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Stand By Me(1986)
After the death of a friend, a writer recounts a boyhood journey to find a body of a missing boy
For more about Stand By Me and the Stand By Me Blu-ray release, see Stand By Me Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on March 7, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Kiefer Sutherland, Casey Siemaszko
Director: Rob Reiner
» See full cast & crew
Stand By Me Blu-ray Review
One of the 1980's finest finally debuts on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, March 7, 2011
In the midst of life, we are death.
Author Stephen King is best known as a Horror writer, but to pigeonhole him into a single category and dismiss his works based on a generalized genre is to lose sight of his true mastery of the written word and his ability to so effortlessly but with such wonderful detail create characters and the worlds in which they live with unmatched vision and realism. Additionally, King's stories are generally very simple ones that succeed because of his outstanding character development, interaction, and places in his fictionalized worlds; his works are proof-positive that it's people -- their emotions and actions -- that make a great story and without whom the best tale would mean nothing if there wasn't some greater meaning beyond the basics of the plot. Whether epic-in-scope and great-in-length novels like The Stand or Under the Dome or shorter but no less rich, intoxicating, and incredibly true-to-life stories like The Body -- the tale on which Director Rob Reiner's (This is Spinal Tap) equally fantastic film Stand By Me is based -- King never fails to populate his stories with real people who engage the reader and pull him or her into a seamlessly-constructed universe, whether that be a desolate, barren post-apocalyptic landscape; under an impenetrable dome; or, in the case of The Body/Stand By Me, the Maine backcountry, in search of death while discovering what it means to be alive.
The big news in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine is of the disappearance of a young local named Ray Brower. Officials are stumped as to his whereabouts, and it's not clear whether he's dead or alive. A young boy, Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell, Piranha), overhears his older brother speaking about the case; Vern's brother, it would seem, has come into a reliable and juicy bit of Brower information: the boy was apparently struck by a train and killed while picking berries outside of town. Vern hurriedly tells his three best friends: Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman, The Goonies), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton, Toy Soldiers). The quartet chooses to make a go of finding young Brower's body in hopes of becoming local heroes; they concoct a story that will satisfy their parents and set out on their journey. Of course it proves a bit more challenging than they anticipated, not in terms of physical exertion but instead the sudden arrival of a reality the kind of which they had never before experienced nor anticipated; theirs is a quest that will reveal what it means to be alive, even as they willfully seek out death.
From a very base-level perspective, Stand By Me is a modest Adventure film with a few brief action-oriented elements scattered throughout the story -- dodging trains, running from legendary dogs trained to "sic balls" -- but the film is far more of a Character drama and, even more important, a story about the meaning of life and all that implies, from the most inconsequential tidbits to the hardest-hitting personal insights that even in the so-called innocence of childhood can have far-reaching, life-shaping consequences well into adulthood. Characters ponder trivial matters -- the ever-increasing bust size of a cartoon character, who may win a hypothetical matchup between Mighty Mouse and Superman -- as they journey, at first as they almost practically shrug off the inevitable consequences of what they will find both in themselves and in the dead body as they both plan and set out on their quest. The film's primary characters, and particularly those who are most personally affected by the search for the body -- Gordie and Chris -- come to find in the journey a hard, unflinching look into themselves, struggling with what it means to live and what to do with life as they place it in a context that's not clouded but rather cleared on their way to the dead body. The dead Ray Brower is almost like the hero of the film; from his death comes an understanding of life that will define the characters more so than anything else they have experienced or are ever likely to experience.
There are two critical elements that make Stand By Me work in this context of discovering life through the prism of death. First is the picture's soulful and honest conveyance of the story, and the second is the unflinching and incredibly accurate group of performances of the cast. As for the former first, Director Rob Reiner's film is one that's visually melodic and structurally poetic. The story's simplicity combined with the weight of the themes gives the picture a unique texture that captures both the essence of the people and the heart of the journey so well that it's often easy to forget the main crux of the picture, the physical search for the dead body. Even through the film's fun fašade, uplifting story, and heart to spare, there's always at least a hint of sadness, of imperfection, of lives somehow tainted by the wrongs of the world. Bonds of friendship and love prove unbreakable no matter the circumstance, and the main characters's desire to see each other succeed in spite of the ills of the world around them -- Chris pushing Gordie to write, Gordie pressuring Chris to excel beyond the limits the world has placed on him -- is at the heart of the matter. Still, there's that underlying sense of despair, regret, uncertainty, and, of course, death; but that's all part of life, too. It's how the characters learn to live not only in the good times but with the bad in life that's the real purpose of the story, and it's that honesty about how life works -- for these characters through the meshing of youth, experience, discovery, and death -- that makes Stand By Me one of the all-time great movies that deals with the realities of the world at large but here discovered through the small-town experience.
