this right. We see Flagg as the true embodiment of the evil that he is, and we see our characters as fully developed MEN. Stu (Gary Sinise), Franny (Molly Ringwald), Larry (Adam Stork) and Nick (Rob Lowe) are involved from start to finish. We’ll get through this with them.
Adjustment 2021? Sigh.
Firstly, this is only an adjustment of the LOOCEST terms. They have a common idea: The super flu known as Captain Trips is raging around the world. So that left two sides, the good guys with Abigail’s mom, the bad guys behind Flagg. One in Boulder, one in Vegas. One side wants to crush the other, the other side just wants to live.
Odessa Young as Franny Goldsmith and James Marsden as Stu Redman
Okay, they have the basics. They kept the ball firmly in their hands. James Marsden (Westworld) is Stu Redman, a modern man from East Texas. You know his face, he’s a charming guy. Whoopi Goldberg is Abigail’s mother. Those who don’t recognize them haven’t been on planet Earth at all in the last 30 years. Alexander Skarsgard – Flagg (Okay, I would have preferred Matthew McConaughey, as expected, but hey, Skarsgard is good too. I didn’t necessarily get that sense of destruction and levity that McConaughey could have brought to the role, but I certainly see more menace in Skarsgard’s eyes than Jamie Sheridan did in the 94 version. The 1994 version of the aging hippie just didn’t do it for me). And then they abandoned him. No, they threw him on the ground. Strong.
One of the things that made STAND such a strong and compelling story is that you get to see the events unfold as they happen to the characters. We see them all in the beginning, living their lives, and then this global tragedy hits them and they – Stu, Franny, Harold, Larry and Nick – have to face reality and move on. It’s linear, as it must be for the core of this story to have any impact. But the new adaptation is VERY loose in terms of chronology, starting with the already established Boulder Free Zone and then coming back to fill in the gaps with various flashbacks, many of which were embellished or created entirely for this version, which never appeared in any of the published versions of the novel. And they add absolutely nothing to the plot.
Owen Teague as Harold Lauder
We see a lot of pre-crime scenes of Harold Lauder (Owen Teague, Bloodline), and while Harold is one of the antagonists and a pretty important character, he doesn’t make it to the end of the book (spoilers for this 40 year old novel), he’s never a nice character, and we like it when he’s betrayed and left for dead. And that’s from the scenes in the book, which were more than enough to make us hate Harold. The last thing we need is MORE scenes. You know what we use? A few scenes with our heroes.
Stu changes often, and much of his development is outside the plot. You just have to see him as a hero, because, well, he’s James Marsden, you know his face, and you know the characters we usually play, he’s a hero, or at least not a villain (although he’s dead to me), so sure. He is a face, love him and be on his side.
Franny is well introduced when her parents die before she can tell them she’s pregnant, but Odessa Young (NATIONAL ASSINATION) has absolutely nothing to do after that. In the novel, Franny was a full member of the Free Zone Committee, not Stu’s girlfriend. Franny in 2021 is obviously there, she’s on screen and she says a few things, but overall I didn’t feel they really empowered the character.
Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood in The Stand 2021
Larry Underwood (Jovan Adepo, The Guardians) is a man who, despite everything, truly wants to be a better person. He has to take the lead when people start to rely on him, Nadine and Joe, and then follow a bit when they go to Abigail’s mother’s. He even has a girlfriend, Nadine, recently divorced (Amber Heard, AQUAMAN), who is secretly saving herself for Flagg. The girl, Lucy, was completely free until 2021. At first Larry left New York with Rita Blackmore, but one morning he found her dead, another person he had abandoned. The rest of the novel he struggles with his nature, letting people down and becoming a better person. None of this is seen in 2021. Larry is just a character like any other, with no motivation or personality other than that of a member of the Free Zone Committee.
But the worst victim of this 2021 adaptation was Nick Andros (Henry Zaga, NEW MUTANTS). Was he even involved in this case? Who played him? Where’d he go? Again, what did he have?
God, I couldn’t believe what they did to poor Nick!
Henry Zaga as Nick Andros
In the novel and in Mines 1994, Nick Andros is just as important and developed as Stu, Fran and Larry. He’s one of the main characters. We spend a lot of time with him, we see him fight in Arkansas, see him in jail, and watch him defeat the local sheriff to take over the town after the sheriff dies. We see his meeting with Tom Cullen and their bond is strong and obvious, then his meeting with Julie Lowry, and in Boulder Nick is a very important part of the Free Zone Committee. Why on earth did they give poor Henry Zaga about an hour of screentime for a total of over 9 episodes? He’s barely into this thing. Sure, he’s on the committee, but you don’t know that. The reason he is on the committee is NEVER clear, this nickname has absolutely no meaning, no arc, no personality. And then they blindfolded him? Why? To make him stand out? Nick Andros is a great character, he’s independent, he has a personality to cherish, but this time he’s just put in the background. Oh, Nick? Yeah, he’s here. Get an eye patch. You can’t miss him.
