Streamer: Amazon Prime Video
Length: 9 x episodes (53-65 minutes)
There are few stories more iconic and memorable than Stephen King’s The Stand. Even if you haven’t read the almost 1,200 page magnum opus, you’ve likely seen the well intentioned (but not particularly good) 1994 mini-series or watched one of the many works inspired by it.
Enjoy JJ Abram’s TV show Lost? Clearly inspired by The Stand. Dig The Walking Dead? A heaping chunk of its DNA comes from The Stand. It’s not hyperbole to say that King’s 1978 novel is one of the most influential works of modern fiction ever written.
After the enormous success of It (2017) and It Chapter 2 (2019) - based on another literary chonky boi by King - it was perhaps inevitable The Stand would get a brand new adaptation. Well, now it’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and the result is pretty damn fine, although some parts work better than others.
The Stand tells the a-bit-too-close-to-the-bone tale of a deadly pandemic, a flu variant nicknamed ‘Captain Trips’, that wipes out roughly 99% of the world’s population. The survivors, a disparate bunch from all walks of life who are naturally immune to the virus, find themselves in a very changed world.
Through strange dreams and visions, some survivors are drawn to the kind and gentle wisdom of 108-year-old Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg), while others are compelled to pledge fealty to the charming, seductive but very evil Randall Flagg (Alexander Skârsgard). When the two sides organise and are ready to fight… it will be time for a last stand.
Showrunners Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell make some bold changes to King’s novel, the biggest of which is the decision to tell the tale in a non-linear fashion. The first episode, for instance, begins somewhere around the middle of the book, with most of humanity already dead and the bodies needing to be cleared.
From there, we move backwards and forwards in time, in a manner that can be quite dizzying and possibly confusing if you’re not paying attention. Ironically, this stylistic choice is very much like Lost, with each episode focusing mainly on one or two characters, rather than fully exploring the ensemble in a linear manner.
To put it politely, this decision won’t be for everyone. And Stephen King obsessives who take each change to the great man’s work as a personal affront are likely to spend much of their viewing time incandescent with rage.
The thing is, though, after the first ten or fifteen minutes, you get used to it. And by episode two you’ll likely find yourself totally attuned to the strange but stylish rhythms of this often bold reimagining.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the show looks gorgeous, well shot and polished, with convincing special effects and high production values across the board. The cast, also, do excellent work, with James Marsden at his folksy best, Greg Kinnear in fine form as affable stoner intellectual Glen Bateman and Whoopi Goldberg basically playing a more God-bothering version of Guinan from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
However, the best of the ensemble are undisputedly Skârsgard as the ‘Dark Man’, simply oozing charm and menace in equal measure and (very surprisingly) Owen Teague as Harold Lauder.
In the books, Harold Lauder is something of a joke, a twitchy, bitter nerd who we never really feel for. However in this version, he’s been moved to the A-cast and is a fascinating character study in narcissism and toxic masculinity. There’s a real sense of tragedy to this new version of Lauder, and it’s one of the series’ most successful additions.
Ultimately, this new version of The Stand is going to thrill some people and really piss off others. Fans of the source material may have to grit their teeth and make peace with the structural changes, and newbies may need to pay extra attention in the first couple of eps to fully understand the twisting timelines.
However, if you’re ready to meet The Stand halfway, there is a riveting, dark-yet-hopeful post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure here waiting for you to take the journey that has been inspiring storytellers since 1978.
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