With the newest installment of Stephen King’s The Stand wrapping last week, I wanted to finally sit down and discuss my opinions on nearly every aspect of it in comparison with its 1994 original film. This is a long and in-depth review, but one that cements my feelings on each respective version, and alludes the rarity of this being one of the only examples where the version closest to the novel isn’t always what’s best for the integrity of the property.
The Stand (1994) Vs The Stand (2020)
I was excited when I found out that the new incarnation of this series would have nine episodes as opposed to the original’s four. With Stephen King’s epic novel ranging in the neighborhood of 800 pages, a miniseries simply won’t do, and nine hours of television could certainly right the wrongs of where the original series drifted apart from its origins. However, the 2020 version somehow drops the ball more monumentally in this regard, because while I do appreciate it for incorporating more of the novel’s supporting subplots, it’s the way they are rushed along that does a huge disservice to the authenticity of life’s many beats, and leaves them feeling like afterthoughts when you consider a majority of them are forgotten after a single episode. It’s close, but I value stability over similarities, giving the original a slight edge for the way it constantly foreshadowed the duel in the desert that was inevitable from the beginning.
Winner: The Stand (1994)
There’s not much to debate about the original. Mainly, it’s a screenplay told in real time that is a straight, beautiful linear line of storytelling, taking us through who each character is, and why we should care about them. With the remake, it’s such a sloppily convoluted execution of improper starting points, flashbacks within flashbacks, and an assortment of scenes and sequences without a shred of momentum between them to keep us even remotely interested. I can’t for the life of me understand why someone thought this was a good idea, especially since King’s original story lends itself to a blanket of urgency despite it being the lengthiest novel of his entire career. If the 2020 version of The Stand is your first delve into the world of Captain Trips, then this element alone makes it justifiable why you would want nothing to do with it again.
Winner: The Stand (1994)
The original definitely doesn’t age well in this category, particularly the dreadful hand of God during the film’s climax that seals the deal with a layer of corny and sentimental that even director Mick Garris can’t get away with. While the new blood is certainly nothing special in this regard, the attention to detail in the decomposition of bodies post-plague is something I greatly appreciated, articulating a bodily deconstruction that proves there’s a lot more at play to Captain Trips than just an overbearing case of the flu. Randall Flagg’s transformations in both are laughably bad, but the computer generation here does grant a big screen appeal to everything enveloped, and for the most part does show off the enhanced budget for the production that comes across vividly in the examples of some surreal circumstances that is otherworldly.
Winner: The Stand (2020)
Composer W.G Snuffy Walden certainly wrote his masterpiece with the original acoustic-dominated score, particularly when the stakes reach insufferable limits with the four men chosen to trek towards Las Vegas, however the choice with 2020 to incorporate some familiar tracks of pop culture is one that is virtually unbeatable in my opinion. It’s expected that the recent incarnation would keep the consistency going with Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, but the real gem comes in the many episode ending touches of musical personality that often breeds with it a form of twisted humor irony that lyrically plays well with the story in the foreground. Such an example persists in “The Stranger” by Billy Joel, which comes on the heels of our initial introduction to Flagg. Following up on this is tracks from Black Sabbath, Radiohead, Lou Reed, Montell Jordan, and even Tony Bennett, rounding out one of the more eclectic soundtracks from a property that I’ve seen in quite sometime, and solidifying the kind of rock and roll influence that music constantly plays in the Stephen King library as a character of its own.
Winner: The Stand (2020)
There are still scenes in the 94 version that genuinely creep me out, particularly the claustrophobia of Larry Underwood’s underground trail of the New York tunnel system, or the many jump scares that pop up during Stu Redman’s escape from the C.D.C, but there is nothing even remotely chilling about anything in the newer version. Part of the problem stems from it trying too hard, complete with post-production audio influence, or an unlimited use of overacting that gave me more unitentional humor than intended. Even the controversial rape scene of Nadine Cross carries with it an air of a Lifetime Movie sex scene, complete with sexy saxophone and softly engaging lighting that feels completely inappropriate for the intention. This is where the consistency of one soul director seems to triumph that of a new one weekly, as one cohesive voice works wonderfully in the tonal consistency for the original that is definitely horror first above all else.
Winner: The Stand (1994)
Character: Randall Flagg
Jamey Sheridan Vs Alexander Skarsgaard
Alexander explores the seductive side of Flagg, complete with a soft-spoken, easy-going personality that often takes advantage of those lost souls willing to sign over everything for temporary relief. Sheridan’s physicality was certainly more imposing, but there’s much more emotional versatility to Skarsgaard’s enveloping, which further fleshes out the arrogance to Flagg’s dominance that is all the more aggravating for the audience.
Winner: Skarsgaard (2020)
Character: Mother Abigail
Ruby Dee Vs Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi as a whole is the far superior actress, but for this particular role with Abigail, it’s Dee’s vulnerability in wearing her age that gives her a more rounded performance with a wear of physicality to her disadvantage. Goldberg’s portrayal is at times creepy, matched by heavy-handed dialogue and ability to predict that almost makes her feel prophetic, and someone who could certainly go against Flagg on her own. I far prefer the subtleties and nuances to Dee’s turn as a way of preparing her for the inevitable doom her character faces, especially since it was Dee’s final performance in her storied career.
