Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Rip Torn, Richard
Directors: Michael Crichton
Writers: Michael Crichton
Format: NTSC, Widescreen
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
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,
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
RECOMMENDATION: Blu-ray is definitely the best way
to watch this minor late-1970s offering.