Review of The Stand (1994)

Moving picture, 6 hours

Seen in 2016.

A weaponized influenza kills about 99.99% of the human population of the Earth. The US government denies the existence of this plague even as it brings down civilization. Some of the US survivors, immune to the plague for reasons that no scientist can fathom, are visited in their dreams by two people: polar opposites, each with a plan for remaking civilization. Meanwhile, we hear things are pretty nice in Rio.

Viral apocalypse seguing into a fantasy epic. The author patterned it after The Lord of the Rings (1954) but set it in the contemporary USA with Las Vegas as Mordor.

Some of the special effects work is expectedly janky, especially the too-frequent morphing of Jamey Sheridan’s face into ugly masks, but the CGI bothered me less than the utterly crappy nuclear missile prop in Las Vegas. The gradual decay of Matt Frewer’s character, the Trashcan Man, is done much better, though the character would be better placed in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981). Rick Aviles’ Rat Man is similarly misplaced from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (1987).

There are other fascinating casting choices. Ed Harris plays a flawed and isolated figure of great authority, as he would be doing for the next 20 years. Gary Sinise does well as the big American hero who is effectively characterized by his ability to depressurize gasoline pumps as needed. Molly Ringwald does badly, despite having several scenes with Ken Jenkins whom I will always associate with his delightful asshole character on Scrubs (2001). Laura San Giacomo, who is similarly linked in my mind to her sitcom role on Just Shoot Me! (1997), plays the fated wife of a sorcerer with mixed success. Miguel Ferrer acts well enough but is too slight and too poisoned by later self-parody—again the influence of later comedy productions—to be taken seriously in his interesting role as the right-hand man of that sorcerer.

Overall, King’s attempt to imitate a small part of Tolkien is successful within its chosen constraints. Mother Abagail just has less character than Gandalf. Her best scene is when she prays alone, expressing her doubt, but the idea that she’s taking orders from Yahweh is not seriously questioned, nor is the apocalypse appropriately pinned on that authority. The design of Flagg as the opposing character is surprisingly good. His reign of fear is allowed to crumble as it realistically would, and his appearance, always in blue denim, positions him as a symbol of petty everyday white male malice, rather than Satan, authority or ideology: a saving grace for the otherwise boring moralism of the show. Still I would have enormously preferred a Lovecraftian version where there are no moral powers backing up either faction. Apparently that is a possible reading of Flagg in King’s megatext, but here he might as well be a Christian demon.

References here: The Strain (2014), School-Live! (2015), Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016), Army of the Dead (2021).

moving picture fiction series