Release Date(s)1983 (March 12, 2013)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
There has never been a shortage of Stephen King adaptations, either in cinemas or on television. The law of averages would seem to dictate that, with so many King things floating around, a fair amount of them aren’t going to be very good. But the stars seemed to align in 1983 with three different King movies hitting theaters, all of which turned out to be pretty decent: David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone, Lewis Teague’s Cujo and John Carpenter’s Christine.
You would think the teaming of King and Carpenter would be enough to get any horror fan excited. But Christine is rarely mentioned in discussions of either of these masters of horror. While it’s no undiscovered masterpiece, the movie’s lackluster reputation is somewhat unfounded. It’s about a mid-level Carpenter movie and certainly one of his better work-for-hire gigs. And while the movie makes some significant changes from the novel, it does a fairly good job capturing the essence of what makes a King story work.
Keith Gordon stars as Arnie Cunningham, an unpopular high school nerd who has apparently only survived this long thanks to his unlikely friendship with jock Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell). Arnie starts to come out of his shell after he buys Christine, a 1958 Plymouth Fury with a long history of unexplained deaths and accidents. As Arnie restores Christine to her former glory, so too does Christine transform Arnie into a figure who looks like he should be hanging out up at Griffith Observatory with James Dean and Dennis Hopper. Under Christine’s influence, Arnie begins to stand up to his overbearing parents and lands a beautiful girlfriend (Alexandra Paul). But things go bad in a hurry when a gang of tough guys take revenge on Arnie by destroying his car. After Christine heals herself, she and Arnie go out looking for payback.
Carpenter treats this material with a lot of restraint, favoring a slow build-up and including almost no graphic violence. It’s hard to imagine the movie being made the same way today. These days, Carpenter would almost certainly be told to either tone down the language to get a PG-13 or throw in some blood to justify the R rating. As it is, it’s one of the rare horror movies to favor strong performances over gore effects. The young leads are all quite good, especially Keith Gordon in one of his best roles before switching his focus to directing. The movie also benefits from appearances by three of the great character actors of all time. Robert Prosky, Roberts Blossom and Harry Dean Stanton are always welcome presences and all three are great fun to watch here.
But Carpenter’s greatest achievement with Christine is with the car itself. The movie does a terrific job of making Christine into a full-fledged character with her own voice and personality. From her first appearance on the assembly line to the tune of George Thorogood & The Destroyers’ “Bad To The Bone” to her transformation into a flame-engulfed car from hell, Carpenter uses every bit of his cinematic genius to imbue this car with a spirit of its own.
Twilight Time brings Christine to Blu-ray in a limited edition run of 3,000 units that sold out within hours of being made available for sale, thus making this the most irrelevant review I’ve ever posted. The bottom line is you either got this disc or you didn’t. If you got it, you already know if it’s any good or not, so who cares what I think. And if you didn’t, you’re going to have to decide for yourself if you want to spend an outrageously inflated amount to get this off of eBay or Amazon. I understand their reasons for going the limited edition route and, in Twilight Time’s defense, they have no way of predicting when or if a title is going to sell out THAT quickly. Still, it feels a little bit pointless reviewing a disc most of you probably aren’t going to be able to get your hands on.
Especially since this is actually quite a nice presentation that should be more widely available. The 1080p image is very strong, with outstanding detail and beautiful color. Don’t be put off by the picture’s softness during the opening assembly line sequence. It was intentionally shot that way to give it more of a flashback feel. Once we arrive in the present day, the video is consistently crisp throughout. The audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA and it’s a full-bodied piece of work, especially with the music and sound effects. The dialogue track doesn’t wander much past the center channel but it’s certainly clear and easily understandable.
The Blu-ray’s extras are primarily ported over from Sony’s 2004 Special Edition DVD. They include a top-notch commentary by John Carpenter and Keith Gordon, a well-done three-part documentary (Ignition, Fast And Furious and Finish Line) featuring interviews with Carpenter, Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, screenwriter Bill Phillips, producer Richard Kobritz and stunt coordinator Terry Leonard, and a generous collection of deleted and alternate scenes. The disc also includes a booklet and an isolated score track. Note that this is just the original score, not the songs that make up the bulk of the soundtrack. In fact, John Carpenter’s music isn’t heard at all until about 15 minutes into the picture, so be prepared for a lot of quiet time when you select this track.
Christine may not rank among John Carpenter’s best work but it is an enjoyable enough way to spend a couple of hours. Its presentation on Blu-ray really showcases its many strengths but it’s also indicative of the state of the home video industry today. Given that this is essentially just an HD version of a previously produced DVD, there’s no reason why Sony couldn’t have simply released this themselves. Five years ago, they probably would have. Today, it gets licensed to a boutique label and snatched up by a lucky few. This just goes to show how disinterested the major studios have become in their deep catalog titles. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s keep your eye on Twilight Time and if they announce a title you’re interested in, don’t hesitate about ordering it. Perhaps with enough support and success, maybe one day they’ll be able to produce more than just 3,000 units per title.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke