Directed by John Carpenter
Produced by Richard Kobritz
Written by Bill Phillips
Director of Photograpy Donald M. Morgan
Music by John Carpenter
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky & Harry Dean Stanton
1983/110 mins/Color/Dolby Surround
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment DVD
It seemed like a match made in horror heaven. Stephen King was the best-selling author in America, and each of his books was snatched up not only by his adoring fans, but by Hollywood producers who were eager to turn his stories into films. Despite the fact that his THE THING had been a box-office disappointment, John Carpenter was still considered a master of the horror film, thanks to his classics HALLOWEEN and THE FOG. When it was announced that Carpenter would be directing the big-screen adaptation of King's "Christine", horror fans were ecstatic. Yet, the film wasn't the all-out horror-fest that many had expected. Now, some 20 years later, Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment is releasing a new Special Edition DVD of CHRISTINE. Does the film play better after two decades?
Keith Gordon stars in CHRISTINE as Arnie Cunningham, a shy, nerdy boy whose only real friend is high-school jock Dennis (John Stockwell). Following the first day of his senior year in high-school -- a particularly bad day -- Arnie spots a junky used car and immediately wants to buy it, despite the fact that Dennis is against the idea, and the man selling the car (Roberts Blossom) is creepy as hell. Arnie's parents don't like the car either, so Arnie is forced to keep it at a local garage (Darnell's) in order to repair the car. The vehicle in question is a 1958 Plymouth Fury which, Arnie learns from the man selling the car, is named Christine. As Arnie begins to re-construct Christine, he undergoes a transformation himself; he loses his trademark glasses and begins to dress in a more stylish manner. And, in a move which surprises everyone in school, especially Dennis, Arnie wins the heart of the beautiful new girl in school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul). But, those around Christine and Arnie begin to notice some oddities. The car's radio will only play music from the 50s. Anyone who crosses Arnie dies. Arnie himself seems to be obsessed with the car and takes on a violent and apathetic attitude. Fearing for their friend, Dennis and Leigh decide that they must stop Christine and save Arnie.
If you go into CHRISTINE expecting it to be the ultimate "killer car" movie or a classier updating of 1977's ridiculous THE CAR, then you will be sorely disappointed. CHRISTINE is a somewhat quiet film which tells the story of a sad boy and the car which overtakes his life (possesses him?). The violence comes very late in the film, and when compared to something like Carpenter's THE THING, it's quite tame. CHRISTINE plays as more of a suspense/thriller with just a dash of the supernatural. And here lies the two main problems with the film, and most likely the reasons why it got such a luke-warm reception when initially released.
Those familiar with King's novel know that it's a ghost story, as Arnine is haunted/possessed by Christine's previous owner. All of that is thrown out in the film (although the previous owner's bizarre behavior is mentioned) and all that we have is a car that can seemingly drive itself and a boy who begins to go through a radical change. By consciously removing the overt supernatural elements of the story, Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Phillips have created a movie that's somewhat confusing, as we never really know exactly what Christine can do (besides repair herself) or why Arnie goes off the deep end. The movie recreates some of the books memorable set-pieces, such as when Christine is on fire, but they have been toned-down a great deal, and Christine isn't the menacing presence that she is in the book. The biggest flaw with CHRISTINE comes at the 1:39:52 point, when Carpenter reveals a big surprise far too early, thus deflating the suspense in the finale. (And I can't help but wonder why they didn't stick with the book's ending. No, it's not as cinematic, but the irony is chilling.)
So, looking at CHRISTINE 20 years later, those flaws are still there, but it's also easier to point out the positive aspects in the film. The performances in the movie are quite good, especially that of Gordon, who really sells it as both the wimpy and menacing Arnie. Although Carpenter has admitted that CHRISTINE was simply "a job" (he does so on the extras here), the film has his trademark look and there are some great shots in CHRISTINE, most notably the "on-fire" chase and the stalking of Moochie. The violence may be toned down, but the action scenes are well-done and finale contains a good Carpenter "jump" scare. The pairing of Carpenter and King didn't produce the classic that many wanted, but for a decidedly mediocre movie, CHRISTINE has its moments.
CHRISTINE rolls onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. This new Special Edition DVD replaces the previous release from Columbia which debuted in August, 2001. As with the old edition, the transfer on the new DVD is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the image is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This new release appears to have been taken from the same source material, but the image looks better. The picture is clear and sharp, showing very little grain. The dark photography looks fine, and the action is always visible. The colors are good, especially Christine's sleek red exterior. There is some noticeable artifacting at times, and some shots lack in detail, but otherwise, this 20 year old movie looks good. The DVD features a Dolby 2.0 Surround track. This track offers clear dialogue and the film's all important music sounds fine. The use of surround sound is very discrete here, but the Carpenter's musical cues always fill the rear speakers.
The DVD contains several choice extras. We start with an audio commentary featuring director/composer John Carpenter and star Keith Gordon. As with all of Carpenter's commentaries, this one is informative, as the man has a great memory for location shooting and small on-set anecdotes. As Gordon is present, they discuss the film's actors in detail. They don't really talk about the changes from the book, or why the story went in certain directions, which is disappointing. The DVD contains 20 deleted scenes from CHRISTINE, which amount to 26 minutes and can be viewed with the PLAY ALL feature. Most of these are missing pieces from scenes which exist in the finished film, giving us an idea of how a movie is "cut down" for release, but there are a few brand new scenes. All of the scenes are brief and a few paint a clearer picture of how Arnie was possessed by Christine. The disc offers three featurettes, all of which contain comments from Carpenter, producer Richard Kobritz, screenwriter Bill Phillips, Gordon, Stockwell, Paul, and stunt coordinator Terry Leonard.. "CHRISTINE: Fast and Furious" (29 minutes) is essentially a "making of" special, although it goes into great detail concerning the casting and characters, and the film's production, most notably the cars and the effects. "CHRISTINE: Finish Line" (7 minutes) looks at the music of the film and then has comments concerning how the film was received and how it has held up over the years. "CHRISTINE: Ignition" (12 minutes) explores how the book was brought to the screen by Kobritz and Phillips. (Did I know that Carpenter had worked on FIRESTARTER at one point?) Also looks at early casting, revealing that Kevin Bacon was attached to the project initially, but backed out to do FOOTLOOSE! The extras are rounded out by filmographies.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©