Winner: Dee (1994)
Character: Stu Redman
Gary Sinise Vs James Marsden
After the second episode, it felt like the new series had very little for Marsden’s characterization to materialize, and take charge of a Free Zone to which he was very much in charge of throughout the novel. Sinise’s bravado and stern deliveries gave an edge to the protagonists that was much needed to offset the occasional blandness of those who took the higher road, presenting a bravery that others turned to when times got tough. Marsden simply can’t measure up in this regard, and with several instances cutting his arc short, particularly his recovery after falling in the desert, he never got the chance to show what he could bring to the character.
Winner: Sinise (1994)
Character: Fran Goldsmith
Molly Ringwald Vs Odessa Young
There were a few characters who I hated in the new version of The Stand, and Young’s portrayal of the primary female protagonist is among them. Even beyond the insulting manner of treating Harold like a cancer she wishes to escape frequently, it’s the snobbery that Young envelopes which is devastating to her likability, and rids her of the girl next door encompassing whom King described in the first few chapters of his novel. Ringwald is innocent, she’s assertive to get things done, and in shallow terms she’s definitely the most beautiful of the women in the Free Zone, which makes it easier to understand why Stu fell so hard for her. Ringwald feels like perfect casting for Fran, and solidifies one of those rare qualities where her understudy would’ve been a step down regardless of who they cast.
Winner: Ringwald (1994)
Ralph or Ray Brentner
Peter Van Norden Vs Irene Bedard
At first, I thought the changing of Brentner’s character from male to female was inconsequential in the scheme of the story, but what Bedard’s portrayal showed me was some depth to the character that Norden simply never got. As Ray, Bedard is the lone female heading west to stand against Flagg, so she’s obviously tough from the get-go. In addition to that, I love that she’s essentially Abigail’s right hand besides Nick, and one who seems to overexceed despite the lack of attention in screen time that her character received in the first three episodes. Norden seems like just another body filler, as to where Bedard feels like a pivotal piece of the group heading west.
Winner: Bedard (2020)
Character: Larry Underwood
Adam Storke Vs Jovan Adepo
Larry was always my favorite character in the book, but Storke’s portrayal felt so bland and one-dimension. Where I love Adepo’s work is in the flawed backstory to his character, which often sees him on the wrong side of the moral coin when trouble comes calling. It presents a clearer character evolution throughout, and justified Underwood’s soul catalog for his music career that avoids the cringe of a white guy stealing that sound. Storke got better during the third act of the film, but Adepo was easily my favorite character to watch throughout the entire series, and stood as one of two characters I was legitimately sad to see go when it was their time.
Winner: Adepo (2020)
Character: Nick Andros
Rob Lowe Vs Henry Zaga
I’m truly torn on this one because I enjoy both portrayals of the warmhearted Nick. Where I feel like Lowe edges Zaga is in the script that does him more of a solid for his backstory. Zaga did receive an episode, but the rapid fire rushing of his place in the town he came from, as well as the eye patch design always detracted from the image his character was trying to portray, and never molded into the leader that the story made him out to be. Lowe’s deaf acting felt more believable, and his registry embodied more of the innocence about Nick that bred strong empathy for the audiences investment into the character, and allows him to slightly edge Zaga in one of the more difficult head to head match-ups.
Winner: Lowe (1994)
Character: Tom Cullen
Bill Fagerbakke Vs Brad William Henke
If Nick’s two actors were the war of unique perspectives, the battle between these two leaves slightly more to be desired. Playing a mentally challenged character is difficult enough, but the work of Fagerbakke and Henke do themselves no favors with a dedication to gimmick that reminds you of their unorthodox natures each step of the way. If I’m being honest, however, Fagerbakke’s won me over slightly more, if even just for the versatility in relationships between Nick and Stu that does outline an evolution in character and importance for the character. Henke’s has these aspects, but we’re told about them more than shown them throughout, and it severely limits his accessibility in a story that doesn’t care enough about him to sell him to the audience.
Winner: Fagerbakke (1994)
Character: Harold Lauder
Corin Nemec Vs Owen Teague
I never thought I’d say this because I am an avid fan of Nemec’s original incarnation of the pitiful Harold, but the work of Teague completely swept me over the course of his arc, bottling the pathetic and psychotic side of Laurder capably, all the while harvesting several moments of scene-stealing charisma that couldn’t be touched by anyone on his collective cast. Nemec’s performance constantly maintained the empathy of a nerd who struggles to ever get the girl, but there was nothing believably menacing about him, and when matched up against a scene like Teague colorfully emulating a picture of Tom Cruise’s toothy grin, Corin can’t even compare to the work this shining star is burning through.
