Leave Judge Daryl Loomis alone; he doesn't need help, he just sleeps soundly.
Don't let them put you under.
Based on the best-selling 1977 novel by Robin Cook, Coma was originally adapted into a feature film by Michael Crichton, who also directed the film. Over three decades have passed, and the exact subject of the early version doesn't have the same resonance today. With a fresh adaptation from John McLaughlin (Black Swan), a solid cast, and a capable director in Mikael Salomon (Hard Rain), Coma returns with a quality two-part, three hour television production that aired on A&E earlier this summer.
Susan Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose, Can't Hardly Wait), a young medical student, discovers a rash of previously healthy patients going into comas during very minor procedures in Atlanta's largest hospital. As she begins investigating, she discovers extreme resistance from the hospital officials, especially Dr. Agnetta Lindquist (Geena Davis, Quick Change), the head of neurology. With the help of a handsome young doctor (Steven Pasquale, Rescue Me), she uncovers the horrific fate of these patients, but will she survive long enough to expose it?
Robin Cook, in discussing his aim with the medical thrillers he writes, talks about how, as a doctor before becoming a writer, he wants to expose genre fans to interesting medical issues that they might not be familiar with. In the original work and the first adaptation, it was all about black market organ sales, which is a fun topic to think about but not all that relevant today. In the update, the conspiracy is broader, with the kidney trade still in play, but there are more current issues at play, as well. Stem cell harvests and live brain research for dementia are the bigger issues, but that is the only primary change to the novel.
With everything else essentially the same, the story works like the entertaining potboiler it's meant to be. With nearly three hours to work with, Salomon draws the mystery out slowly, allowing the characters to build and the tension to work. It's clear that something is going on from very early in the film, but the true nature of the mystery doesn't become clear until very late in the game. It makes for an intriguing story that is slow and steady, but never boring.
While all of that is going on, the cast is busy doing equally solid work. The lead performances of Lauren Ambrose and Stephen Pasquale aren't terribly electrifying, but they're an appealing pair with a fair amount of chemistry. The rest of the performers, mostly in smaller roles, are a strong group. Geena Davis leads the way with some excellent supporting work as a nasty administrator, a skill she honed on Commander in Chief and is very effective here. Other notables include Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream) in a nicely dark role, James Woods (Videodrome) as chief of surgery, and Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) as the Susan's favorite teacher among others. The story may stretch the conspiracy a little farther than it needs to, but it's pretty hard to beat that group.
Coma arrives on DVD from Sony in a technically solid, but bare bones edition. Both episodes are on a single disc, but there are no problems with the transfer at all. The film, on the whole, has a washed-out look, but that's intended and, as such, the colors are completely accurate with strong flesh tones and deep black levels. The surround mix isn't nearly as dynamic as it could be, but it's clear with good sounding dialog and music; there's just very little going on in the rear channels. There are no extras on the disc.
Coma might not be the most impressive bit of science fiction out there, but it's a good looking film with strong performances, making it a far cry better than most anything you'll find on Syfy Channel.
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