Release Date(s)1986 (August 27, 2019)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures/Act III Productions (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Based on the 1982 novella The Body by author Stephen King, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is the story of young Gordie Lachance (Will Wheaton) and his three friends, Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman), and Vern (Jerry O’Connell). Growing up together in a backwater Oregon town, each of the boys faces their own kind of hardship. Chris’ father is an alcoholic, Teddy’s is mentally ill, Vern is regularly harassed by his older brother Billy, and Gordie’s older brother was recently killed in an accident (and was clearly his parents’ favorite). But when Vern overhears Billy talking about a body he saw, belonging to a missing teen who was apparently struck by a train, the possibility of adventure and escape proves irresistible to the boys. Vern tells Gordie, Chris, and Teddy of its location, and soon the four set out on a 20-mile hike along the train tracks to find the body, report it to the police, and claim the credit as heroes.
Of course, Stand by Me isn’t really about the body at all; it’s a poignant and gritty coming of age story, as each of the four boys struggles to deal with their emotions, learns to overcome their difficulties, and begins to stand on their own two feet. It’s the story of that moment in every young person’s life when everything changes, when you’re forced to grow up, ready or not, and face the fact that life is seldom easy, but with persistence… and the support of your friends… you can rise up to meet its challenges. It’s also surprisingly effective in capturing the rhythms and textures of the pre-teen summer experience, filled with daydreaming, banter that’s equal parts bluster and childish, wanderlust explorations, and discoveries of all types in a world that’s largely indifferent to such pursuits. The young actors here weren’t exactly newcomers, but it’s safe to say that this is the film that made them famous. John Cusack, Kiefer Sutherland, and Richard Dreyfuss also make fine guest appearances as Gordie’s late brother, a local hooligan who harasses the boys, and an adult Gordie, respectively.
Stand by Me was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision camera and lenses. It was finished on film and released in the “flat” 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For this Ultra HD release, Sony scanned the original camera negative in native 4K and graded it for high dynamic range in HDR10 format. The image offers a remarkable amount of fine detail and texturing. Titles and transitions are a little less crisp and there’s the occasional bit of footage that was soft as shot in camera. But on the whole, this is a remarkable upgrade over the previous Blu-ray in terms of detail. Colors benefit from the wider color gamut and high dynamic range too. Most shots are rich and natural, with the palette evoking the look of a hot summer day. A few shots have a slightly bleached look, but on the whole the grade is very pleasing. Shadows and contrasts have been deepened, but not so much that the dusty look in the air is lost. Highlights are more naturally bright. There is a moderate but even wash of photochemical grain throughout the presentation, as there should be. Remember, the goal here is not to make this film look like it was shot digitally in 2019, but rather to offer the best possible representation of the film as it was originally made. Sony has certainly done that.
The 4K disc includes a new Dolby Atmos mix that preserves the sonic character of the original audio, but creates a smoother and more natural sound environment. The soundstage is big and wide up front, with music and atmospherics filling in lightly from all around. The height channels are used mostly to enclose the listening space, though the odd gunshot and the rumble of the train during the bridge crossing scene have a bit of added lift. Dialogue is clean and the period 1950s and 60s “oldies” songs are presented with good fidelity. Fans will be glad to know that the previous English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as is the original mono audio in DTS-HD MA. Dolby Digital 5.1 is also included in Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish (Voice Over), Portuguese, Castilian Spanish, and Latin Spanish, as are subtitle options in English, English SDH, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Portuguese, Slovak, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
The 4K disc itself includes one special feature (in HD) and it’s new:
- Deleted & Alternate Scenes (8 scenes – 6:17 in all)
These are mostly little trims and oddities, but there are a couple of gems. We see the boys at home gathering supplies for their trip, which includes moments where you see just how indifferent Gordie’s grieving parents are to him. You also get brief glimpses of the other boy’s home lives. You see a different actor in the role of the adult Gordie from the end of the film too. It’s a nice addition for the 4K release.
The package includes a Blu-ray version of the film as usual and it’s the same 25th Anniversary Edition released back in 2011. It includes:
- 25 Years Later: A Picture-in-Picture Commentary Retrospective (HD – 92:42)
- Audio Commentary with director Rob Reiner
- Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand by Me (SD – 36:46)
- Stand by Me Music Video (SD – 3:21)
The SD content is carried over from the original 2000 DVD release. Walking the Tracks features nice interview material with Stephen King, Reiner, and the surviving cast members (including Dreyfuss, Sutherland, Wheaton, Feldman, and O’Connell). Sadly, River Phoenix passed away in 1993 and the piece includes a nice tribute to his memory. Reiner’s audio commentary is enlightening and even funny, as he shares stories about the making of the film, working with the different actors, shooting on location, and especially the train-dodging scenes. It remains a very entertaining listen. The Picture-in-Picture Commentary reunites Reiner, Feldman, and Wheaton, who catch up on each other’s lives before the movie starts and then talk throughout as we watch them in a window in the lower right corner of the screen (though strangely, I couldn’t figure out how to select their audio – the Oppo defaulted to the film audio and you can’t hear their commentary – this happened on my 2011 copy of the disc too, so it’s likely an uncorrected BD-Java player issue instead of a disc defect). Also strangely, there’s no Digital copy code on this title.
Reiner has often called Stand by Me his personal favorite of the films he’s made, and it’s easy to see why. The film is a personal and intimate slice of teen life out of time and a classic of modern American cinema. It seems only to get better with age. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt