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MGM

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Rob Reiner
Cast:
James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall, Graham Jarvis, Jerry Potter
Writing Credits:
Stephen King (novel), William Goldman

Tagline:
Paul Sheldon used to write for a living. Now, he's writing to stay alive.

Synopsis:
When romance writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) crashes his car on his way to deliver a manuscript, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), his biggest fan, rescues him and nurses him back to health. But when Annie discovers that Paul kills off her favorite character, Misery Chastain, in his last book, she demands that he write a new novel and bring Misery back to life, or else.

Box Office:
Budget
$20 million.
Opening Weekend
$10.076 million on 1244 screens.
Domestic Gross
$61.276 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 8/1/2007

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Rob Reiner
• Audio Commentary with Screenwriter William Goldman
• “Misery Loves Company” Documentary
• “Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour” Featurette
• “Diagnosing Annie Wilkes” Featurette
• “Advice for the Stalked” Featurette
• “Profile of a Stalker” Featurette
• “Celebrity Stalkers” Featurette
• “Anti-Stalking Law” Featurette
• Trailers


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Misery: Collector's Edition (1990)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 3, 2008)

One of the most successful big screen adaptations of a Stephen King work, 1990’s Misery introduces us to famous novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan). When he finishes his newest opus and leaves his remote mountain cabin to deliver it, Sheldon hits inclement weather and crashes his car.

Sheldon passes out but local resident Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) comes to his rescue. His self-proclaimed “number-one fan”, Annie nurses the severely injured Sheldon back to health. All goes well until she reads his latest in his series of novels about Misery Chastain. Annie adores these tomes but goes over the edge when she discovers that Sheldon kills the character in the new book.

Annie already showed some signs of mental instability, but she completely loses it at this point. While local sheriff Buster (Richard Farnsworth) searches for the missing Sheldon, Annie grows nuttier and develops a strong fantasy attachment to Paul. The movie follows his attempts to escape for her deepening insanity.

A viewer would have to see Misery as one of King’s most personal works given the obvious similarities between the author and the Sheldon character. It’s awfully tough to see it as anything other than a poison pen letter to King’s more obsessive fans.

Whether or not one reads King’s autobiographical viewpoint into Misery, the film provides one of the author’s most compelling tales. Of course, King didn’t work in a vacuum, and the movie’s pedigree helps it. Behind the camera, we find Rob Reiner as director and William Goldman as screenwriter. Both collaborate well here, as the film forms a nice union of script and direction.

I think Reiner remains best at comedies, but that sensibility actually allows for a looseness behind Misery that a more traditional horror director might lack. Reiner creates a perverse humor beneath the insanity and nastiness. These elements allow the darkness to work even better. An unrelentingly cruel tale would get old, while the occasional moments of cynical levity open up matters and dig at us more. No one will call this flick a laugh riot, but its dark humor gives it a strange tension it otherwise might lack.

Caan and Bates fill probably about 95 percent of the movie’s screen time, so their work becomes crucial. Bates earned a Best Actress Oscar for her turn as Annie. We don’t often see performers rewarded for films of this sort, though history would repeat just a year later when Jodie Foster won the same prize for The Silence of the Lambs, another genre effort.

While I’m not sure Bates deserved such a high honor, I do like her work as Annie. One could easily make Annie a broad, cartoony personality. Those elements exist in her makeup anyway, and someone else could’ve delivered a performance devoid of any reality or nuance.

Bates manages to avoid those pitfalls. She takes Annie’s absurd side and adds a layer of real darkness. Rather than offer a one-dimensional nutbag, Bates’ Annie becomes something nastier and more believable. She does this without irony as she buys into the role with full conviction.

Caan gets the less showy of the two parts, but he plays Sheldon well. I like the contrast between Annie’s exaggerated wide-eyed fan and the more cynical, jaded Sheldon. Of course, the differences between the two make the path they take all the more delicious, as we expect a tough guy like Caan to easily be able to make mincemeat of a tubby softie like Bates. The fact that she almost always maintains the upper hand creates a great tension as we wait to see where the film will go.

Misery lacks the broad drama or scope of many other King offerings, and I think its simplicity is what makes it special. This is a work that could actually succeed as a stage play, though the movie still feels like a fully realized piece of cinema. The film works on all levels to become a winner.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

Misery appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This Special Edition boasted a surprisingly strong transfer.

Sharpness excelled. Through the whole film, it displayed positive definition and accuracy. Even wide shots remained tight and stable through the flick. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement remained absent. As for source flaws, the occasional speck or mark cropped up, but these were quite infrequent and created few distractions.

I didn’t anticipate a vivid palette from Misery, and the colors followed suit. Despite those expectations, I thought the hues looked perfectly fine. They remained appropriately subdued but still demonstrated solid clarity and delineation. Blacks were dark and dense, while shadows showed nice smoothness and definition. Only the smattering of source flaws kept this one from “A”-level, as it looked very good.

