Christine was released near the height of John Carpenter's reign as one of most prominent genre filmmakers in Hollywood, following just a few years after the cinematic barrage of Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing. Its author, Stephen King, was also enjoying a slew of film adaptations of his work. Christine was released the same year as The Dead Zone and Cujo, and it shortly followed the release of the anthology Creepshow and The Shining. Of all the titles rattled off above, Christine seems to get the least respect, not lurching into popular culture the same way many of those other films had and rarely finding itself among the first few movies that immediately spring to mind when horror buffs think of the filmographies of its writer and director. Perhaps the tides are slowly turning in favor of Christine -- the movie was initially released with a bare-bones DVD in 1999, and it seemed likely that would be all we'd get until the next optical video format rolled around. It's a welcome surprise that Columbia Tri-Star Home Video has opted to revisit Christine with this special edition re-release, which features an audio commentary and a number of lengthy featurettes as well as an upgraded visual presentation.
Christine takes a number of liberties from King's novel. Purists may find this disappointing, but the majority of the changes work to the movie's benefit -- Christine is possessed by a menacing evil before she even rolls off the assembly line, the time travel derailment has been excised, and assorted specters have been pushed aside. The essentials are still in place, retreading the theme of a teenaged outsider exacting revenge through newfound supernatural means as explored in Carrie some years earlier. The movie stars Keith Gordon as Arnie Cunningham, an awkward, virginal geek relentlessly tormented by knife-wielding bullies and living under the dominating thumb of his well-intentioned parents. His friendship with popular football player Dennis (John Stockwell) is about the only thing that makes life in high school remotely tolerable, and as they're cruising around town after their first day as seniors, Arnie spots the love of his life. No, not the busty cheerleader or the future Baywatch star that just enrolled, but a rusty, decrepit 1958 Plymouth Fury. The obligatory Creepy Old Man™, after making some ominous comments about his dead brother once having owned the car, dumps "Christine" on an overly enthusiastic Arnie for a couple hundred bucks. He becomes completely devoted to the car, spending every spare moment and cent he can muster towards restoring Christine to showroom quality. Arnie undergoes nearly as dramatic a transformation as his beloved car -- unrecognizable as the nerd he was before, Arnie has ditched his onetime best friend, violently argues with his parents, and has somehow managed to win the heart of Leigh (Alexandra Paul), the new girl in town who's shot down everyone who's approached her. Leigh's miffed when she ranks a distant second to Arnie behind his beloved Christine and quickly becomes concerned about his tunnel-minded obsession. But hey, who can blame him? Pretty girls are everywhere, but a demon-car that can restore itself to mint-condition after being shredded and torched...? Now that's rare. When some thugs decide to exact revenge on Arnie by trashing his car, Christine fights back and hunts each and every one of them down. The fingers seem to be pointed towards Arnie as the murderer, and Leigh and Dennis try to pull him back towards sanity. Of course, this being a movie with a demon car, the climax involves more than just a couple of pals and an intervention.
