Stand by Me [Blu-Ray]
Director : Rob Reiner
Screenplay : Raynold Gideon & Bruce A. Evans (based on the novella “The Body” by Stephen King)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1986
Stars : Wil Wheaton (Gordie Lachance), River Phoenix (Chris Chambers), Corey Feldman (Teddy Duchamp), Jerry O’Connell (Vern Tessio), Kiefer Sutherland (Ace Merrill), Casey Siemaszko (Billy Tessio), Gary Riley (Charlie Hogan), Bradley Gregg (Eyeball Chambers), Jason Oliver (Vince Desjardins), Marshall Bell (Mr. Lachance), Frances Lee McCain (Mrs. Lachance), Bruce Kirby (Mr. Quidacioluo), William Bronder (Milo Pressman), Scott Beach (Mayor Grundy), Richard Dreyfuss (The Writer), John Cusack (Denny Lachance)
When Stand by Me became a surprise sleeper hit in the late summer of 1986, there had already been a dozen feature films over the previous decade based on the novels and stories of prolific horror maestro Stephen King. His writing had attracted the likes of Brian De Palma (1976’s Carrie), Stanley Kubrick (1980’s The Shining), George A. Romero (1982’s Creepshow), and David Cronenberg (1983’s The Dead Zone), and King himself had even made a foray behind the camera in adapting his short story “Trucks” into the silly AC/DC-fueled Maximum Overdrive (1986). Thus, it is not surprising that the marketing for Stand by Me never mentioned King’s name; on the other hand, the TV ads for Maximum Overdrive, which had opened a month earlier, featured King on camera boasting that he was “going to scare the hell” out of the audience (a promise he didn’t keep).
Stand by Me was different: It was King stripped of horror and fantasy. Screenwriters Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans (who had previously penned John Carpenter’s sci-fi romance Starman) adapted King’s novella “The Body,” which appeared in Different Seasons, a non-supernatural four-novella collection that would later provide source material for Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil (1998). Set to a soundtrack of golden oldies radio hits and shot in a gentle soft focus that emphasizes a sometimes sweet, sometimes mournful sense of nostalgia and memory, Stand by Me is a reflective adventure/coming-of-age tale about four adolescent best friends who set out on a two-day quest to find the body of a local boy who has been missing for a week.
The story takes place in 1959 in and around a small town in the Pacific Northwest, which gives cinematographer Thomas Del Ruth (who went on to win multiple Emmys for his work on The West Wing) a wide range of beautiful and often daunting scenery that emphasizes both the smallness of the quartet of main characters and the emotional enormity of the task they are undertaking. The protagonist is Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), a quiet, skinny kid who dreams of being a writer (his adult self, played by Richard Dreyfuss, narrates the film, often unnecessarily underlining the obvious emotional implications). Gordie’s best friend is Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), the tough, but sensitive type who comes from a broken home and is sure that he will wind up a delinquent like his older brother Eyeball (Bradley Gregg), who is best friends with the town’s most notorious teenage hood, Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland). The group also consists of Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), an unstable, gregarious kid whose father stormed the beach at Normandy and brought the war home with him, and Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell), the requisite chubby one who is defined primarily by his endearing goofiness.
With the exception of Vern, whose home life is never really discussed, each of the main characters is a victim of his parents’ various failures. While Chris and Teddy suffer physically from alcoholic and psychologically damaged fathers, respectively, Gordie suffers emotionally. His parents (Marshall Bell and Frances Lee McCain), who never paid him much attention in the first place, are all the more distant since the death of his football star older brother (John Cusack) a few months earlier. He is, as the narration intones, an invisible boy, which partly explains why he pals around with kids from the proverbial other side of the tracks. Although clearly from different social spheres, they recognize in each other similar elements of loss and aloneness.
Casting, as they say, is everything, and director Rob Reiner, who at the time had only directed the hilarious mockumentary This is Spinal Tap (1984) and the teen comedy The Sure Thing (1985), put together an impressive cast of young actors who hit all the right notes in evoking both the awkwardness and freedom of being 12-going-on-13 years old. Each of the actors fits the physical requirements for his character (Wheaton is lean and awkward, while Phoenix feels years older than his baby-fat face suggests), and they have a natural rapport that is immediately established in an opening sequence set in the tree house that serves as their collective hang-out. These opening moments are crucial in setting the tone of the kids’ interactions, especially the well-rehearsed dance in which preadolescent boys convey their affection for each other via insults and competition. The art is in not quite crossing that line between good-natured taunting and simple cruelty, and the presence of Ace, Eyeball, and other older teen hoods plays as a constant reminder of where these younger kids might end up. They also do an excellent job of cursing, which may sound odd, but not when you remember that throwing out four-letter words is primarily a means by which kids can feel bigger than they are. At times their vulgarity is amusingly awkward and nonsensical, although when tensions are heightened, the words take on a severity that underscores how emotionally attuned these kids are to each other and their predicaments (if the film has a failing, it is that the characters may be a bit too self-aware, with each getting a moment of emotional break-down that cuts to the core of their problems).
Stand by Me is consistently aware of class divisions and the ways in which intelligence and upbringing can define one’s place in the world; even though he is probably smarter than everyone in the group, Chris feels that he is destined for shop classes in junior high while Gordie goes on to college-prep courses. This ties in to the film’s fundamental nostalgia, underscored in the final moment when the adult Gordie writes that he never had friends like he did when he was 12 years old: Simply put, it is that childhood is a period when friendship is pure, unsullied by awareness of social standing and economic disparity. The fact that Gordie’s father laments his choice of friends provides further evidence of the divide between how the worlds of adulthood and childhood see the nature of friendship. Thus, when the film works, it is because it shows us so clearly via both humor and drama the pains and triumphs of childhood. Stand by Me certainly has its moments of fantasy, particularly the climactic showdown in which Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern are able to stand up to their tormentors and assert themselves for the first time (with the help of a .45, of course), but overall it trades in the rich language of emotional memory that works even for those who didn’t grow up in the era of Dragnet and drag races.
|Stand by Me 25th Anniversay Edition Blu-Ray|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish, Portuguese|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 22, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Seeing Stand by Me in high definition after years of seeing it primarily on television has reaffirmed for me the film’s soft-focus look. Even in a new 1080p high-def presentation, the image still looks soft, even a touch hazy at times, which tends to lose some of the finer detail. This is clearly the intended look of the film, and it is well represented here. Colors look natural and effective throughout, especially the bold greens of all the towering pine trees. The film was originally released with a monaural soundtrack, which is presented here, along with a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, that effectively opens up the music, although some of the surround effects in which ambient forest noises are isolated in the surround channels, sounds a bit forced.|
|This 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray edition of Stand by Me includes the major supplements from the previously available DVD, including Rob Reiner’s audio commentary, a music video, and the retrospective featurette “Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand by Me,” which includes interviews with Reiner and actors Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, and Corey Feldman (Phoenix had, unfortunately, already died by that time). The only new supplement is a newly recorded picture-in-picture video commentary that reunites Reiner, Wheaton, and Feldman. There isn’t a whole lot that’s new in this commentary, especially for long-time fans of the film, but it’s still fun to watch them talking while watching the movie (it’s just too bad they couldn’t have gotten other actors, like Jerry O’Connell and Keifer Sutherland, to join in, as well).|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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