Coma, a made for TV miniseries produced by Ridley Scott and his late brother Tony Scott and directed by Mikael Salomon, is decent enough entertainment. Based on the Robin Cook book of the same name, the movie follows a medical student named Dr. Susan Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose) who has just started her residency at a hospital to train in surgery under the watchful eye of Dr. Mark Bellows (Steven Pasquale). Along for the educational ride are fellow students Dr. Geoffrey Fairweather (Joe Mazzello) and Dr. Hanna Goldberg (Natalie Knepp) but Susan becomes closer with her new roommate, Jen (Katie Kneeland), then with her fellow classmates.
Things initially seem fine but it doesn't take Susan long to realize that a lot of the patients at this hospital wind up in a comatose state after their surgery is over. Curious as to how and why this is, she convinces Jen to snoop through some of the hospital's records and talks Mark into helping her figure this out. When she learns of a facility called The Jefferson Institute that specializes in treating comatose patients, he agrees but his drive to get elected to the hospital's ethics board, with some help from Dr. Agnetta Lindquist (Geena Davis), seems to be more of a priority for him. When a senior staffer named Nelson (Joe Morton) finds out that Susan has had access to information she should not have, he tries to get her kicked out of the residency program but Dr. Stark Howard (James Woods) surprisingly comes to her defense - her family's ties to this hospital run deep. Susan isn't going to let this go, however - she knows that something strange is afoot and intends to find out what it is, regardless of how many people may be dismaying her from continuing down that path for various reasons, the most obvious being the good of her career. When some of those she's been in touch with turn up missing, however, things become decidedly more complicated - and then there's the presence of a man named Peter Arno (Michael Weston), one of Lindquist's former patients now employed as a custodian in the hospital, a strange man who shows what can only be described as a very unhealthy interest in poor Susan!
Coma falls prey to one of the key problems with ensemble cast movies and that's that it introduces a lot of characters in a very short period of time seemingly in an attempt to show off its star power (and for a made for TV movie, this feature has got quite a bit of it - attribute that to the Scott's collective involvement perhaps?). Despite this slightly irritating characteristic, the movie builds rather well at the beginning, balancing drama and mystery with equal parts suspense and intrigue all shot with a slick sense of composition and an eye for getting the most out of the production's cold and clinical looking hospital locations. In this way, the feature is a bit reminiscent of Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom though the similarities don't go a whole lot further than that surface level. As the story plays out, however, where it should start to get lean and more tense it instead goes in a few too many different directions at once and once we hit the mid-section, the pacing slows down in an attempt to let some of the secondary characters catch up to what Susan, and through her the audience, already know.
There are moments where we're asked to suspend our disbelief. It seems odd that Susan is the one who would pick up on the conspiracy that is afoot before anyone else around her would, and this on her first day no less. There are some editing problems here as well. As Arno closes in on Susan the film takes this plot thread and runs with it. This would all be well and good if it added to the excitement but it's almost too much of a good thing. Genre fans and horror buffs in particular already know that a good stalking scene can be creepy when done right, this one is not. It feels like padding of the worst kind, though to Weston's credit he's good in the role.
For the most part, so are the rest of the cast members. Lauren Ambrose is pretty and easy to like and comes off as intelligent enough to carry the part. Steven Pasquale is also good and it's great to see Geena Davis and James Woods show up here to add some serious screen presence to their respective supporting roles. Ellen Burstyn and Richard Dreyfuss also show up here in small roles, again, their presence is welcome and they add a bit of class to the proceedings.
With the production values as strong a they are here and the cast as able an game as they turn out to be in their respective parts, Coma should have been excellent. Instead, it's rather good in spots, a bit boring in others, and ultimately entertaining enough to be worth seeing once. If it's something you'll go back to time and again, well, that's debatable and the pacing problems and meandering threads of the occasionally tepid script sadly make the case that it seems very unlikely. The original film from 1978 with Michael Douglas and Rip Torn directed by a young Michael Crichton was, if not more realistic, at least more interesting and a lot more exciting.
Coma looks just fine here in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot on digital video, there are no issues with print damage to note and the well encoded disc shows decent detail and strong color reproduction, particularly when it comes to reds. Black levels are strong, if not reference quality and there are no serious compression issues even if a couple of artifacts pop up here and there. Aside from a little bit of line shimmer, this is otherwise a very fine looking effort as far as the picture quality goes
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix (which comes with optional subtitles in English, English SDH and French) gets the job done nicely. Even if it doesn't use the rear channels quite as often as you might want, there are some very clever directional effects used throughout the movie that help to keep you in the moment. Levels are well balanced, dialogue is crisp and clear and there are no issues with hiss or distortion to note. All in all, the movie sounds very good on DVD
Aside from some basic menus and some previews that play before those menus load, there are no extras on this disc at all.
Coma is well made and well acted by a pretty solid cast. It's a fair bit more slick and polished than you might expect it to be given its made for TV roots and it's entertaining and suspenseful enough that it's worth a watch, even if it doesn't really improve on what came before it by any noticeable degree. The DVD is barebones but it looks and sounds good - worth a rental if the material sounds like it's up your alley.
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.