As far as Stephen King adaptations go, "Misery" is easily one of the best. Director Rob Reiner once again adapts a classic Stephen King novel, one of King's personal favorites, and does so with strikingly terrifying results.
Misery (1990, Blu-ray)
Directors: Rob Reiner
Writers: William Goldman (screenplay), Stephen King (novel)
Features: * DVD Copy -- on DVD copy -- * Two Commentaries * Featurettes
James Caan ... Paul Sheldon
Kathy Bates ... Annie Wilkes
Richard Farnsworth ... Buster
Frances Sternhagen ... Virginia
Lauren Bacall ... Marcia Sindell
I remember reading that Stephen King had been struck by a car a few years back and lay in a ditch waiting momentarily for someone to find him. I couldn't help but wonder what was going through his head when that happened. Was he scared that he was some sort of profit and "Misery" was his prophecy? Was he hoping his "Number One Fan" would pass him by and police would find him instead? I can't imagine how terrified he must have been.
As far as Stephen King adaptations go, "Misery" is easily one of the best. Director Rob Reiner, who adapted King's "Stand By Me", once again adapts a classic Stephen King novel, one of King's personal favorites, and does so with strikingly terrifying results.
James Caan is novelist Paul Sheldon. Sheldon has just finished writing his most personal novel, a story about his youth, and is heading back to New York in order to deliver the novel to his publisher. A blinding storm is in his path however and he ends up overturned in his car, his legs painfully crushed. Thankfully, he is rescued by a seemingly kind woman, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates in an Oscar winning performance).
It turns out, however, that Annie is Paul's worst nightmare--a delusional obsessed fan with psychotic tendencies. She keeps Paul prisoner, torturing him and forcing him to write another one of his trashy "Misery" novels, of which he ended the last by killing the main character.
Reiner perfectly paints a subdued, but wholly haunting cat-and-mouse game between prisoner and captor. It's easily one of the best films of it's kind thanksin large part to the powerful performances of it's lead cast, particularly Bates, who's creates a character more haunting and scary than even Nurse Ratched from the classic film, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Her terrifying portrayal of Annie Wilkes makes for one of cinema's scariest movie monsters.
The stylish look of the film is created in whole by then cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who's gone on to direct numerous films of his own. Sonnenfeld creates a genuine sense of unease inside of Wilkes houses while contrasting that with the beautiful freedom of the outdoors when the film shifts to the local Sheriff. It's a perfect contrast.
Also adding to the creepiness of the proceedings is Marc Shaiman's terrifically eerie score. His shrills aide Bates whenever they can, enhancing her already perfect performance.
If only all of Stephen King's adaptations could be handled by the likes of Rob Reiner, Frank Darabont and Mick Garris, we would have an absolutely perfect collection of classic Stephen King films to compliment his wonderfully scary novels. Alas, we don't, but at least we have the ones we do.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: A+
Film Value: A
"Misery" is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen using the AVC codec on a dual-layered BD50 disc consuming 33.8 gigs of disc space. The stock used has a dated, grainy look that doesn't lend itself to the sharpest high-def trnasfer around. Still, this is easily the best transfer I've seen yet, trumping any previously released DVD -- even the special edition (that comes with this release).
Images are as sharp as possible with only one scene towards the end that appears to be out of focus, which I believe is a mistake in production, not the DVD. I detected a faint haze of natural film grain present throughout the presentation. "Misery" is a very dull looking movie in terms of color design, but this is still a fine presentation of a rather mediocre color palette.
Audio choices are English DTS-HD 5.1 MA, Spanish DD 5.1 and French DTS 5.1. Spanish and French subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired are also provided. There were honestly no detectable differences between this high-res mix and original Dolby Digital release found on the previous DVD.
I wasn't expecting much in terms of sound design with a film that mostly takes place in one room, but I was quite surprised by the mix that's offered on this disc. This was a much more enveloping mix than I had expected. Surround effects are very well placed with fun, ambient effects popping in from time to time to add to the overall tension of the film. Bass is also moderately active, though a little subdued.
Extras and Packaging:
This two-disc BD/DVD comes packed in a blue elite case featuring the film's re-release artwork.
The current economic crisis has finally come to Blu-ray. In recent weeks, I've noted a few shifts in the industry. For one, Paramount has decided to stop promoting their discs by halting most critic reviews (because, you know, less regarded films like "Varsity Blues" will apparently sell themselves in high-def).
Other studios have started releasing budget catalog titles with barely remastered transfers and weak TrueHD audio.
Some studios have simply cut their BD and DVD production down to the bare minimum which is not the best idea when the market is already a little slow. It doesn't exactly shout to the consumer -- come and buy our stuff -- there's no stuff to buy.
And now, Fox has started a new trend. In some cases, they've ceased porting over DVD extras...again (grrr). Or they include a DVD copy of the film with the extras intact -- on that disc. Frankly, this doesn't encourage the benefits of the format much since all of the special features are STILL on the DVD. I hope this trend lasts just a few discs because this is simply not going to inspire much confidence in the format to new buyers and it looks sloppy on the studio's side.
Extras are included here on the DVD copy of the disc. I don't see why, at least, Fox didn't port over the audio commentaries. Combined they likely take up less than 2 gigs of space. I'm sure SD versions of the featurettes would have consumed about the same as well.
First up, there are two rather good commentaries. The first is from director Rob Reiner. I enjoyed his commentary overall but found the second track to be the more interesting of the two. The second track features screenwriter William Goldman. Goldman discusses the difficulty of translating one of King's most personal stories to the big screen. It was a fascinating listen.
Next up, we're treated to a slew of short, but informative featurettes involving the movie's prodcution and success. They include: 'Misery Loves Company', 'Marc Shaiman's Musical Misery Tour' and 'Diagnosing Annie Wilkes.'
Finally, for whatever reason, the bulk of the featurettes focus heavily on stalking, examining it in a "Dateline" sort of way. This was an odd choice for the DVD, even with it's subject manner. Very little of these special features has anything to do with the movie itself and Kathy Bates' Annie Wilkes is only discussing in passing. These featurettes include: 'Advice for the Stalked', 'Profile of a Stalker', 'Celebrity Stalkers' and 'Anti Stalking Law.'
"Misery" is a terrifically fun, scary little movie to watch during the Halloween or winter seasons. This is a worthy Blu-ray to compliment a worthy Stephen King adaption too, but I wish Fox has ported over the extras from the DVD release instead of just including that release. Owners of the previous disc may want to chuck it in favor of this one and newcomers will should also give it a spin.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Recommendation: Fans should pick this disc up. Newcomers should definitely check it out.
On BD: September 15, 2009.
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----R. L. Shaffer