Mick Garris’ 1994 cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand is one half a great epic post apocalyptic tale of human endurance, and one half a preachy and overwrought religious tale about God, the Devil, and a lot of hokey sermonizing that falls flat. Which is not to say it bogs down the film, but as King is noted for, “The Stand” eventually devolves in to religious hokum that completely eliminates the appeal of the original story.
For a mini-series Mick Garris’ “The Stand” was a big deal when it aired in the US on the ABC Network. And to this day it’s still a very compelling and engrossing look at humanity, the will to live, and the mysteries of why we’re incapable of working together to make life easy on one another. “The Stand” begins as an immensely scary tale of science gone awry when a super flu known as Captain Tripps infects a scientist in a government lab.
When all hell breaks loose, the scientist attempts to break free from the lab to save his family, and before long he’s unleashed judgment day on the world. King has very little regard or respect for science in “The Stand” as he spends most of his story turning scientists, doctors, and medical professionals in to cold and uncaring monsters. They haul most of the infected population like cattle, test them with a sense of smug self-approval, and when every man Stud Redman manages to mysteriously survive the flu, a doctor attempts to murder him. Like many of King’s novels there’s a great emphasis on the glory of small town America and good old fashioned nobility, while everything else on the outside is a cold and horrific place with no empathy or mercy.
What begins as a story about the end of the world progresses in to something so much more. Suddenly not everyone in the world has been infected and only a few dozen or so individuals have been left behind to fend for themselves. Plagued by nightmares of a charming but demonic man in a slew of cornfields, and saved suddenly by visions of a kind old woman on a porch, the world has no longer become a wasteland. As the groups gather to re-build, and make sense of their unique and horrifying dreams, they realize they’re soldiers in a war about to take place. With humanity and civilization gone, heaven and hell have chosen their players in their war and plan to fight to the end. “The Stand” is filled with excellent performances by mostly seasoned actors and actresses and never shies away from the gruesome aftermath of super flu that infects its victims and rots them rapidly once they’ve died a long and painful death.
Gary Sinise is superb as the every man Stu Redman, who survives the super flu and is trying to figure out why he’s still alive, and what he’s supposed to accomplish next. Fates play their hand with every character, bringing heroes and villains together in the most unlikely ways. With folks like Ozzie Davis, Miguel Ferrer, and Ray Walston, “The Stand” is able to stay in a steady and compelling pace, introducing characters we’ll love or hate over time. There’s even Rob Lowe and Bill Faggerbake who play Tom and Nick, two mismatched allies who find friendship in their struggle to survive and make a journey to the home of the kind old woman from their dreams. “The Stand” takes its time to establish not only the stand of characters, but the fragility of this new world, as everyone must contribute to keep it standing. Every new chapter is a look at the fight to live one more day, and how Ruby Dee’s character Mother Abigail becomes a force of nature in the face of a young more charismatic foe.
In the realm of immediate danger, and the potential return of the super flu, Stu and his fellow survivors look for a purpose and eventually find one when faced against the more satanic foes awaiting them in Las Vegas under the rule of the horrifying Randall Flag. His allure is irresistible and eventually loyal members begin to turn tail and work toward their own goals that keep the war violent and devastating. “The Stand” isn’t a perfect film as the by the second half, once the concept has been made perfectly clear for the audience, it no longer becomes about surviving but about becoming a soldier of God to take down hell’s foot soldiers. It’s a concept that’s doled out ad nauseum and ultimately runs the story off the rails. That said, “The Stand” is still a remarkable epic film, with wonderful performances and a fantastic glimpse at the apocalypse. It’s a favorite of mine in the realm of television films. While it’s not a completely flawless film, it’s still a remarkable look at the apocalypse and what happens when survivors looking for a reason to keep living find the ultimate purpose in saving the world and humanity. It’s a favorite that almost never gets boring.