A highly lethal strain of an unknown virus spreading like wildfire among the unsuspecting masses, wreaks havoc on human life and the economy, irrevocably altering the world as we know it. The survivors are left fending for themselves, grappling with the abomination that threatens to negate their very existence.
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As much as the aforementioned may serve as a brief description for what 2020 has been, it also sums up the dire set of circumstances facing the characters of the iconic Stephen King novel The Stand.
Even though Josh Boone and Benjamin Cavell’s much-awaited screen adaptation of King’s lengthiest stand-alone novel (1152 pages) is not the first of its kind, it could not have arrived at a more befitting time.
The plot in a nutshell: After an erroneous military experiment unleashes a pandemic, which reduces the human population to a frightening handful, the remaining survivors are drawn towards two polarising supernatural characters — the elderly Mother Abigail (Whoopi Goldberg) and the demonic Randall Flag (Alexander Skarsgård). The former seems to be receiving visions from God, and the latter makes no attempts at hiding his sinister plans for world domination.
- Adapted by: Josh Boone, Benjamin Cavell
- Cast: James Marsden, Amber Heard, Greg Kinnear, Odessa Young, Henry Zaga, Whoopi Goldberg, Jovan Adepo
- No. of episodes: 9
- Storyline: Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world decimated by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil
Subsequently, with human society breaking up into two opposing factions vying for control, a full-blown conflict between them seems inevitable. In the first four episodes of The Stand made available for review via screener, one is subjected to a stylised visual presentation of the mere chain of events leading up to this inescapable conclusion.
As King’s prophetic writing plays out on screen, one is awestruck by the dark aesthetics of its crumbling world, basking in an air of apocalyptic finality. To top that off, striking visuals, like the one where the camera captures bits of burning toilet paper descending from the second floor of a prison complex, resembling a congregation of lightning bugs illuminating a dark room, provide the entire production with a dream-like quality.
A soul-stirring background score enhances this surrealist backdrop and aids the show’s creators in stitching together a meticulously woven, character-driven narrative which chooses not to progress linearly. It does so by introducing many of its Dramatis personae before delving into their back story, which then is revisited at a more appropriate time in the retelling. Such an approach clues the viewer in on the underlying motivations driving its characters, and provides the entire cinematic endeavour with a touch of adeptness — which was missing in its 1994 counterpart.
Stephen King himself and his son Owen are involved in writing the teleplays, which depart from the original novel at some places, but keeps alive the elements which made the latter a sensation among readers.
That being said, it is not entirely exempt from discrepancies. As it does not attempt to hide its fondness for the source material, the show takes for granted that its patrons will have some degree of familiarity with King’s epic novel. Thus, faced with the complex nature of the show’s narrative structure, the uninitiated viewer may suffer from an acute lack of clarity on the sequence of events shaping the main plot.
It somewhat makes up for this anomaly with powerful performances by its star-studded cast, who make the show’s central characters seem believable and humane. Even some of the supposed bad guys exhibit a more vulnerable side, adding more nuance to the tale.
Owen Teague’s portrayal of the troubled teenager, Harold Lauder stands out for the range of emotions that he captures effortlessly, without seeming inauthentic.
Among others, Skarsgård’s depiction of the show’s antagonist is delicious in its flamboyant approach, breathing life into a character who is a vivid manifestation of pure evil. In contrast, Goldberg’s’ Mother Abigail is a staid matriarchal presence, who, despite sounding old and weary, exudes a quality of resoluteness befitting a grande dame.
All in all, the first few episodes are an intriguing watch, combining the elements of societal collapse with a pinch of the occult, setting the stage for the imminent, epoch-defining skirmish between the familiar forces of good and evil. It remains to be seen whether the promised new ending to this old tale provides with the production, an explosive finale or draws it to a whimpering conclusion.
The Stand will stream in India exclusively on Voot Select, 17 December onwards