Hollywood Still Can’t Figure Out How to Adapt The Stand
The Stand. Available on CBS All Access Thursday, December 17.
With 1,152 pages and something on the order of 25 major characters, The Stand is Stephen King’s most ambitious novel, a grim and sweeping tale of a weaponized flu virus known as Captain Trips that escapes from a military lab and lays waste to the world.
For Hollywood, it’s proven the most impenetrable. After 14 years in Development Hell and two failed attempts to make it into a theatrical release (one of them with zombiemeister George Romero directing a script from King himself), it finally emerged as a six-hour ABC miniseries in 1994. “Eight hours, which seem to fly by in like, oh, 38 hours,” said the Orlando Sentinel, a judgment that summed up both the critical and audience response to a dumbfounding dud.
In 2011, memories dimmed, Hollywood began trying again. This new Stand project morphed from a conventional theatrical release into an eight-hour Showtime miniseries that would be followed by an in-the-theaters movie. When financial stakes were pounded through the hearts of all those ideas, another proposal finally found favor at CBS: a 10-hour miniseries to be broadcast on the streaming CBS All Access service. Six months of shooting finished in March, just before the highly nonfictional coronavirus began locking down America.
Admire that perseverance, if you must. But don’t let appreciation for a work ethic, or even love for the stay-up-all-night-reading novel, suck you into spending 10 hours watching The Stand. It’s a mess. Wait for the 2036 version instead.
Unlike a lot of bad television, there’s no need to feel malice for the producers and writers of The Stand. Sorting out all those characters and story lines, as each of them painstakingly journeys from their dead little towns (or big ones—one of the more watchable chunks of the show involves a couple of characters making a harrowing escape from a kingdom-of-the-rats New York City) to what they hope will be refuge in Colorado is damnably complicated.
But the fact remains that the screenwriters (six of them, including King’s son and sometim
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