Undecided about latest adaptation of King’s work

Undecided about latest adaptation of King’s work

When film/TV adaptations of Stephen King’s work come along, it is mostly hit or miss. The hits, and there are quite a few, seem to nail King’s complex characterizations. “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me,” “The Green Mile” and “Misery” rank amongst his best film adaptations.

When put into the hands of someone who may not be a fan or have an understanding of the source material, we end up with the forgettable “Under the Dome” TV series or the perfectly cast, but dreadfully executed, “The Dark Tower” film.

King’s fans, his “Constant Readers,” also have some strong opinions regarding his best literary work. Typically, they come to the defense of one of three books: “It,” “The Shining” and “The Stand” (for argument’s sake, let us just accept his “Dark Tower” series as being his umbrella under which so many of his stories shelter).

While a big fan of all three, “The Stand” is King’s seminal work. Not one page of its 1,153 is wasted. To state that it is the ultimate battle of good versus evil is an oversimplification of the story’s character development, where all face soul saving internal and external conflicts, with the ultimate morality question weaving its way through the book’s entirety.

While “It” and “The Shining” have both been given their due, regarding their respective film equivalents, “The Stand” has not. Part of that reason may just be that there is too much material to adapt to film to give King’s true vision its justice.

Some may remember the attempt made in 1994, when ABC aired a four episode/six hour limited series adaptation, but the series was a victim of its time. It feels dated now, as so many of King’s television adaptations do, suffering from being under the restraints of broadcast appropriateness.

Twenty-five years later, with streaming services becoming the rage, CBS secured the rights to “The Stand” and began airing the latest attempt at a King adaptation on their CBS: All Access platform. Releasing one episode a week (sorry, binge watchers) starting Dec. 17, the series will run for nine weeks, ending in mid-February.

For those unfamiliar with “The Stand,” the premise is vintage King. A deadly virus escapes from a government research facility wiping out 99.4% of the world’s population. Those who survive are visited in their dreams by the benevolent Mother Abigail Freemantle and malevolent Randall Flagg, each a metaphor for hope versus despair, faith versus cynicism. Even the cities where they gather their flocks, Abigail in serene Boulder, Colo. and Flagg in sinful Las Vegas, symbolize their respective purposes. Other characters must decide on whose side they fall and on which side they will choose to make their proverbial stand.

Having been given access to the first six episodes of “The Stand,” this version, thus far, suffers from its lack of linear storytelling. That is not to say the audience will not be able to piece the details together, over a two-month span, but it feels as if the show’s creators are relying on their audiences’ familiarity with the story to do some of that work. That assumption is a bad one as it takes some of the enjoyment away.

Much of the thrill of the book is journeying with King’s characters to Boulder or Las Vegas and wondering if they are going to make it there in one piece. By telling the story in flashback-and-forward style, therefore showing its audience who makes it well ahead of a character’s story arc, the danger of their journey feels inherently diminished and it robs us of “The Stand’s” storytelling gift: the pleasure of seeing these characters develop over time. Given nine hours of television with which to work, there is clearly time to do that effectively.

There is also never really a sense of the world ending, which is what sets these characters on that journey. An example comes in Episode 1, with female protagonist “Frannie Goldsmith” (Odessa Young). We are shown the world’s devastation by the death of her father, a relationship given minimal screen time, and her electricity going out (an occurrence that happens in my neighborhood four or five times a year) – hardly end-of-the-world material.

With one-third of the show left to be viewed, I am hopeful the series can correct itself; that there might still be more that is right with the adaptation than wrong. Signs of hope include Alexander Skarsgård’s “Randall Flagg,” who is played with just enough charisma that one can see why a trip to Vegas would be tempting, darn the consequences, and the fact that King penned the final episode himself, with rumors of a different ending than the book. That alone may be worth sticking around for.

And, one might question whether watching an end-of-the-world-brought-on-by-a-plague TV series is worth the escape when we are living in an actual pandemic. That is a question that individuals must answer on their own, but I will tell you, spending some time in a universe built from the mind of Stephen King will you make you thankful when you return to ours.

Letter Grade (thus far): B-.

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