Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Stand - CBS

 Okay, The Stand is probably my favorite Stephen King book.  I first read it more than 30 years ago.  I loved it then.  I still love it now.  I even love the original ABC miniseries.  (I seem to be somewhat in the minority on that) I felt that it did a very good job of condensing the massive epic into a coherent and generally enjoyable TV adaptation.  I attribute this, mainly, to the fact that King, himself, was the one to write the screenplay.  Events and characters were cut.  Things were changed quite a bit.  The sex, language, and violence were toned down to a 1990s network TV level.  But it worked.  It managed to tell the core of the story, about the characters that mattered, in a very good, and satisfying way.

So, I was pretty excited when I heard plans around 2010 to make a big screen version of The Stand, possibly split into multiple movies, and probably directed by Ben Affleck.  The man's kind of a crap actor, but he's actually a pretty good writer and director.  Rumors came and went, and eventually that project was passed from Affleck to others, and morphed into a new miniseries for CBS All Access.  I was fine with this, as I already subscribe to the service (on and off between seasons) for Star Trek, among other things.  And it meant that it would both have a decent budget, and be able to include some of the more "R rated" things from the book.

I've watched the first two episodes, which are the only two that are currently out to the general public, though there are some professional reviewers who have been allowed to watch the entire series.  I have to say, it's kind of not doing it for me.  The biggest problem I have is that it is VERY dependent upon you already knowing what is happening for literally anything to make sense.  If you have not already read the book, or seen the ABC miniseries, you will have no idea what is going on AT ALL.

Rather than giving you all of the very necessary parts of the story dealing with the virus wiping out most of humanity up front, (which is, in my opinion, the best part of the story) we start at what is basically the midpoint of the book.  It's not explained where we are.  Why these people are cleaning up dead bodies.  Where any of these people came from.  Why they are here.  Or really, what happened.  There are a few offhand comments about the end of the world.  But that's it.  That's all the exposition we get.  We are then treated to a series of flashbacks for two sets of characters.  Harold, being the only one of them we have seen before.  It flips between characters we don't know, unless we already know the story from other sources, in different situations with a disease sort of in the background.  We're never really shown what this disease is doing, how fast it's spreading, how many people it's killing.  You just see a few random people coughing, and then, all of a sudden, everyone's dead, and, unless you already know what's happening, you have no idea why or how any of it happened.  It's like it's trying to follow the format of Lost.  Where you have the events taking place in the present on the island, and then flashbacks to all of the character development and events that brought the survivors to where they are in the present.  This worked for Lost, because both the present day and the flashbacks were compelling, and didn't rush things.  The events in the flashbacks complimented what was happening in the present day, and the two stories would interweave extremely well.  In The Stand it's very jumbled, discordant.  We never spend enough time in either the present day, or the flashbacks to really get a feel for who these people are, where they are, or what's happening around them.  It's just not very well written or edited together.  You can really see the production values in the show, but the writing and editing are so terrible that it doesn't even matter.

This is something that the original miniseries, and especially the book, did very well.  The horror came from how quickly the disease spread, how deadly it was, and how we saw it killing so many people through the eyes of the characters that survived it.  I'd argue that the first third of the book dealing with the plague and the death it caused is far scarier than anything else that takes place later on in the story, and a hell of a lot more important to the characters and the overall story than the makers of this new miniseries are giving it credit for.

After sitting through two episodes of it, I think I'm done.  I don't want to watch any more of this.  The makers of this show have actually made me not want to watch anymore of one of my favorite stories in this world.  It's THAT bad.  I can't even imagine what watching this series must be like to someone who doesn't already know what's going on.  They must be soooooo confused.  I've read reviews of later episodes that have yet to be released to the general public, and it seems that things actually get even MORE confused the deeper into the series you get.  I just don't really care to watch any more than I already have.  This series is a pretty profound object lesson in how to take something great and utterly destroy it.  If the writing was better, things were explained a bit more and the flashback better linked to the present, and if the editing was considerably better, and if the scale and scope of the superflu were better shown to us in the flashback, this series might be watchable.  As it is in its current state, it's a mess that is both boring and confusing.

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