My God, that adjustment.
And I’m always amazed how they had so much more free time and yet were able to show much less plot and characters. We have never seen Larry follow Harold across the country and keep his group alive by asking him : What would Harold do?
Ezra Miller (?) in the role of the garbage man
We never meet the Trashman until he shows up in Vegas and Flagg orders him to bring the big fire. The Trashman had his own story and his own journey through the land, and it’s all over. He’s just a weird guy who shows up in Vegas one day and you never understand why he’s like that. I’m not even sure if he ever had a name, if it was Donald Mervyn Elbert or Trashman. And this is Ezra Miller playing him? Wow, sure. I’m not saying Miller is a big star, but he is universally recognizable. And they had him play the role of the Trashman in one of the most useless and inexplicable cameos in history. Matt Frewer’s version had more time and development in 1994, and it’s MATT FREWER!
And then there was Flagg.
In the novel – and in the 1994 film adaptation – Randall Flagg is a bad guy. He is a walker, present in several disturbing scenes in American history going back at least to the 1950s. According to Captain Trips, he realizes that he can suddenly cast spells, and he uses these new abilities to rally his troops and try to lure the strongest white man to the dark side. Randall Flagg is absolutely evil. He exists only to worship him and to destroy all who refuse to worship him.
Alexander Skarsgard as Randall Flagg
At least in theory, that’s what Flagg is. In 2021, Flagg got Lloyd out of jail in exchange for an oath of allegiance to Lloyd, and I think we’ve seen the heroes make that up many times, but the threat wasn’t there. Flagg was there, of course, but we never got a glimpse or even a hint of his malice and power. Yeah, we saw him swimming, that’s all. The people of New Vegas worship him, but we never see what he did, if anything, to earn this cult, nor what happens when they refuse. In the novel, Flagg pilots a narrow ship. Drugs are banned and anyone who uses them is crucified in the wild. The 2021 Flagg standard has no such rule and Sin City lives up to its name.
Too bad that in 2021 the best way to show that people are bad is still to party at night, have sex in public, use drugs and fight like gladiators. Yawn. I’ve got it.
And as much as I like Skarsgard, he just doesn’t have that evil glow in his eyes that is so necessary to take down Randall Flagg. He certainly does his best, but the creators of this series seem to drag him into the story because he has to be there, but because they did such a poor job of establishing good versus evil, which is the purpose of this damn book, they now have this villain who they largely ignored for much of the story, and until they remembered : Oh, yeah, Flagg’s a bad guy, what the hell, that’s all.
We know, technically, that he’s a bad guy, but his plans to launch jets and arm them with lenses and missiles toward Boulder are never specified, and when he tells Trashman to bring me a big fire, we’re so in the dark that we can’t understand what he means. I know, because I’ve read the book several times, that Trash is supposed to bring him a warhead, which his pilots then fly over Boulder and drop. This was never specified in the series.
Dennis after seeing the whole 2021 stand.
What I learned from STAND 2021 is that the book was the BASIS for the story, but they didn’t necessarily receive it. Sure, it’s the flu, people died, Abigail’s mother, Randall Flagg, blah, blah, blah, blah, we told the whole story and we have another episode? Cool, King is going to write the final episode, and then it’s over. Really? Really? RIGHT? Is that right?
After many false starts over the years, the series was finally developed by Josh Boone, who directed THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and THE NEW MUTANTS, and to me it’s just not enough credits to give anyone a 9 episode series of this magnitude. He’s a good director, I really liked NEW MUTANTS, but it was a very small story, discrete, with a place. STAND is a massive story that spans the entire United States from coast to coast and is a literal battle for the future of humanity. And you want the loser of our stars to take the reins? Well, okay, I guess.
God, I was so hoping McConaughey was still in it and that it was a theatrical release. That’s two attempts by STAND and two others, one dating back 27 years. …. God, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but …. The film directed by Mick Garris did better. And I hated that adjustment.
It was a struggle, both as STANDARD and as something we watched once a week. It’s always been that way: What’s happening tonight? Oh, shit, hut. Good. Good. I never waited for the next episode, and every time I watched, I just saw how incredibly different it was – unnecessarily different! – I was, and it made my heart hurt. Again, I don’t know what the intent of this project was, but I can’t believe it was an honest and timely adaptation of a STAND novel. Perhaps you will tell a similar story using this book as a blueprint? But hiring? No, it’s okay, they’re making it up as they go along.
This is not recommended at all. Stand 2021 will air on CBS All Access.
Photos by Robert Falconer CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc.
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 short stories and novels published in the genre of speculative fiction. More recent versions can be found in the anthologies Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Arise, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways. His novels include Revelations, Angel Hill, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, Flip.
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