Stephen King is undoubtedly the world's most famous living horror writer. When word came down the pipeline that he'd be writing and overseeing a remake of Lars Von Trier's Danish cult horror mini series, Riget (a. k. a. The Kingdom), I know I'm not the only one who had high hopes for the television mini series. While the end result was flawed it was still more hit than miss and now Columbia/Tri-Star presents all thirteen episodes in one handy DVD box set with a couple of extra features thrown in for good measure.
Episode 1 – Thy Kingdom Come: When an artist named Peter Rickman is hit by a speeding ban with a drunk behind the wheel, he lands himself an extended stay in Kingdom Hospital's coma ward. While in a catatonic state he's approached by a mysterious ghost who tells him that he must stop the insanity that is raging on in the hospital and that me must also free a spectral little girl trapped within the confines of this bizarre establishment. When Rickman wakes up he finds he is able to communicate with the ghosts in the hospital, and we learn some dirt on a few of the strange doctors in residence there.
Episode 2 – Death's Kingdom: When Mrs. Druse, one of the psychic patients in the hospital, is discharged by Dr. Stegman she convinces Rickman to join in on a séance with her in order to find out why the ghost the haunts the elevator is doing so.
Episode 3 – Goodbye Kiss: Dr. Hook decides to convince Stegman to let Druse stay after he's convinced that the elevator ghost is real. We also learn that Stegman let a patient die on the operating table while he was residing in Boston and that there are a few skeletons in his closet currently planning to sue him.
Episode 4 – The West Side Of Midnight: Dr. Traiff's ex-wife passes away from a heart attack while under his care in the hospital and when this happens, his son, Elmer, dreams of an anteater. Rickman starts figuring things out while Druse is trying to sort out just who Mary really is. While all this is going on Stegman blows his top when his car gets vandalized.
Episode 5 – Hook's Kingdom: Dr. Hook becomes involved with a mortal after the hospital staff ask Druse to find out why they're being harassed by the spirit of a recently deceased and very troubled young man.
Episode 6 – The Young And The Headless: Ruse and Hook, with Rickman's help, are finally able to contact Mary as well as her tormentor named Paul. They begin to piece together some of the mysteries from the hospital's history.
Episode 7 – Black Noise: Peter warns hook and Druse that something seriously wrong is going to happen at the hospital, and they learn of a deranged pyromaniac who beings to, while under the influence of some very evil spirits, destroy some of the patients as well as some of the staff members and even a few of the local ghosts. Stegman's past has caught up with him by this point, and he'll soon have to answer for his past grievances.
Episode 8 – Heartless: A lawyer with heart problems needs a transplant and is checked into the hospital, and Hook, doing some investigating, finds Mary's old toy doll. When he opens it he finds newspaper articles that detail a fire that happened almost one hundred and fifty years ago and killed a lot of kids – the fire happened on the land where the hospital was built and might just be the key to the hauntings that have plagued it for so long.
Episode 9 – Butterfingers: An old baseball player attempts suicide but is unsuccessful in ending it all and finds himself in the hospital. His admittance causes a shift in the paranormal layer of the building and the ghosts' activity seems to begin to snowball.
Episode 10 – The Passion Of Reverend Jimmy: A minister at a local mission outlet dies and this causes yet another reaction in the hospital that seems to somehow be related to Mary's death. Continuing Stegman's story, he and the hospital's handyman have a talk that doesn't go so well for the doctor.
Episode 11 – Seizure Day: When one patient and then a second patient both suffer random seizures, they witness horrifying visions of the dead rising within the halls of the building. Meanwhile, Stegman realizes that his nightmares may not be bad dreams after all but may actually be coming true in the real world as well as the nocturnal one!
Episode 12 – Shoulda Stood In Bed: This time out, Rickman has a seizure and his vision shows him what is going to happen to the hospital. His vision allows him to finally put a few missing pieces into place and he in turn helps Druse contact Mary to help set things right for the poor ghostly girl. When Stegman's criminal past is finally made public, he goes on a berserker rage throughout the hospital seeking vengeance on those who exposed him.