Winner: Teague (2020)
Character: Nadine Cross
Laura San Giacomo Vs Amber Heard
Say whatever you want about Heard in real life, but is there a more perfect casting in either show than the elephant in the room of Heard, whose parallels to Cross I could make a list as long as this review for. What’s most effective about her turn is the way her Nadine is originally this honestly good person, and only evolves into the bride of the antichrist by being seduced in a way any naive person would. Laura’s is a bit too over the top for me, and from the word go, we understand that there’s something unnervingly unnatural about this character. It’s the lone instance in the remake where a character was brought along patiently, and in turn reaped the rewards of the rise and fall formula where the tragedy of characters are preserved.
Winner: Heard (2020)
Character: Glen Bateman
Ray Walston Vs Greg Kinnear
When I heard Kinnear was cast, I assumed it would be for the everyman Stu Redman, but when I found out it was for Bateman, I was surprised but thrilled nonetheless. My thrills turned into justification, as Greg carries with him a caustic wit and fearless demeanor to Bateman that is often the driving force for the Boulder Free Zone, and proves that Kinnear can act his way out of a paper bag script that limits his time considerably. Walston is a legend of cinematic acting, but his age at the time of the 94 filming felt inappropriate for the way the character is described in the novel, and immediately paints a handicap for the forces of good that give him very little to do along the way because of his physical limitations.
Winner: Kinnear (2020)
Character: Lloyd Henreid
Miguel Ferrer Vs Nat Wolff
This is where things get real ugly. Not for Ferrer, mind you, whose hearty registry and conflicted ideals speaks volumes to the kind of misguided souls that made up Las Vegas in the King novelization, and etches out a likeability to Lloyd that he earns with subtlty. That word won’t be used again in this summary, however, as Wolff portrayal feels not only insulting to the memory of Ferrer, but also so over the top ridiculously silly that he makes Lloyd indistinguishible from any of the other head cases in Flagg’s army. Somehow Wolff is neither the worst performance, nor the worst character in the 2020 version, but that’s the kindest thing I have to say about the way he chewed the scenery between scenes, feeling like he never understands the importance of the character.
Winner: Ferrer (1994)
Character: Julie Lawry
Shawnee Smith Vs Katherine McNamara
Shawnee has some horrendously bad line deliveries, like the famous “HE’S GOT A BOMB!!!!” yell during the movie’s climax, but otherwise she feels like the perfect kind of calibur that Flagg would seek in people to take advantage of. McNamara isn’t necessarily bad either, her character is just entirely one-note. She’s a sex-addict, that’s basically it. Smith at least weaved a lot of the strings behind the scenes once the focus of the film moved to Las Vegas, and illustrated a character who was unlike anyone throughout the rest of her gifted ensemble. You can’t exactly say the same about McNamara, especially since a lot of her best work is given to the female incarnation of the Rat Man. We will get to that in a second.
Winner: Smith (1994)
Character: Rat Man, Woman?
Rick Aviles Vs Fiona Dourif
The daughter of Chucky looks virtually unrecognizable under a flock of feathers and boa crown that could pass for a wardrobe concept from the movie “Cats”, but it’s a costume choice alone that makes her special, nothing more. Aviles appeared in a collection of scenes, but more importantly kept his grip on the chaos surrounding him that could’ve easily swallowed him whole. Dourif does look fit for the part, but the show does very little in exploring her origins or importance to how she rose to power in this land, and it’s that first half absence from the story that fueled my confusion for who she is, and why she suddenly is everywhere during the overstuffed second half. No one calls her by her name, and there’s nothing about her portrayal that feels familiar, so I question if I should even be comparing these two.
Winner: Aviles (1994)
Character: Trash Can Man
Matt Frewer Vs Ezra Miller
I saved this one for last because there is no character comparison that is as one-sided as this one is. To say I detest Miller’s portrayal of the story’s wild card is the understatement of the year, so instead I will say that his endless shrieking, over the top line reads, and physical imposition creating huge story plot holes, made for a suffering experience that made me cringe each time he pops up. Where Frewer succeeds in such a cryptic character is the innocence that comes with ones mind playing tricks on you. He’s very much a child imprisoned in a scarred body that tells the story of his greatest triumphs. Combined with a subtlety that never wears audibly on the ears of the audience, and you have a man you fully believe is insane, all the while carving out a believably wreching portrayal that even horrendously awful deteriorating make-up designs can’t flush out.
Winner: Frewer (1994)
I don’t admire the 1994 version by any stretch of the imagination, but when compared to a remake series that is five hours longer, yet somehow condemningly rushed, it brings out the better qualities of that original version that is at least watchable and capable of the audience following just what the hell is going on. The 2020 version navigates itself closer to the original source material, and does carry with it some quality advantages of production value along the way that the 94 version can’t compete with, but the unorthodox and unpleasing design of the storytelling constantly limits its appeal, and overly complicates the execution of a plot that quite literally writes itself. I’ve rewatched the 94 version, I will NEVER rewatch the 2020 version again.
The Stand (1994) – 6/10
The Stand (2020) – 4/10