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Throw two Stephen King fans in a room together to debate which film adaptations of his work were actually good, and you're going to have a mess of epic proportions on your hands. Throw me in the room after the fact to inform them that I've never seen Misery before, and I probably wouldn't walk out alive. Despite having read the book eons ago myself, hearing nothing but good things about the film, passing it at the video store a bajillion times and seeing it parodied on almost every entertainment medium to date... I just simply never got around to it. It's a "cock-a-doodie" shame too, as Misery turned out to be one of the most nerve-racking thrillers I've seen to date! The fact that my first time watching the film happened to be on Blu-ray was most definitely a plus, as the video and audio presentation on this disc drives the suspense home in a way I never would have felt on VHS or perhaps even DVD.
Paul Sheldon is the successful novelist that penned the Misery series, but despite the massive amount of books his name on a hardcover is able to sell, he's grown a little tired of writing about the same characters year in and year out. He's lost a little bit of his flair over the years, as well as his inspiration with it. Practically everything about his writing has become routine, right down to how and where. Every year he goes up a mountain to a snowy cabin in the middle of nowhere to create a masterpiece without being interrupted, and when it's done he comes down from his fortress of solitude to hand over the finished product to his publisher. It's going to be different next time though, as Paul has finally put an end to the series that made him the critically acclaimed author he's become, and he can't wait to write something, anything, new. During his descent from the mountain this time however, he's caught in the middle of a snowstorm and loses control of his car. Everything goes black.
Two days later Paul finds it a pleasant surprise to be able to open his eyes again, thankful that he wasn't dead. The first thing he sees is a woman standing over him with a hospitable smile saying, "I'm your number-one fan!" The warming concept of her hospitality begins to fade as soon as he realizes he's not in a hospital bed. Number-one fan, Annie Wilkes, calmingly informs Paul that the snowstorm was rather severe, knocking out telephone lines and even the road to the hospital. With a smile and a twinkle in her eye, she gushes over how much of an honor it is to have the Paul Sheldon in her home, and that she'd take good care of him because she's a nurse. She was able to set his broken bones back into place, use some makeshift items around the house to keep them there, and she even has a large supply of pain killers at her disposal to keep him comfortable. In a few short days the roads and telephone lines would be open again, and he'd be on his merry way, ever thankful of the fan that nursed him back to health.
Days go by, weeks even. It's become painfully clear that Paul's caretaker is big on excuses and short on temper. Any miniscule request or complaint he might have is met by rage and fury, to the point where Ms. Wilkes even reveals to Paul that she has made no attempt to inform anybody of his whereabouts, and intends never to do so. Annie has forever romanticized over the idea of having Mr. Sheldon living in her house, forever continuing his poetic work under her very roof... and she'll do whatever it takes to make sure that continues to be a reality.
Misery seems as if it was one of those 'guilty pleasure' pieces by Stephen King. Sometimes an author, or artist of any entertainment medium for that matter, has a tendency to create something that's completely self-indulgent. Sometimes it's for the worst, sometimes it's for the better, but King's novel was thankfully a result of the latter. When a plot from the mind of a horror writer revolves around a novelist that's laid up in bed with broken legs and is at the mercy of a deranged fan, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell where that kind of inspiration came from. The book was a brilliant piece of suspense, and at least from the details I can recall from the novel, the film is a pretty accurate depiction of that.
One of the main reasons that this film worked so well for me is simply because it took its time building the suspense. Instead of Annie transitioning from charming nurse to full blown psycho over the course of a couple of scenes, the entire 107 minute runtime was used to keep upping the ante right up until the very end. Little by little Annie would cross every conceivable boundary of sanity, and every step of the way Paul would continually find himself in a worse hell than the day before. Every time Paul came face to face with failure against his obsessive captor, I felt my chest drop to the pit of my stomach. I was able to feel every heart stopping disappointment and letdown, to the point where I felt escape was as hopeless as Paul did. This is fairly impressive considering the film mainly relies on the performances of two individuals, but James Caan and Kathy Bates remained believable and captivating throughout the entire picture. Director Rob Reiner deserves an immense amount of credit for keeping this film alive with its nail-bite inducing pace as well.
