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, following up the release of their very well put together boxed set of the complete series, Columbia/Tri-Star in their infinite wisdom is releasing Kingdom Hospital – The Beginning which presents only the two hour pilot and the second episode.
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. Meanwhile, the man who assaulted Rickman ends up in the hospital after a serious accident, and guess who he has to room with?
The first two episodes of the series do a fine job of setting up what is to come later on. It introduces us to a few of the interesting and quirky inhabitants of the hospital and they have plenty of mood and atmosphere and even a couple of marginally creepy scenes to boot. None of this material is on par with Von Trier's original Danish series but it's an amusing and fun little trip that starts off fairly strong thanks to these two introductory segments. While the later episodes declined in quality and started to meander into an ultimately very rushed feeling ending for the show, here you'll see the potential that the series had in its infancy.
This leads me to my one and only question about this release and its sister release, Kingdom Hospital – Making The Rounds… why? What's the reasoning behind these releases when the complete series is still in print as a fairly affordably priced boxed set with plenty of extra features to add to the fun? None of those features are found on this disc, just the first two episodes and that's it. There's no reason for anyone to be interested in this when superior and complete release is so easy to find. It might be different if the MSRP were low enough for this to serve as a demonstration, to find out if you'd be into the rest of the series or not but at a $19.95 suggested retail price, it's likely too expensive to appeal to those who were only curious about the series and not willing to shell out the $40 on the complete set that they may or may not enjoy or get their money's worth out of.
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.
This release is completely barebones and void of anything except for a menu screen and chapter selection options.
Kingdom Hospital – The Beginning is a completely useless release. It's not cheap enough in the MSRP department to serve as a taste test for the boxed set of the complete series, and it doesn't offer anything extra at all aside from the first two episodes. If you were into the show, get the complete set instead and skip this one – there's no point to it.
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.