Disney // 1983 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // June 27th, 2005
For every heart there exists a wish. For every soul there burns a desire. And for every wish there will be a price. For every desire there will be a cost.
After churning out lightweight family comedies throughout most of the '70s, the Disney studio tried its hand at slightly more substantial entertainment with 1983's Something Wicked This Way Comes. With a screenplay by Ray Bradbury (adapted from his novel), the story represented a radical departure for the studio. Cute VW bugs, million dollar ducks, and cats from outer space were replaced by this strange melding of good-versus-evil symbolism and Americana. This story was about lonely, troubled people, not Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan, and it fizzled in theaters. How is it that one of the most remarkable films from the Disney canon became one of the least remembered? Disney's recent DVD treatment lets us re-examine the evidence.
A carnival blows into a middle-American town and promises to grant the townspeople their fondest wishes, but young Will Halloway (Vidal Peterson), his best friend Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson) and Will's father (Jason Robards) know that such promises aren't kept without a cost, and they sense something sinister behind Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), the carnival's mysterious proprietor.
When was the last time you visited a traveling carnival? Not the ones that set up camp in Super Wal-Mart parking lots these days, but the vintage carnivals that had the barkers and sideshow attractions. The carnivals that tapped into some of your ugliest, most primal and unspoken desires, and sold you your dreams at bargain-basement prices -- never minding that those dreams would wither and die in the sun. Disney's Something Wicked This Way Comes gives us free admission to one such carnival, only here our dreams come at a much higher premium.
Meet the spinster schoolteacher, who misses the beauty of her youth. And the shopkeeper, who wants to return to the days when he was a football hero and had both of his legs. Or the kindly barber, who wants to be the object of every woman's desire. What are they willing to sacrifice in exchange for their wishes? And then there's the aging Charles Halloway, who would give anything to trim the years between him and his adolescent son. Or would he? Would you? That's the question at the heart of Bradbury's story, and it's a whopper.
With this film, Disney ventured into dark, very adult territory. Stephen King explored similar territory in his novel Needful Things, and while his approach to this type of material was unquestionably more vicious, it lacked the elegance and subtlety of Bradbury's tale. Adults will find many of Bradbury's themes about loss, regret, and second chances engaging, and children will be treated to a macabre toy box of frights. Some of those are gentle (the time-altering merry-go-round, a green mist that moves slowly but oh so deliberately), while others are less so (Mr. Dark's gruesome demise, the moment the Dust Witch reveals her true face, and that army of tarantulas). Mostly, though, kids will want to root for the two appealing young leads.
As best friends and the unlikely heroes of the story, Peterson and Carson turn in warm, likeable performances, and they are supported by an adult cast of seasoned professionals. Robards lends his regretful father just the right amount of weary despair, while Pryce's very presence suggest things far more diabolical than what the film shows us. The showdown between the two in the town library is chilling and heartbreaking, the film's emotional centerpiece. Rounding out the impressive cast are Diane Ladd, Royal Dano and, in an offbeat bit of casting, Pam Grier.
The entire production is handsomely mounted, benefiting immeasurably from Stephen Burum's gorgeous cinematography, evocative production design and costumes, Lee Dyer's mostly low-key special effects, and James Horner's sweeping score (which calls to mind John Williams' scores for The Witches of Eastwick and Harry Potter films).
Something Wicked This Way Comes is given both a full frame and a 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. Except for the opening credits sequence, which is marred by nicks and scratches, the film looks spectacular. The autumn oranges, yellows, and reds are beautifully preserved, and the blacks are rich and deep. One note about the widescreen presentation: Anchor Bay previously released this film on DVD in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but with a non-anamorphic transfer. This edition provides an anamorphic transfer, but inexplicably crops the film to 1.85:1. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio is excellent, making for a dynamic listening experience. English and French subtitles are provided. The sole extra is the original theatrical trailer, which is in fair shape. A nice inclusion, the trailer doesn't shy away from the film's dark undertones. This movie must have been a tough sell to family audiences in 1983.
This court wishes to find Mr. Dark guilty of deceiving people through naughty
bait-and-switch tactics and stealing their souls, but he gives us the heebie
jeebies, so he and the film are asked to leave the courtroom. All charges are
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Theatrical trailer