Few names resonate as loudly in the world of modern storytelling than that of Mr Stephen King. For decades, King has dominated bestseller lists and boasts over 61 novels and approximately 200 short stories to his name, many of which have become fodder for multiple film and television adaptions over the years. Amongst his enormous and critically acclaimed repertoire, few of King’s works are as revered and beloved as his 1978 post-apocalyptic epic The Stand, his longest, and many would say his finest, work to-date. In the years since its first publication, multiple attempts to bring The Stand to both the big and small screens have begun, but only the 1994 made for TV mini-series was ever previously successful in eventually making it to production.
This past Friday, Australian audiences were treated to the first five episodes of the latest planned nine-episode adaptation helmed by The Fault in Our Stars director Josh Boone and co-produced by Stephen King’s own son, Owen. Moreover, it has also been reported that the final episodes of this new series (which are set to stream on Amazon Prime Video over the coming weeks) would feature an all-new alternate ending from the original book, directly penned by Stephen and Owen King themselves.
In a plot more relevant than ever, The Stand charts the post-apocalyptic story of the few remaining survivors of a deadly man-made influenza, dubbed “Captain Trips”, which decimates the world population with a 99% fatality rate. But in true Stephen King fashion, the deaths of 7 billion people and the collapse of modern society just sets the scene for a more troubling and fantastical struggle between good and evil.
A large and diverse cast of characters, who each find themselves immune to the disease that destroys the world at large, begin to share dreams of the benevolent and ancient Mother Abigail (played by Whoopi Goldberg) and the sinister Dark Man, Randall Flagg, who is played to creepy perfection by True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård (who coincidentally is the older brother of Bill Skarsgård, who played Pennywise in the latest Stephen King It adaptation!). What ensues is a conflict of biblical proportions, which will shape the future and very soul of humanity going forward.
Featuring an impressive cast of names, including X-Men’s James Marsden, cinema veteran Greg Kinnear, and Aussie actress Odessa Young, this latest reinvention of the book even features a swathe of big-name cameos in smaller supporting roles, including JK Simmons (Spider-Man: Far From Home) and The Flash himself, Ezra Miller (whose character Trashcan Man is set to make his debut in next Friday’s episode). Yet star power aside, it is the delectably rich tapestry of King’s eclectic characters and the twisted trials he so delights in putting them through which are responsible for the real joy of this series.
Picking up midway through the novel, the first three episodes reveal the characters and their backstories in a series of flashbacks, a decision which ensures the show’s pacing is dialled up to eleven from the outset. It is from episode four, however, once we finally know our main players and the scene is fully set, that the real story begins, and the dangers posed by Randall Flagg and his debaucherous New Vegas citizenry more fully reveal themselves.
With the number of characters and story threads at play in The Stand, it is clear that the decision for the creative team to pursue a television series, as opposed to the theatrical film that was initially being considered, was a wise choice indeed. There is no way that the full and intricate tapestry of King’s work would ever be able to be fully realised in a feature-length runtime, and the budgets and interest in television projects such as this are far greater than they have ever been in years past.
All told, the first five episodes currently available on Amazon have proven themselves more than binge-worthy material, both for seasoned fans of Stephen King’s work and for new audiences who may potentially be looking for a suitable entry point into his astounding catalogue. Now all we have to do is find the patience as the remaining four episodes (including King’s all-new alternate ending) are released over the coming weeks.