Although Christine is likely to be filed under the horror section at the corner video store, it doesn't fit comfortably in the stereotypical confines of the genre. It's really more of a twisted love story than a horror flick anyway. The movie progresses at a deliberate pace; its first hour is largely spent establishing its characters and premise, chronicling Arnie's transformation from a wormy dweeb with masking tape barely holding together his hornrim glasses to the aggressive, hyperconfident prick that Christine inspires. The car makes an attempt at racking up a body count in the interim, but nothing inarguably supernatural occurs until the movie is more than half over. The temptation nowadays would be to cram all of that setup into the first fifteen minutes, fill the rest with non-stop vehicular carnage, transform Arnie into some sort of cackling serial killer, then close with him heroically destroying Christine and saving some lovely damsel in the process just before the fade to black and roll of the end credits. Christine is more restrained and far more effective as a result. This may not make for a taut action/suspense thriller, but its chosen approach makes Christine's reign of havoc in the movie's second half seem earned. One frequent criticism is that the movie's length is bloated, but at least in my opinion, trimming twenty minutes off the runtime would have diminished the impact of what comes later. While I wouldn't characterize the movie as "scary" by any stretch, the chase-'n-kill sequences are effectively creepy and exciting, despite the near-total lack of blood or gore throughout its 110 minute length. Its special effects, particularly Christine's ability to almost instantly repair herself no matter how severe the damage seems to be, still hold up remarkably well. The film is bolstered further by the presence of Keith Gordon as Arnie, selling the concept of an amiable geek with an undercurrent of rage bubbling beneath the surface. The true star, of course, is the possessed Plymouth. Menacing and seemingly sentient, Christine has as much personality as any of the humans acting in the movie. It uses vintage rock and roll as its primary means of communication, and, shades of Duel, the movie is shot so that it's not clear if someone's sitting behind the wheel of the car or if Christine is attacking of its own V8-powered volition. The premise hinges on the fact that a Plymouth Fury can get murderously jealous. That's not the easiest feat to pull off, but Carpenter and company manage to nail it.
While the frequently overlooked Christine doesn't reach the heights of Carpenter's best, I still found it very entertaining, and the emphasis on mood and characterization rather than merely using slickly-photographed high-octane thrills as a crutch help sets it apart from the likes of more recent productions such as the lackluster Highwaymen. The premise may be kind of out there, but Carpenter and the movie's cast manage to make the most of it. Although readers are cautioned that this isn't a grisly, fast-paced horror film, Christine is still recommended as at least a rental.
Video: Previously released on DVD by Columbia Tri-Star back in '99, this newly-minted special edition of Christine boasts what is reportedly a brand-new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. DVD Debate has posted a fairly detailed comparison of this release with the older disc, for anyone that's curious how the two stack up. Based strictly on what's in front of me at the moment, the interpositive -- or whatever source material was used for this transfer -- seems to possess some of the same abilities as Christine herself. The Columbia logo and opening titles are grainy and jittery, but by the time the sepia-tinged prologue rears its head, the elements suddenly appear to be in pristine condition. There isn't any visible damage for the duration, and just a handful of small flecks appear throughout. A thin veil of film grain is present, but not to the point of distraction and nothing I could consider to be a flaw of any sort. As much of the action takes place at night under low light, black levels are accordingly deep and inky, and the high level of detail holds up well no matter how dim the lighting may get. Although the visuals look fantastic pretty much from the first frame, there are several sequences in particular that are really eye-popping: a tackle on the football field, Leigh getting her first taste of Christine's jealousy at the drive-in, and Arnie's appearance in the climax are just a few that stand-out. A first-rate presentation all around.
Audio: The soundtrack, a Dolby stereo surround mix encoded at the healthy bitrate of 384Kbps, doesn't inspire quite as much gushing praise.
Even though this is a movie peppered with explosions, crumpling metal, and the throaty roar of engines, there's virtually no bass anywhere in the mix. Christine is a movie that would greatly benefit from the presence of a discrete low-frequency effects channel, and the fact that it's left with a rather anemic stereo mix is somewhat of a disappointment. No underlying hiss or background noise is present, and dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly. The matrixed surrounds also receive a fair amount of use. The soundtrack's shortcomings aren't enough for me to suggest that readers interested in this DVD steer clear, but the nature of the material lends itself to a much louder, more exciting mix than what's being offered here.
Christine sports a slew of other audio options, beginning with dubs in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The DVD is closed captioned and includes subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Thai.
