Coma [Blu-ray] (1978)

Actors: Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Rip Torn, Richard Widmark
Directors: Michael Crichton
Writers: Michael Crichton
Format: NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: July 10, 2012
Run Time: 113 minutes



On the Blu-ray box Coma is described as “one of the most intelligent sci-fi thrillers in years” by Time Out Film Guide. It is however difficult to think of this 1978 movie directed by Michael Crichton as science fiction. It rather belongs to the ‘Seventies paranoid conspiracy subgenre even though it does contain one SF element, namely the ominous high-tech medical facility in which coma patients are dangled from the roof with wires.

The movie’s most enduring image, these scenes were rather difficult to film. “It was technically very complicated because the people could only hang for six minutes,” director Michael Crichton explained in an interview. “You see, the suspension was actually only from the hips and neck. But because you had to act like you were suspended by wires everywhere, a great strain was put on the back. We had special tables built that were on jacks, like car jacks, and people would sit on these tables in between shots. And then they would be hung, and the tables would be rolled down and moved out. I think we used sixteen real people and fifteen dummies, but most of what the camera sees is real people.”

The plot involves a medical doctor (Genevieve Bujold) becoming suspicious when she discovers that a lot of patients at the large hospital where she works go into comas while undergoing minor surgery. Naturally her boyfriend, played by a very young-looking Michael Douglas (who was 34 at the time), who is also a doctor at the hospital doesn’t believe any of her stories about conspiracies and strangers following her around. We in the audience know better because, well, if she is merely paranoid then there wouldn’t be any movie.

Watching the movie today – which was quite a hit back then – one is struck by how naturalistic it all seems, especially when one considers that Crichton made his name with movies featuring resurrected man-eater dinosaurs (Jurassic Park) and killer cowboy robots (Westworld). Somewhat ordinary-looking Genevieve Bujold – ironically in the book her character is an attractive blonde - may escape peril by clinging onto the roof of a moving ambulance, but this makes its rather unbelievable premise of an entire large medical facility dedicated to the organ donor black market all the more plausible.

Coma is also an interesting snapshot to a bygone era in which women’s lib was still a hot topic (Bujold and Douglas’ characters bicker endlessly over whose turn it is to make dinner) and psychiatrists could smoke in their offices whilst seeing patients. There is also a bit of left-over “don’t trust anyone over 30” vibe from the villainous Richard Widmark’s memorable speech: “No decision is easy, Sue. It only looks that way when you're young. When you're older, everything is complicated. There is no black and white, only gray.”

THE DISC: Coma is one of several minor sci-fi titles finally making their way to Blu-ray this month. (The others are Frequency, Spawn, Outland, The Astronaut’s Wife, Altered States and Brainstorm.) Like most, but not all, Warner Video Blu-ray discs we had no problem on our somewhat antiquated Blu-ray player with long loading times and the like. Unfortunately there no extras besides a faded trailer, which is not in HD. A pity.

Most ‘Seventies movies have a reputation for being filmed in washed-out colors and faded browns, and alas Coma is no exception. The (mostly) brilliant Blu-ray image quality however makes up for this. In most scenes the movie looks damned good with some rich color and fine detail.

WORTH IT? The first half of the movie is almost all talk and claustrophobic interior shots. One is actually relieved when the action finally moves to outside of the confines of the hospital and Jerry Goldsmith’s thriller soundtrack music kicks in. The action may be somewhat mundane by modern standards, but it lends verisimilitude to the proceedings. Audiences used to a faster pace today might find the talky first half tough going.

RECOMMENDATION: Blu-ray is definitely the best way to watch this minor late-1970s offering.



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