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Directed by Fraser Clarke Heston (son of Charlton Heston) in 1993 and based on the Stephen King book of the same name, Needful Things, like many of King's creations, takes us to the town of Castle Rock, Maine. When the movie begins, an older and rather distinguished gentleman named Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow) arrives in town and sets up shop. His store, named Needful Things, seems to specialize in rather esoteric fare and not long after he opens, various townsfolk are showing and finding seemingly one of a kind items that have a personal connection to their own lives.
Gaunt is happy to get the good people of Castle Rock whatever their hearts desire, but in return he asks them to engage in a little trickery amongst their own. Little pranks. Simple little practical jokes like messing up someone's clean laundry. It all seems innocent enough at first but as you'd imagine, tensions soon rise as the people in town start turning on one another. Gaunt, all the while, watches on in great amusement. No one suspects Gaunt of anything, save for the town sheriff, Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris). He starts digging around to see what he can find and in doing so begins to uncover some unsettling truths about Gaunt's true identity.
Note that this is the theatrical cut and not the extended cut of the movie that was prepared by Heston for television broadcast. The extended cut was considerably longer and had a running time of about three hours. While some of the violence in the theatrical cut was trimmed for TV broadcast, there was a fair bit more character development in the extended cut. Kino made mention on their Facebook page that they looked into licensing the extended cut, but it didn't happen. As it stands, the theatrical version contained on this disc is pretty light on character development. The movie has a fairly large cast of supporting characters that are never properly expanded on enough for us to really get to know them and because of this, many of the citizens of Castle Rock get shortchanged.
That problem aside, however, Needful Things is a decent enough movie and one of the better King book-to-film adaptations to have been made in the 1990s. Much of the credit for this goes to the two leads. Ed Harris is the right sort of actor to play a cop. He's got a tough guy sensibility to him and he looks the part but he's also got an air of intelligence about him. Because of this it's not so hard to buy him as the guy who starts to figure all of this out. Harris does quite well for himself in the role. More impressive, however, is the great Max Von Sydow as Leland Gaunt. Von Sydow's got such a great voice that it's hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job here than he. He also has a great screen presence and a nice vibe that mixes pretension, arrogance and menace quite effectively. He brings King's character to life in grand style and the movie is all the better for having him in it. Supporting efforts from the late, great J.T. Walsh (who is genuinely great in this movie, if underused), Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer (as quirky as ever) and Ray McKinnon as the town deputy are also pretty decent and worth mentioning, but really, once this is all over it's Von Sydow who makes the biggest and best impression out of everyone in the cast.
At two hours the movie is reasonably quick in its pacing but again, almost too quick in that we don't get to know a lot of the characters like we should. The photography is handsome enough and the small town locations used for the shoot have plenty of atmosphere. The Needful Things store itself has an effectively eerie vibe to it the way that some small stores dealing in bizarre antiquities can and often do. The movie also features a pretty decent score from Patrick Doyle that helps add to the proceedings. Had there been more character development here and had Heston been allowed to have his three hour cut be ‘the one' than Needful Things would probably have been better received than it was and better remembered than it is. As it stands, in this cut it's entertaining enough and has enough going for it in terms of casting and interesting set pieces to make it worth seeing.
Needful Things arrives in AVC encoded 1080p high definition from Kino's Studio Classics line and it looks quite good on Blu-ray. Presented on a 25GB disc and framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen there's minor print damage throughout, heavier in the opening credits sequence than the rest of the movie and fairly minimal afterwards, but there isn't anything super heavy to complain about. The picture is stable and nicely detailed, showing no evidence of any noise reduction or edge enhancement. Colors look great and black levels are quite strong here as well. Things look pretty good here for the most part and this is definitely a nice upgrade over the past DVD release.
The only audio option for the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track. Optional English subtitles are provided. No complains there. We get a nice boost in the clarity of the score that's used throughout the movie and the dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and there's decent channel separation in the left and right front speakers during a few key scenes.
The main extra on the disc is a commentary track with Heston moderated by Walter Olsen. Heston starts off talking about how this was originally intended to be directed by Peter Yates and how he wound up being brought onboard as the director himself. He speaks about the script, the troubles of adapting the rather massive novel, shooting in British Columbia, and he offers up his thoughts on the cast and crew he worked with (he speaks quiet positively about almost all of his associates and about his experiences on the film in general). He also talks about his relationship with the film's producer, how some actors tended to stay in character, his feelings on working with different actors of different styles, what it was like on set, why the film was shot in 1.85.1 rather than in scope, and of course, the three hour extended edition and how that was turned into a two night event for television. He also notes that were he able to do a true director's cut it would be 10-15 minutes longer than the theatrical cut and that he feels the extended version is too long.
Aside from that we get a theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.
It would have been nice to get both the theatrical and extended cut of Needful Things but, understandably given that the rights are held by a different owner, that didn't happen. That said, Kino have done a fine job bringing the theatrical cut of the movie to Blu-ray in a nice transfer with solid audio and a revealing audio commentary as its main extra. It's not a perfect release but it is a good one and even the theatrical cut has enough merit to make it worth seeing. 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.