Supplements: There are three featurettes on this DVD, listed somewhat out of sequence on the submenu. The first that should be watched is the twelve-minute "Ignition", which for whatever reason is last on the menu. It covers the early stages of production, including the fortunate process of acquiring the film rights, shooting a movie while the book was the number one best-seller in the nation, condensing the material to feature-length, and, ignoring the studio's pleas for name actors, the casting of a group of relative unknowns. One actor who was almost attached to the lead role was Kevin Bacon, who had to bow out to star in Footloose. The most substantial featurette is "Fast and Furious", which, at nearly half an hour in length, almost serves as a compressed commentary. "Fast and Furious" follows the movie in relatively chronological order, interspersing clips from the film with interviews with the movie's primary cast and crew alongside some vintage behind-the-scenes footage. Among the various topics covered are the elements that went into shooting the opening flashback sequence, filming the transformation shots after principal photography had wrapped, the difficulties encountered in shooting a sequence where the car is completely engulfed in flames, a practical joke with a twin sister, and the original epilogue with an appearance by "Bad to the Bone" songwriter George Thorogood. It's kind of an upbeat, trivia-riddled piece, and Keith Gordon steals the featurette almost the way he carries the movie, noting how he warmed up to making out with Alexandra Paul and how he accidentally caused himself to pass out while shooting his last scenes. A great featurette, and viewers renting the disc might want to consider giving "Fast and Furious" priority over the disc's audio commentary if time is a concern. "Finish Line" (7:17) places its emphasis on post-production and the movie's eventual release, such as compiling Christine's rock and roll soundtrack, the assembly of the score, John Carpenter's embarrassment of having his name appear numerous places on promotional material, and both the critical reception and longevity of the movie.
There are a total of twenty deleted and alternate scenes, running twenty-six minutes in length. For the most part, it's clear why these scenes were excised or trimmed down -- not because they were bad, but because they're largely unnecessary. In keeping with the general approach of the movie, they primarily revolve around characterization, often giving additional screentime to some of the supporting cast. Some of the highlights include Dennis picking up pieces strewn along Christine's path as Arnie heads to the body shop, the thugs trashing the car (including a quick glimpse of the 'present' being left on the dashboard), Arnie menacing Dennis in the hospital, an additional kill (replacing a presumed offscreen death), hints that Arnie is becoming an entirely different person, and a further fleshed-out romantic angle. This footage, presented letterboxed with Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kbps) audio, can be viewed individually or consecutively. It's in decent shape, but some of it must have been trimmed out fairly early -- in one scene, for instance, you can hear John Carpenter call Alexandra Paul forward. Although I don't think there'll be much cry for an extended cut with some of this footage reincorporated back into the movie, it's still interesting to see, especially considering how much is provided.
Finally, director John Carpenter and actor Keith Gordon contribute a great audio commentary. The two of them genuinely seem to enjoy working on the movie and with each other, and that carries over to their discussion. Carpenter quips about pushing so much of the movie's lead cast out of acting and into directing, the opening being partially inspired by an idea of Alfred Hitchcock's, the differences between the book and the movie, and the influence of Westerns on wardrobe and certain shots. Some of the highlights -- Christine's de-crumpling body work, a dangerous rig on a speeding Mack truck, Gordon's determination to make his face beet red in the finale, and the vehicular sodomy, to name a few -- are covered in the "Fast and Furious" featurette, but viewers who have a couple of spare hours should give this entertaining, informative commentary a listen.
Brief filmographies are offered for John Carpenter, Stephen King, Bill Phillips, Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, and Harry Dean Stanton. Finally, there are previews for Asylum of the Damned, Hellboy, Secret Window, and Stephen King Presents Kingdom Hospital. The DVD features a set of 16x9 animated menus, and the disc comes packaged in a keepcase. An insert is provided, although it doesn't list the movie's twenty-eight chapter stops.
Conclusion: Overlooked and underrated, Christine combines elements of horror, action, and an offbeat love story into a fairly unique character-driven piece. While its length, slower pace, and lack of emphasis on action may not appeal to viewers weaned on the quick-cutting, over-caffeinated genre films of today, I continue to enjoy Christine and would recommend it as a purchase or a rental. Owners of the current disc should find that the reasonable list price and quality extras warrant an upgrade. Recommended.