Despite how much the pace added to the climbing intensity right up until the satisfying finale yanked my chest out of my stomach and lobbed it into my throat, it also provided a bit of a hindrance. One thing I've never been too fond of in any film, has been a story that drags its central character through the mud so much that I eventually have to throw up my arms and say, "Enough already! Progress the freakin' story already!" I was dangerously close to reaching that point of frustration a few times during Misery, but fortunately after everything was all said and done, I turned off my Blu-ray player feeling very satisfied. I'm sorry I waited as long as I did to find out what all the hubbub was about, but I'm glad that my first experience with Misery was one that exceeded my expectations. If, like me, you haven't taken the time to check out this flick because you're generally not a fan of the numerous Stephen King theatrical/made-for-television movies that have been produced to date, you might want to throw your negative expectations out the window and give Misery a crack.
Misery has been given a very satisfying 1080p encode (1.85:1) via AVC. There's practically nothing I could say to knock the fine presentation this classic has been given, as it consistently managed to stun me with how good this (almost) twenty year old film could look! Any time I hear a popular catalogue title is being given the high-def treatment, I can't help but cringe as I think that the picture will be edge-enhanced or DNR'd to death, you know, so it can appeal to those that want more of a 'pretty' HD image as opposed to an accurate one.
If you're like me in that respect, you can breathe a sigh of relief because in no way does Misery look like a commercially digitized piece of sputum. Film grain has been entirely left intact, ensuring every little bit of detail that's supposed to be seen, is. Sharpness is right where it needs to be as well, never creating a jaggy effect or causing the inherent film grain to look unnaturally pronounced. Skin tones and color saturation are vibrant and lifelike and are always satisfying. Add an impressive level of contrast between whites and blacks, and Misery (I imagine) probably looks better on this Blu-ray disc than it did in theaters two decades ago. The presentation on this disc is one that's full of depth and dimensionality, and the moving quality of the video is a prime candidate to represent what film is supposed to look like on a high-def format.
The only complaint that I could come up with regarding this transfer is the occasional soft shot, although I believe this can be attributed to the source and not a fault of the fine encode that we have here. The level of consistency throughout speaks well enough about the quality of the encode, and I'm certain there's not going to be a single person that can find anything to be unhappy about with this release... at least if you're a fan of true HD representation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is just as welcoming an experience as the video presentation, if not more so. Much of what the film has to offer is through dialogue, but there are some very subtle environmental sounds that sneak through the entire surround field if any particular scene warrants it (which isn't very often). It all comes across as flawless as one could expect, but it's the musical score that really made Misery on Blu-ray more effective than it's most likely ever been (again, I've never seen it before now). The score breathes just as much life into the film as the director and leading cast members. Just as the director and leading cast practically perfected the art of slowly building tension until the heart pounding finale, the score did the same as well. It would creep in the background to provide mood and tone, and whenever something exciting was happening on screen it would swell and roar, filling up the room with a natural sound that made me want to look around and see if the orchestra was physically playing in my home theater. The previous DVD edition of Misery has been included with this release, and although the track provided with that sounds impressive enough for a DVD, it certainly doesn't hold a candle to the lossless track on this Blu-ray disc at its very best. One might not have much of a reason to utilize the DVD that's included on this set, but it's fun to have around simply for making A/V comparisons at home!
