|release date (Theaters)||January 6 1978|
|writer||Michael Crichton, Robin Cook|
|starring||Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Rip Torn|
|tagline||Imagine your life hangs by a thread. Imagine your body hangs by a wire. Imagine you're not imagining.|
|trailer 1||Trailer #1|
The idea of a medically induced coma is not that terrifying. Sometimes patients are so ill that their bodies need a deep rest to heal. The miniseries, Coma, based on the 1977 novel by Robin Cook and the 1978 movie of the same name, uses the idea of comas and pushes them into the horror realm. What if patients, during routine operations, were forced into comas so that they could be used for medical experimentation?
The four-hour series originally aired on A&E in September of this year. The promotional commercials for the program were far more intriguing than the series itself. Condensed into two parts for the DVD, the 160 minutes of Coma are entertaining, but fall short in achieving mind blowing capacity. Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) plays Susan Wheeler, a young medical student who discovers that an alarming number of patients from operating room #8 at Peach Tree Memorial Hospital are falling into comas during surgery.
The series, which was executive produced by Ridley Scott and his brother Tony Scott, falls short in the scares. There is just too much going on. One moment we’re learning that Wheeler’s grandfather was the founder of the hospital, then we are seeing a viral video about the Jefferson Institute which houses coma patients after their insurance lapses and then we’re seeing that the head physicians at the hospital – some of which are having affairs with each other – are entangled in some sort of conspiracy which they are keeping tight lipped about. There is, again, just too much going on.
The biggest flaw of the series is actually the inclusion of a subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere at all. Michael Weston, who actually played a nutcase that took Michael C. Hall for a psychotic joyride on Six Feet Under, does what he does best: he plays a deranged lunatic. He is a creepy patient of Geena Davis’s Dr. Lindquist that was released on her recommendation after he killed a young lady. His character, Peter Arno, stalks Susan Wheeler, trying to kill her while he has hallucinations of trees from the forest that he killed the girl in long ago. It simply does not fit into the story – even when we find out in the end that Dr. Lindquist, who has been medicating and instructing Arno everyday, has moved on to continue her medical expertise in China.
While Lauren Ambrose is strong in her performance, throwing in roles for James Woods and Richard Dreyfess make it seem like it was just so the series could be marketed by name dropping. The standout performance by far is Ellen Burstyn. After not looking at the box in fear of spoilers (I’ve never seen the original film or read the novel) it took a moment to see that it was indeed Chris MacNeil from The Exorcist. Burstyn is gorgeous for her age and watching her performance as Mrs. Emerson is mesmerizing. She has the character down, and with her accent and mannerisms, she is the main focus and it’s a shame that we could expand more on that storyline rather than spending time on Arno and his trees/stalking of Susan.
The DVD is nicely packaged with haunting artwork of a suspended coma patient and all of our big name stars. Sadly, there is nothing special to this DVD. There are no extras, only the option of watching the series in one, two or both parts together. Though the pace is pretty quick, the storyline drags somewhat, which is easy to explain as watching it on television with commercials would have broken it up and perhaps made it easier to swallow.
While the idea of forced coma and ultimate medical experimentation is disturbing, not exploring the ethical elements of using humans as guinea pigs is a big strike against Coma. Perhaps the novel delves into this world paralleling the past of humans playing God, or even the inhumane doings of the Nazis (which did lead to certain breakthroughs in the end) – but the A&E miniseries lacks that little oomph that could have made it that much more.
Writer Michael Crichton was one of the go-to guys in Hollywood for nearly two decades, scribing gems like Jurassic Park, Twister, and the renowned television series ER, and became a household name up to and after his death. While he openly preferred writing as opposed to directing, he did sit in the directors chair for a handful of thrillers – two of them considered outstanding. Westworld, which hammered him onto the map, and Coma – which for all intensive purposes set the tone and created a skeleton for the Hollywood thriller for the next 10 years.
Genevieve Bujold, who’s incredibly hot ass in Earthquake made her a superstar (please fall over something again, please!), takes the lead in Coma – a thrilling adaptation of a Robin Cook novel that spent months on the NY Times best sellers list and gripped the nation. A story about power and trust gone awry, when a doctor uncovers a conspiracy where a rigged operating room is set up to purposefully slip patients into comas on the operating table. For the purpose of selling off their body parts on the black market.
Michael Douglas also stars as Bujold’s character’s boyfriend, who consistently assures her, “Everything is going to be all right,” without ever listening and looking at the building facts. It’s mildly frustrating and works at adding to the grip effect. Even with his mastery on the screen, Bujold pulls a commanding lead and Captains this film and its strong supporting cast. She is a good 1970′s actress, and very charming even with the bad haircut they had her wear. Maybe it was what doctors were doing back then? Whew.
Its Crichton’s story that is the overall star here. Its dark, to think that in your most vulnerable state – in a place where you trust your life in doctors hands – that you could be put under and shifted aside with the sign of a document and moved to another ward where you are kept until deemed “dead”, only to have your organs removed and sold to high priced bidders. Wealthy, and don’t want to wait on the kidney list for your son’s life saving organ? This hospital is where you’d go to get it. Its a tale that subtly gets under your skin, mostly because of how scientifically sound it is. Plus, its all laid out in layman’s terms so you don’t have to be a med school graduate to understand it. To tell anything else of the plot would chip away at the foundation of the whole experience.
A good healthy unexpected twist in the end brings Coma to an excellent crescendo. Style and clothes seem bland and awkward, from the hit man’s plaid jacket to Genevieve’s unflattering hairstyle, it screams 1970′s (strong story and non model actors and actresses). Yet Bujold still exudes a manner of MILF sexiness and the structure of the screenplay will keep you attentive and alert. Its just dated, perhaps a bit bland for some in the horror community who don’t get off on psychological digs. Its more of a drama than a horror film. Here the horror element is the notion that if third world countries abduct organs from victims – why not a conspiring money hungry hospital here in the United States? The methods to Coma‘s madness are quite scientifically sound and economically realistic, so the overall result does manage to get under your skin. And we all hate hospitals enough as it is, don’t we?