Friday, February 12, 2021

The Stand on CBS All Access proves that certain ideas have an expiration date and are best viewed within the context of the era in which they were released.

I've been watching The Stand on CBS All Access. I haven't ever read the book. But given that there are many adaptations of this book now, I don't think that the story has aged well. And this probably means that I won't be reading the book, like ever. My reasons are based in the reality that entertainment is much more exciting now. And that's just the march of time, I think. It's not any fault of Stephen King. Rather, my brain just requires more stimulus these days to hold my interest. Allow me to tell you a story.

My mother (who was born in 1933...she passed away in 2016) would always tell me that Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was the scariest movie she had ever seen. When I watched it as a teenager, I wasn't scared at all, because the bar had been raised so much higher on "thrills." But I had the intelligence to know that it was a masterful film, and I knew why my mother was so impacted by it. The horror of the mental illness, coupled with the reveal of a mummified body kept in hiding within the old house, was something audiences had never seen before. So it was ground-breaking and terrifying. To was boring. So I only watched it once.

Anyway, I think that The Stand is also suffering from this kind of age-inflicted banality. It's a forty-year-old story, and it unravels much the same as it always has in its other adaptations. Only this time, I noticed how boring everything was. A disease wipes out humanity (we've seen this before now so many times it is cliche). Mother Abigail is a prophet, but as far as prophet's goes she's just basically wise and has the power to project herself into people's dreams. Flagg can use illusions and float and survive fatal damage. We live in an entertainment world where Wonder Woman soars and Thanos snaps people out of existence. Sure, Flagg also appears as a kind of undead thing or as an animal depending on his mood. However, he technically has fewer powers than Dracula, and I just wasn't impressed.

The characters live mostly in and around two locations: Boulder and Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, they do what sinners do, and nothing is shocking anymore, because entertainment has filled all of those holes in the decades since The Stand was published. We see people having public sex, doing drugs, gambling, and killing for sport. This is pretty much run of the mill now in shows that just want to feature any level of debauchery. Game of Thrones was honestly more edgy than anything we saw in Las Vegas in those scenes. There's nothing unusual about it. In Boulder they hold meetings until five people need to travel to Las Vegas to make a stand. The hero of the story, Stu, falls and breaks a leg. So he can't go on. Meh, seems legit. The trip there is boring, and what happens in Vegas really doesn't register any blips on my emotion reader. Nadine pregnant with an evil baby jumps out of a window and kills herself along with evil baby. We've all seen "evil baby in woman" before, and there's nothing special. Prometheus did it better. And then Trash Can man blows up Vegas with a nuclear weapon, which is about the most exciting special effect you get in this series.

Now...I'm not saying The Stand isn't a good story. It is. But it feels like it belongs in another era. It's "frights" are like Edgar Allen Poe's Fall of the House of Usher or The Pit and the Pendulum. It's like reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I'm sure audiences when these things were first released, were shocked and frightened. There are plenty of accounts that Frankenstein when it was new, scared the bejeebus out of its readers. I have no doubt that it did. But no one who reads Frankenstein in 2021 finds it even remotely interesting. It's boring. The thrills just haven't aged well.

I think it's sad that I found The Stand to be so slow and plodding. I didn't feel emotionally invested in any of the characters, because they were essentially just real people who had real jobs and were somehow immune to a world-ending disease. It was like watching a show where Joe from 7-Eleven now has to help other survivors figure out how to turn the lights on (because the people who did that before have died). So you end up watching the show, and they get the lights on, and yup...that's pretty much it. It would be like you inviting me to watch you do your laundry, only it's harder because a lot of people died a year ago and soap and fresh water and electricity is harder to find. But there aren't any supernatural monsters like zombies complicating things.

If these characters die, it's not through anything unusual. They fall, or they get shot, or they die with the fragility of being human. There's nothing supernatural or spectacular. A person that falls ten feet is probably going to die without a doctor. So yeah...that part is very real, but it seems weird when contrasted with how other shows do death. Like Daenerys Targaryen has a fire-breathing dragon burning people to ashes. You just don't get anything cool like that at all from this show. When "god" shows up in the finale (I think it's god), it's just in the form of a smoky cloud with a bright pinpoint of light that throws lightning bolts around.

Anyway, it was an interesting thing to watch. Would I recommend it to anyone? I would if you are someone who doesn't watch a lot of television. If you are someone who cannot handle a lot of stimulus, it is perfect for you, because it isn't very stimulating. There's hours of people walking, and you see them talking about stuff. There's a deaf and mute character who seemed interesting but he didn't do anything at all except walk places and then he just died. I think if you are under forty, it will bore you to tears. But in its day, I hear it was quite the thriller. It's just more proof that certain ideas have an expiration date, and they are best viewed within the context of the era in which they were released.