As I have mentioned, the previous DVD release has been included inside the case. Although I praised the inclusion of a DVD with the recent Child's Play release, I can't really say the same for a film like Misery. A DVD could be handy for a fun horror flick when you get together with a bunch of friends who might not own a Blu-ray player, but Misery isn't exactly the kind of film I want to sit down and watch with a ton of people. Misery is effective as it is because of how it was filmed and pieced together, as well as a score that was just as vital to building the suspense. Constant interruptions and chatter would ruin the effect that Misery sets out to achieve, so I find no suitable use for having the DVD. Its fine when Disney uses this practice, because you don't want your children messing around with your beautiful Blu-ray disc you just bought. Will my child be begging me to watch Misery any time soon though? I don't think so. If this Blu-ray release could have been any cheaper without the inclusion of the DVD, I would then have to beg studios to stop looking for ways to dump their back stock on us via newer products. I fear that's exactly what's happening though. Unlike the Child's Play Blu-ray, the special features from the previous DVD release are NOT included on the Blu-ray disc, meaning that if you want to see all the extras, you NEED the DVD. I can't help but question if this is some sort of experiment. Child's Play gets the 'DVD and Blu-ray' combo treatment, but actually includes the special features on the Blu-ray disc... but Misery forces you to use the DVD? Shady. Where's the consistency? Ah well, here are the special features regardless.
Audio Commentary by Director Rob Reiner/Audio Commentary by Screenwriter William Goldman - There's a pretty large contrast between these commentary tracks. Rob Reiner is a joy to listen to. He's very proud of his work on Misery, and it shows time and time again as he entertainingly reminisces about almost every aspect of the production during his time behind the mic. Mr. Goldman however is a bit of a different story. He would watch the film a bit and sporadically chime in every now and then to add a little discussion to what's being seen on screen, and unfortunately this makes his commentary track practically unlistenable. There's nothing worse than sitting through a gap-hazard commentary track, and this is one of the ones I would recommend people to stay away from. I'm not sure why Reiner and Goldman couldn't sit together to record a track and bounce conversational ideas off one another, but Reiner is compelling enough on his own to make me forget about such an idea. If you have to choose only one of these tracks (and I highly suggest you do), make it Reiner's.
Misery Loves Company Featurette - This featurette focuses on the film's production. There's plenty of behind the scenes material to look at, and there's comments from cast members about their time on the set as well. If you're not one to want to sit through a commentary because they bore you to tears no matter how informational they are, then this featurette timed at just under half an hour in length should be the ticket for you.
Marc Shaiman's Musical Misery Tour - This featurette covers how the score was made, and considering how important it was to the film, it's highly entertaining to listen to Marc Shaiman discuss his methodology with us.
Diagnosing Annie Wilkes/Advice for the Stalked/Profile of a Stalker/Celebrity Stalkers/Anti-Stalking Laws - Although these five mini-featurettes are separate entities on the disc, they pretty much cover the same overall theme - Real life discussions with professionals in the field of psychology to talk about real life issues featured in the film. These are all a fairly interesting watch, but I'm not sure we needed to get so in depth for Misery. It's clear that Annie Wilkes was a psychotic candidate for a funny farm, I don't need it explained to me why.
Misery is one of the best nail biters I've seen in a long, long time. It's obvious that everyone involved with this film gave their all every step of the way, and had a blast doing it. The film was carefully crafted to give modern audiences something they don't see much anymore - True suspense. It's refreshing to see a film even from 1990 utilize methods of slowly mounting tension throughout the entire course of the film, as opposed to having creepy crawlies jump out at us for a cheap 'boo' scare every two minutes. Regardless if you're a fan or just another schmoe like myself that never got around to seeing such a classic, the Blu-ray presentation of Misery is one that's not to be missed. The video and audio quality faithfully reproduces what the experience of a film is supposed to be like, delivering nothing short of perfection every step of the way. The only shortcomings the video presentation has are clearly inherent of the source, and the score on the lossless audio track is about as effective as one can sound in a home theater (at least for a film that's pushing two decades in age).
The only thing that leaves a sour taste in my mouth about this release is the shifty method of throwing the extras at us by including the DVD instead of porting them to the Blu-ray disc itself. What about the people that already own the DVD? Do they deserve to pay a slightly higher MSRP for the Blu-ray disc just so they can get the included DVD again? Ah well, Misery is well worth the coin regardless. The film itself, and A/V performance are more than enough reason for me to highly recommend this release, although those of you who have already invested in the special edition DVD might want to hold out just for a little while until the price drops a few bucks.
***The images in this review were taken from the DVD that was included.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!