The people behind the new miniseries adaptation of “The Stand” are either incredibly lucky or incredibly unlucky — I’m not sure which.
Will the real-life COVID-19 pandemic prompt viewers to watch the CBS All Access drama about a fictional pandemic that wipes out most of the world’s population? Or will it strike too close to home?
There are decided differences between the real and fictional pandemics. In Stephen King’s novel and this miniseries, the U.S. military develops a lethal flu virus as a weapon. It’s released accidentally, and it’s more than 99% fatal.
(The disease is a lot grosser this time than it was in the original 1994 miniseries. It’s more like the illness in the novel — because, of course, special effects are a lot better now.)
The small group of humans who are naturally immune divide into two groups. Through mystical dreams, 108-year-old Mother Abagail (Whoopi Goldberg) calls “good” people to Boulder, Colo. And, in nightmares, they see the “dark man” — aka Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård), who gathers the “evil” in Las Vegas.
(Most of the 1994 miniseries was shot in Utah; the remake was filmed in Vancouver.)
“Frankly, I’ve never regarded ‘The Stand’ as really a book about a pandemic,” said showrunner Benjamin Cavell. “The pandemic in the book exists as a kind of mechanism to empty out the world so that there can be this really elemental struggle between good and evil.”
King wrote the teleplay for the original miniseries, which was considerably shorter — a bit over six hours actual running time. The CBS All Access version is nine episodes, each running about an hour. (It will roll out one per week, with new episodes streaming on Thursdays beginning this week.)
“The Stand” is not something you can watch casually. You’ve got to pay attention because the story is often nonlinear — episodes are filled with flashbacks that fill in the characters’ backstories. And there are an enormous number of characters — the cast includes James Marsden, Odessa Young, Jovan Adepo, Amber Heard, Heather Graham, Hamish Linklater, Daniel Sunjata and Greg Kinnear.
King didn’t write the new screenplay, although he did write a new ending that differs from both his novel and the first miniseries. He read and signed off on all the other scripts, and his son, Owen, was one of the writers.
King “trusted our vision,” Cavell said, and they emailed back and forth throughout the writing process. “He actually sent an email that said, ‘Go on with your bad self.’”
The only objection King had to any of the scripts had nothing to do with the script itself — it was about something in the stage directions Owen King had written about a “wonderful” Steve Winwood song.
“The note came back from Stephen King — ‘I love this script, except for the idea that this Steve Winwood song is wonderful, because everybody knows it’s not one of his stronger works,’” Cavell said.
“The Stand” remains one of King’s most successful works, and the new miniseries appears to be a much better adaptation of it. But the timing is also strange, to say the least.
“I won’t say it wasn’t surreal for all of us when we were in Vancouver in the early part of this year and kind of realized what was happening,” Cavell said.
Primary production wrapped there on March 12, just before COVID-19 shut things down. The last few scenes and some reshoots were filmed in Las Vegas in August under strict safety protocols.
“It’s very bizarre to get your hair and makeup done by basically people in hazmat suits for a film about a pandemic of sorts that shuts down the world,” said Amber Heard.
But there was no effort to make fiction reflect reality.
“If it makes the show more resonant, that’s great,” Cavell said. “But our task has always been to adapt the book.”
Watch for King
The author made a cameo appearance in the original “Stand” miniseries as plague survivor Teddy Weizak — might he make one in this remake?
“I would say there’s a chance that you may see him this time,” said Cavell. That sure sounds like a yes.
And there is another cameo that will probably go unnoticed by most viewers — Mick Garris, who directed the 1994 miniseries, makes a brief appearance in the first episode.
“We’re fans of the original miniseries,” Cavell said. “It just felt like a fun sort of Easter egg to have Mick Garris appear momentarily for anybody who knows or cares.”