Don’t expect a lot from the low-key Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Misery, though it suited the material just fine. The soundfield appeared moderately restricted. The forward speakers offered a modest spectrum in which we heard a bit of ambient audio from the sides. It remained gentle at most times, though some useful sound could pop up there. I thought things tended to be a little too “speaker-specfic”, though; a few elements were too heavily localized for my liking. The surrounds mainly provided light reinforcement of the forward speakers. Music and some effects appeared from the rears – a thunderstorm proved pretty active - but this was usually a very forward-oriented soundtrack.

The quality was positive. Dialogue always sounded crisp and natural, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were clear and clean without any distortion, and they also demonstrated reasonable dimensionality. Through the film, the music appeared well rendered. Nothing much happened here, but the audio was acceptable.

How did the picture and audio of this Special Edition compare to those of the prior Misery DVD? I thought the audio remained virtually the same for both, even though the old disc offered a Dolby Surround 2.0 mix. On the other hand, the visuals demonstrated enormous improvements. The new anamorphic transfer was tighter, cleaner and more dynamic across the board. It provided a tremendous step up in quality.

While the prior discs included virtually no supplements, a bunch of materials appear here. We open with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Rob Reiner, who provides a running, screen-specific chat. He discusses his affinity for the material and how he came onto the project, the flick’s tone and challenges directing his first thriller, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, score, and a few other production nuts and bolts.

Reiner commentaries tend to be spotty, and that trend continues here. When Reiner speaks, he offers good information and proves engaging; that’s a leap up from his often dull chats in the past. However, Reiner goes silent too much of the time and leaves lots of dead air. Those gaps aren’t sufficient to ruin the commentary, but they make it more erratic than I’d like. Still, Reiner provides enough useful material to make this one worth a listen; just expect many parts of it to drag.

For the second commentary, we hear from screenwriter William Goldman. He also provides a running, screen-specific discussion that looks at the script and the source novel’s adaptation, cast and performances, and some other issues.

While dead air creates problems during Reiner’s track, it’s even more of a concern here. Goldman simply doesn’t have a ton to say. When he comes up with remarks, he’s occasionally insightful. He gives us intriguing thoughts about casting and his writing methods as well as his anger about a change to a major scene.

However, Goldman lacks much recall when it comes to changes from the book; he can rarely remember what came from the novel and what he invented. He also often just remarks about how good various scenes are. Goldman does give us a smattering of interesting details, but don’t expect a lot of them.

By the way, it’s clear that both commentaries were recorded years before this DVD’s 2007 release date. Reiner refers to the then-recent death of actor Richard Farnsworth, who passed in 2000. Goldman also comments that it’s been about 13 years since the movie’s 1989 shoot. Why’d MGM sit on this special edition for so long? I have no idea.

Next comes a documentary called Misery Loves Company. This 29-minute and 52-second show mixes movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Reiner, Goldman, director of photography Barry Sonnenfeld, and actors Frances Sternhagen, Kathy Bates, and James Caan. The show examines the novel’s adaptation and various story elements, cast, characters and performances, cinematography and editing, and the film’s legacy.

After the erratic nature of the commentaries, the tightness of “Company” comes as a relief. Naturally, some of the information repeats from those audio tracks, but plenty of new material crops up here, and the additional perspectives help. This turns into a brisk and interesting piece.

For a look at the flick’s music, we go to the 14-minute and 28-second Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour. It includes remarks from composer Shaiman as he discusses his score for the film. Shaiman gives us an informative look at his work on the flick and his take on movie work in general.

The following featurettes examine real-life topics referenced in Misery. Diagnosing Annie Wilkes goes for eight minutes, 47 seconds and presents comments from forensic psychologist Reid Meloy. He discusses the Wilkes character and provides info about the psychiatric classifications for which she qualifies. Of course, he has to “dumb down” a lot of the material, but Meloy nonetheless gives us a decent view of the character’s underlying problems.

The next four shows take on stalking. We find Advice for the Stalked (4:57), Profile of a Stalker (6:17), Celebrity Stalkers (5:07) and Anti-Stalking Law (2:22). Across these we hear from Meloy, Omega Threat Management Group’s John C. Lane, and LA prosecutor Rhonda Saunders. We get thoughts about stalkers and how those impacted by them can deal with them. Some of the clips are better than others, but they provide an involving examination of the unnerving world of stalking.

Finally, we get two trailers. We find the “Original Theatrical Trailer” and the “Original Season’s Greetings Trailer”.

I don’t know if Misery is the best adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel, but it resides high on that list. A simple but chilling tale, this one benefits from excellent acting and concise storytelling. The DVD offers surprisingly good visuals along with decent audio and an erratic but often informative collection of extras.

I like Misery a lot and think this Special Edition is a winner. It’s definitely a good upgrade for fans who own the prior “movie-only” release. The SE includes much stronger picture quality as well as plenty of new extras. It’s definitely the one to own.

To rate this film, visit the Widescreen Edition review of MISERY

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