Episode 13 – Finale: The last double length episode finds Hook and Druse teaming up with the Antubis to set things right. Rickman is called in on yet another one of Druse's séances so that he can go back into the past with Hook. They find the secrets of the hospitals past and its relationship to the horrible fire that happened there and are able to free Mary's spirit so that she can move on to the afterlife. Everything seems to be okay except for the still rampaging Dr. Stegman who has a very different plan for everyone in the hospital.
Kingdom Hospital is a nice blend of the quirky and the macabre that suits the direction that King's writing has taken over the last ten years or so. While it's very much based on Von Trier's superior predecessor, King does make it his own and his signature is all over this series, from the references to Maine down to the books that many of the characters are reading in a couple of different scenes.
King (who has one of his trademark cameos in a bit part) also manages to tie the mini series in to a lot of his other works, notably the Storm Of The Century mini series (also made for TV) and his Dark Tower books. Not surprising, considering the lengths to which King went to be personally involved in the making of the project not only from a creative side but from a financial side (he through in some of his own money to get the project financed as well as paying the difference in cost so that the entire thing could be shot on film – he also covered some of the advertising costs).
Sadly, there are a few scenes that either drag on a little too long or happen to come off as weird for the sake of weird, rather than for the sake of furthering the story. Von Trier's version may have bordered on the surreal a few times in much the same way that Lynch's Twin Peaks did, but in the context of the storytelling it made sense for it to happen and here there are a few times where unfortunately it does not.
Other than that though, Kingdom Hospital is an interesting take on some great source material that has a slick and somber look to it that really plays up on the great visuals created for the series, and capitalizes on some good performances from Andrew McCarthy as Dr. Hook, Bruce Davison as Dr. Stegman, Dianne Ladd as Druse and Jack Coleman.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen image is clean and colorful but does show some slight compression artifacts in some of the darker scenes as well as some mild edge enhancement that could break up the picture a little bit on larger sets, though it is mild even in the worst of the instances I noticed. Flesh tones appear life like and natural and the picture is free of any print damage. The cool color scheme used in the film is reproduced on this transfer quite faithfully and never appears to be too warm or over saturated.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track comes with optional subtitles in French as well as an English closed captioning option. This sound mix makes nice use of the rear speakers to build atmosphere with smaller, more discrete sound effects than those used in the front channels, making for a nice mix that suits the tone of this mini series very appropriately. Bass response from the subwoofer is lively without being overdone and channel separation is clean and distinct. Dialogue is always easy to follow and there are no traces of hiss or distortion.
The main extras come in the form of four short featurettes that cover the genesis and making of the mini series. Patients and Doctors: The Cast of Kingdom Hospital is a segment running approximately fourteen minutes that takes a look at the 'whys' and 'wherefores' of the casting decisions. Inside The Walls: The Making of Kingdom Hospital is a segment running a quarter of an hour that gives us a look at the thought process behind getting the actual mini series made from its origins as Von Trier's original Danish production through King's 'reimagining' of that work through to what we have here on this set. Designing Kingdom Hospital: A Tour is a seven minute piece on the set design that plays such an important role in the look and feel of the final product. The Magic of Antubis is an eight minute look at the creation of the ant eater that plays such a bizarre role in the series with thoughts from the director and the chief effects supervisor. Overall, these four segments aren't all that hot. There is some good information in there (hearing them speak about how King's real life automobile accident influenced part of the story is interesting) but most of them don't really do much to dig below the surface. It's not that they're bad, they aren't. They're just rather generic and I can't really see anyone wanting to go back to them after watching them once.
In addition to the four featurettes, there's also a commentary track on the first episode with writer Stephen King, director Craig Baxley, producer Mark Carliner and visual effects supervisor James Tichenor. There's a lot more information found here than in the four brief featurettes and no one is ever at a loss for words as they cover their thoughts on how things turned out, certain subtleties to the look of the mini series as well as to the story, and some of their personal experiences while working on the mini series.
Columbia/Tri-Star has delivered a nice set for Stephen King fans with this release of Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital. While the mini series doesn't reach the same level of compelling strangeness that Von Trier's original mini series did, it's not a bad remake considering it was done for a mainstream American television audience. A little lighter on the extra features than I'd hoped it would be, the mini series looks and sounds quite nice and this set comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.