Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 12, 2012)
Back in 1978, a film version of the novel Coma hit movie screens – and gave me the creeps. This wasn’t because I saw it and got the spooks; instead, I felt unnerved simply due to the trailers, which were eerie enough to unsettle my 11-year-old self.
That said, donuts with asymmetrical icing would’ve made me sleepless for weeks back then, so none of this meant the movie was genuinely creepy. I never saw the 1978 version, but my childhood memories of its ads prompted me to give the 2012 mini-series Coma a look.
Medical student Susan Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose) starts an internship at Memorial Hospital. While doing the rounds, she sees that an acquaintance named Nancy Greenly (Claire Bronson) fell into a coma after simple surgery. Since Nancy was completely healthy pre-surgery, her family blames the hospital – and Susan grows suspicious.
When she digs into the subject, Susan learns that scads of comas have occurred at Memorial – far more than one would expect. She learns that most of these patients end up at the Jefferson Institute, a place that fellow med student Geoffrey Fairweather (Joseph Mazello) describes as more like a “funeral home” than a hospital. Along with some conspiracy-minded Internet videos, this makes Susan even more curious, so she attempts to investigate – and finds some horrible truths.
Somewhere buried in this bloated mess, you find the seeds of an interesting medical thriller. Unfortunately, they never take root, as the film ends up as a slow, plodding entry in obviousness.
You’ll find no form of subtlety here, partially via the movie’s score. Other elements harm the project as well – the “by numbers” quick-cutting and shaky-cam, for instance – but the music fares the worst. Overbearing and omnipresent, the score telegraphs every possible emotion/event and becomes an active distraction.
When you look at the people involved in Coma, it’s forgettable nature seems even more remarkable. Ridley and Tony Scott acted as executive producers, and the cast includes “names” such as James Woods, Richard Dreyfus, Geena Davis, Ellen Burstyn, James Rebhorn, and James Morton. How could so much talent create such a dull, anonymous flick?
Maybe Robin Cook’s original novel caused some of the problems, but I think the filmmakers get the majority of the blame. As I said, I think the story has potential, but it receives such generic “TV movie” development here that it flops. Attempts to inject social commentary/debate into the proceedings don’t help, as they simply feel tacked on and gratuitous.
Perversely, all of this makes me more curious to see the 1978 Coma. It has to improve on this stinker, doesn’t it?