I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.
Jesus, does anyone?
Based on the novella by Stephen King called "The Body" is Rob Reiner's 1986 film, Stand By Me. This is Columbia's second release of this movie on DVD and it is listed as a Special Edition. Despite some minor problems with the video, this is a solid disc that has a decent commentary track and a great retrospective featurette. This release easily surpasses the movie's original DVD presentation.
Facts of the Case
Spanning two days in the tail end of summer in 1959, Stand By Me is the story of four friends: Gordie (Wil Wheaton), who is a quiet, thoughtful child; his best friend, Chris (River Phoenix), the kid with a bad reputation around town; the slightly crazy Teddy (Corey Feldman); and the overweight and nervous Vern (Jerry O'Connell).
Vern has overheard his brother talking about finding the body of a missing youth named Ray Brauer by the train tracks several miles outside of their home town of Castle Rock. Vern's brother needs to keep the discovery a secret because he and a friend discovered the body while joyriding in a stolen car. Seeing the opportunity for a final summer adventure as well as the chance to be heroes, the boys lie to their respective parents and take to the road to find the body.
Because things never go as easily as they are planned, the trip becomes an adventure. They will learn what is important and they will discus the issues that burned like a fire in the lives of twelve-year-old boys at the time. Questions such as, are Annette's boobs getting bigger, who would win a fight between Superman and Mighty Mouse, and of course, what the hell is Goofy anyway? It is a time when the boys will learn many things about themselves. They will come to understand pain and betrayal, discovery and loss and the true meaning of friends who do indeed stand by each other.
Before The Shawshank Redemption and before The Green Mile, there was Stand By Me, the movie that made Stephen King "respectable." Certainly Hollywood had made millions of dollars from films based on his pure horror work, but before Stand By Me, none of his non-genre work was taken very seriously. This film adaptation of King's novella, "The Body," Rob Reiner's third movie, changed all that. Putting together a perfect cast and drawing from his own youth, Reiner, along with writers Raynold Gideon and Bruce H. Evans, was able to direct his most personal film to date.
As I mentioned, Reiner went out and got himself a perfect cast and they carried the movie with seeming ease. As the central character, Gordie, Wil Wheaton (The Liar's Club, Trekkies), is all innocence and pain. While reeling from the death of his football star brother, Gordie must deal with a household that is still in shock. Ignored by his parents, he looks to his friends as his surrogate family. Wheaton, and by extension Richard Dreyfuss (Tin Men, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead) as the grown-up Gordie, act as Reiner's eyes for the film. Everything revolves around them and they are the one(s) who carry the audience through the movie.
As Gordie's quasi-father figure and best friend is the late River Phoenix (Running On Empty, Dogfight) as Chris Chambers. Stuck with a bad reputation around their small town, Chris wants nothing more than to live in a place where no one knows who he is. The scene with Wheaton watching guard over the campfire where Phoenix spills his soul to his friend is the most heartbreaking section in the film and acts as a painful reminder of just how much talent Phoenix possessed, even at such a young age.
It's funny to look at Corey Feldman (Goonies, The Lost Boys) as the angry Teddy Duchamp and remember that there was a time when he was in good movies. To be certain, he is very good here. Reiner was looking for young actors who had many of the same qualities his characters had and with Feldman, Reiner struck gold. In the most taxing role in the cast, Feldman hits every note.
Closing out the intrepid quartet is Jerry O'Connell (Jerry Maguire, Scream 2) as Vern Tessio. This was O'Connell's first movie and he really does show off a natural style that cannot be taught. His character is the butt of all the movie's best insults, but he still manages to come off as well rounded and real.
It's rare to find one young actor this good, but to find a movie that features an ensemble of four pre-teen actors of such skill, well it's pretty amazing. There is one other young actor worth mentioning: Kiefer Sutherland (A Few Good Men, Dark City) as the boys' nemesis, Ace Merrill. Merrill's character is the one who pushes the boys and thus the story along. Along the way Sutherland offers up work that is both chilling and deadly. It's a very good early performance and it shows the kind of actor he would grow into.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Columbia turns in a solid, if less than reference quality transfer. The image itself is fairly clean, being free of imperfections such as nicks and dirt, but there is the slight hint of film grain present in certain spots throughout the movie. Reiner along with cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth went for a slightly dreamy, stylized look for the movie and for the most part the image remains true to that. There is, however, a certain lack of detail present and flesh tones look a little off. Black level also betrays a certain lack of detail with there being the occasional sign of shimmer. On the plus side, there is almost no sign of digital enhancement, with the picture maintaining the warm tone of the film itself. It is an above average transfer and nothing to be embarrassed about; it is just not up to Columbia's usual standards.
The sound, in all of the different languages, is of the Dolby 2.0 mono variety and while unspectacular, it gets the job done. Fidelity is limited and there is a lack of fullness but everything is clearly heard with dialogue being well integrated—and that is the most important thing. The only real complaint I have is with all the great '50s music, I longed for a 5.1 mix. As it stands the sound is effective, just nothing really special.
On the extras front, there is a scene specific commentary track from Rob Reiner and when he actually speaks he is both amusing and informative. I especially liked his opening remark about the Columbia logo being the old one and how nowadays the woman with the torch looks a lot like Annette Bening. The downside is that there are numerous and extended gaps in his conversation. The more commentaries I listen to, the more convinced I am that multi-person conversations or Criterion style tracks are the way to go. Since Reiner and Richard Dreyfuss grew up together and there is such a bond between the two, a track with them sitting down together would have been much more fun.
The real highlight of this special edition is the extended featurette called "Walking The Tracks: The Summer Of Stand By Me." At about 40 minutes in the length, this is much more than your average promotional piece of video fluff. All of the principals are accounted for and a great sense of what went into the film's production is conveyed. As a discussion of the movie, this is much more interesting than the commentary track. In the featurette, there is also a very solemn air when discussing the late River Phoenix. This group of artists was obviously very affected by both his life and his tragic death. It is worth noting that the end of the movie, with the fade of Phoenix in the background, can never be looked at the same again.
Also included is an isolated music score and while it is a feature always worth having the track is mono, so it is a little lacking. Trailers are included, the video for the song "Stand By Me" is here as is Columbia's usual talent files and production notes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With the minor reservations noted above, there is very little that should hold anybody back from picking up this disc. If you like the movie Stand By Me, you are going to be happy with the second edition of the DVD.
It had been a number of years since I last viewed Stand By Me and I had forgotten its many charms. The movie is effective, never becoming overtly sentimental and gets to the point, with it packing quite an emotional punch. Performances are strong across the board and along with The Princess Bride, this is Rob Reiner's strongest work behind the camera. It is, as the TNT Network would call it, a new classic. With Columbia's solid work on the technical end and the truly outstanding featurette included on the disc, this makes for a great purchase.
All connected with Stand By Me are released. This court has minor reservations connected to the film's image but as noted, they are minor and should not hold back anyone's enjoyment of this wonderful movie. Director Rob Reiner is asked to speak at more length on his next commentary track or at least find someone else to keep him talking but again in context of all this movie and disc provides, it is of little true concern.
That is all I have. This court now stands in recess.
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Scales of Justice
• Retrospective Featurette "Walking The Tracks: The Summer Of Stand By Me"
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