In 1994, ABC unleashed an epic four-part mini-series on the viewing public. At the height of Stephen King mania, The Stand premiered on May 8 with a budget that rivaled theatrical adaptations of King’s work. The Stand was intended to carry on the critical acclaim of the It mini-series that premiered a few years earlier, and in many ways, The Stand delivers on the promise of It. 1994’s The Stand tells a bigger, more sprawling story than its predecessor, and it has more accomplished actors rounding out the cast. Gary Sinise, who plays Stu, won an Academy Award for his portrayal as Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump the same year The Stand was released.
Most of the actors brought their A-game to roles that are archly written, and as cheesy as the mini-series is, it’s fun to watch Jamie Sheridan chew the scenery as Randall Flagg while Laura San Giacomo adds an air of witchiness to the doomed role of Nadine. That being said, there are a lot of performances, especially Stephen King’s, that just don't hold up to expectations. The Stand isn’t the worst way to spend six hours on a weekend, and for a four-part mini-series, the pacing really motors. It's clearly an artifact of cable television from 1994, however, and the modern update that’s been percolating for some time should be a welcome addition to the King canon.
The Stand is a story of good versus evil, with Randall Flagg leading the followers of the dark path in Las Vegas and Mother Abigail leading a group of holy people in Boulder, Colorado. In the final episode of the mini-series, a group of four men from Boulder walk to Las Vegas so they can take part in a final fight with Flagg.
Things go upside down when one member of the group gets hurt and the last three are caught by Flagg's men. Before two of the men are disemboweled by Flagg, Trashcan Man rides into the city center with an atomic device, understandably scaring the crowd. Having pushed things far enough, a literal deus ex machina occurs when the golden hand of God grips the atomic device while speaking with Mother Abigail's voice.
King's text refers to "the hand of God" as a final ending for Flagg, a character who thinks he's one step ahead of everyone, but who falls apart when he realizes he doesn't have a backup plan. In the book he dispatches with a henchman using his powers, but the energy blast triggers the atomic device that Trashcan Man delivers. The mini-series interprets this scene literally as an actual golden hand squeezes the device until it blows.
If nothing else bothered viewers about The Stand, the ghost of Mother Abigail at least soured the experience. In the final moments of the mini-series, the survivors of the fight between Boulder and Las Vegas stand in the Boulder Free Zone nursery and marvel at Frannie's baby, the first survivor of "year one," and as they question whether or not people can truly change, the ghost of Mother Abigail appears superimposed over the nursery.
After her appearance, Abigail says hi to the baby and the scene fades into a retrospective of the characters who bit the dust throughout the mini-series. It's not just that the effect is poor, but her appearance doesn't add much to the context.
In Stephen King's novel, Harold Lauder is described as an overweight 16-year-old nerd who doesn't fit in anywhere. He writes weird little stories in a notebook and he's overall characterized as a creep. With the casting of Corin Nemec (Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Smallville) Lauder goes from being a geeky teen with bad hygiene to a cool nerd.
It's not clear how old Lauder is in the film, and rather than spend the time before the plague being tormented for the way he acts and smells, he's just a jerk. This isn't entirely Nemec's fault. He's not bad in the movie, but he plays the character like a jilted lover with a chip on his shoulder instead of a deeply disturbed kid. Nemec's version is more like a nerd who wants to be a greaser, something that changes the entire trajectory of his story, making his narrative far less satisfying than it is in the book.
The Trashcan Man is a religious zealot. He's a mentally unstable pyromaniac who gives his life to Randall Flagg in exchange for a chance to set all the fires he wants. He's supposed to be a deeply upsetting character that keeps the audience guessing - even though he works for Flagg, he ends up carrying out acts in the name of God either on purpose or accident.
The firebug is played by Matt Frewer, a genuinely gifted actor who's been in everything from Max Headroom to Watchmen playing all sorts of characters, although deranged is often where he works best. In this instance, however, Frewer's onscreen temperament just comes off as goofy.
Even by the standards of 1994, Trashcan Man's sing-songy dialogue and unhinged acting never make him as unsettling as he is in King's novel. By the time he's driving into Las Vegas with an atomic device, he's more comedic relief than anything else, which is disappointing because he's responsible for ending the lives of hundreds of people.