  1. I listened to the extended version of the book on my way back home in 2014. Here's my review on Goodreads, which might contain some spoilers. I think first of all it's a terrible mistake on the publisher's part to make this extended version of the book cheaper than the original version. Sure this is the version the author wants people to read, but it's not the version for someone who is not a fan of Stephen King or apocalyptic fiction, ie me. It's not that I don't like King; I read a couple of his more mainstream books (The Green Mile and The Long Walk) and liked them both, but I haven't really gotten around to the rest because I'm not a horror fan. So while a real fan would probably appreciate the added stuff like how a real LOTR fan appreciates the Ultimate Director's Cut that stretches each movie to 6 hours long, a casual reader like me is bored almost to the point of tears.

    The book isn't broken up this way necessarily but the plot breaks down like this:
    1. "Captain Tripp's Plague" is unleashed thanks to a security guard who escapes the facility where the supervirus is being kept. And he infects 2 friends and they infect 2 friends and so on and so on...And this goes on and on and on while at the same time introducing us to characters who will become more important later on. But it just goes on so long that you really need to take notes to remember what all is happening. The only positive thing I can say is that I listened to this in the car and when I got out I was a little dazed and had to remember there wasn't really a "superflu" going around killing everyone. The same thing happened when I read "Apocalypse Z" I think it was called; that book was mercifully much shorter.

    2. After the plague has killed most everyone we get to the Walking Dead part as survivors wander around and then band together. Zombies would have made this more interesting as the only real danger was falling off a motorcycle or something.

    3. Then it becomes "Lord of the Flies" as survivors form two societies. Some gather in Boulder, CO under the flag of "Mother Abigail." Like Piggy and company they try to maintain civilization. Meanwhile in Vegas, there's the opposite group under "The Dark Man" Randall Flagg. Like Jack they give in more to their baser instincts. A lot more time is spent on the Boulder group and all the little hassles they have and political bickering that is kind of like a reality TV show.

    4. The last act is pretty lame. Mother Abigail sends some of the main characters on a quixotic mission to Vegas. She was supposed to be this great messenger from Heaven and yet there is no point to this mission she sends the characters on. It didn't seem to matter at all that they were in Vegas. Meanwhile, the more Flagg is shown, the less menacing he seems, until he becomes a parody of a Bond and/or Disney villain. Unlike Dr. Evil he's not undone by letting the heroes live too long as he is undone from picking bad henchmen. Then there's an overlong survival tale of two characters (and a dog) returning to Boulder.

    And can I just say how annoying and unnecessary it was to have parts written in the dog's POV? I mean come on, what is this "The Incredible Journey" now? At that point am I supposed to stop taking the book seriously and start thinking of it as a joke?

    Then there's King's fixation with weasels. I couldn't keep track the number of times someone or something was compared to a weasel. There are other sneaky animals out there.

    I guess I could sum it up by saying there's a reason why editors pare books down. King indicated it was mostly a cost-cutting thing, but I think there was some artistic merit to it too. I probably would have liked that version better.

    That is all...and Happy New Year!

  2. I saw the '90s miniseries version at the time. It was okay. I can't say I was blown away by it then, but I did enjoy it. When I saw the trailers for this version, I wasn't moved, so I haven't tried it out (and I don't have CBS All Access at this moment).

  3. The Stand and Frankenstein are more cerebral than what you’d typically find today. Literally, The Stand was The Walking Dead before The Walking Dead existed. You think everyone’s too jaded, but literally everyone started loving and began hating The Walking Dead when Negan bashed heads in.

    I can’t even fathom not being able to appreciate Frankenstein. If you expect something akin to the later movies, the most famous ones, you can only be disappointed. The monster is a tortured, intelligent outsider. Probably the prototypical tortured outsider, long before the X-Men, long before Holden Caulfield. His story is not about thrills, unless you worry about his fate, about how his relationship with his creator plays out.

    Not sure if you were just trying to be provocative here. But I find your vantage point misguided. If you watch, say, The English Patient expecting, I don’t know, lightsaber duels, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

  4. BTW, in The Simpsons when Lisa reads The Raven, Bart says it's not scary and she says, "Maybe people were easier to scare back then." And that was 30 years ago. I remember when I was a kid they advertised the book of The Stand and I thought it was so creepy but reading the book when I was almost 40 was a different thing.

  5. I've never read any King, but I think Frankenstein is still amazing. And not just as an intellectual exercise. I mean, the doctor creates this life and is, basically, horrified by what he's done and spurns his creation... only to have that creation come back and systematically destroy his life. Sure, it's not written in a contemporary style but, if you can immerse yourself, it's still one of the most horror-filled novels you'll ever read.