Then there is the plethora of fantastic performances that make Stand By Me a complete film. It's more the chemistry and sense of realism the primaries exhibit more so than the sheer technical prowess of their efforts that make the film so good. There's a genuine sense of camaraderie, like they've been real, lifelong friends with shared experiences and a lifetime's worth of understanding of themselves and one another that really allows the picture's deeper themes to take root as audiences become familiar with the kids's lives and dreams. Where the performances might lack a bit in terms of polish -- they can feel a touch forced here and there -- they excel in the honest sense of friendship they convey and the very real-feeling people they portray. River Phoenix is the standout amongst the quartet, but Wil Wheaton certainly manages a sincerity to his part as well that holds the movie together. Kiefer Sutherland is excellent in a role that seems like a precursor to his part in The Lost Boys, while John Cusack turns in an exceptionally honest little effort in a series of flashback sequences. Perhaps the film's best character is played by Richard Dreyfuss; credited simply as "The Writer," he narrates the story from Gordie's perspective, and serves not only as a bookend character who introduces and closes the story but a man who can better reflect on the experiences of that journey from an adult perspective.
Stand By Me Blu-ray, Video Quality
Stand By Me's 1080p transfer is solid, all things considered. The film's age is evident, and while the source is in relatively good shape, the picture simply lacks the polish, vibrancy, and absolute crispness of the best new releases. Still, fans should be quite pleased with Sony's efforts. Despite some wobble/jitter effects evident in the opening title sequence, the image impresses a great deal right out of the gate. This is a stable image that's surprisingly sharp in most places -- a hint of fuzziness and a touch of softness does creep in from time to time -- and nicely detailed, too. The transfer handles wooded areas and foliage quite nicely; groups of leaves both near frame and distant alike rarely appear clumpy or indistinct. The image also does well to capture small facial details, pick up the texture of a well-loved Yankees ball cap, and reveal the fine lines in Chris's dirty white T-shirt. Colors are lively and accurate, with natural greens really sparkling throughout. A bit of grain is retained over the image, but so too is a sprinkling of unwanted speckles. Blacks leave a bit to be desired, with nighttime shots showing a bit of crush, but flesh tones appear accurately reproduced. It's not a stunner of a transfer in the traditional sense, but Stand By Me really benefits from the 1080p treatment; most fans familiar with the movie will be ecstatic with the overall look and feel of Sony's latest catalogue effort.
Stand By Me Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Stand By Me arrives on Blu-ray with both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack and the picture's original mono presentation. The 5.1 mix offers a richer and somewhat more clear and accurate presentation. Despite the extra available space, the lossless offering doesn't stray too far from the original source. This is a naturally reserved track built primarily on dialogue and music; the former is consistently accurate and center-focused, while the latter really shines thanks to the lossless boost. The period songs enjoy a greater clarity and crispness, a bit of a heftier and natural feel that gives the track some much-needed body. Still, most sound effects just come up lacking; a few .45 pistol shots play more as a muffled bang than a tight, loud crack, while even the raw power and energy of passing trains is generally met with minimal authority and a cramped, unfocused feel. Surrounds pick up a few random outdoor atmospherics and crowd chants during the fictitious pie eating contest sequence, but are otherwise left without much to do. The track isn't a disappointment, but it's not a revelation, either; the lossless track adds some space and clarity, but this is generally a routine, uninspired sort of listen.
Stand By Me Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Stand By Me debuts on Blu-ray with a few extremely high-quality extras, including an Audio commentary track, a new Picture-in-Picture "commentary retrospective," and a fantastic "making of" piece.
Stand By Me Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Stand By Me is deservedly recognized as an all-time classic film, based on a story penned by one of the truly great writers of the past 100 years. A story about self-discovery and the effort to better understand life through the prism of death, Stand By Me is built around exceptionally well-written characters wonderfully brought to life through performances that might not be technically flawless, but that certainly benefit from an honesty and sense of camaraderie that make the story work. A "complete and total barf-o-rama" this movie is not; it's not only one of the best of the 1980s, but it's easily one of the finest coming-of-age films ever made. Sony's long-awaited Blu-ray release of Stand By Me yields a 1080p transfer that's a bit rough around the edges but that holds up rather well in the grand scheme of things. Neither the spruced-up 5.1 lossless track nor the mono audio presentation are much to write home about, but the included supplements, limited as they may be in quantity, are certainly of a fair bit of quality. Very highly recommended on the strength of the film.
Stand By Me Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray - March 22-28 - March 22, 2011
At the recent Golden Globes award show, host Ricky Gervais now famously took a few cheap shots at some high profile films, including The Tourist, which is out today on Blu-ray. Typically, putting Hollywood's top actor and actress in a film together should result ...
• Stand By Me Blu-ray Announced - January 18, 2011
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced Stand By Me for Blu-ray release on March 22. This celebrated 1986 coming-of-age story, directed by Rob Reiner and based on a short novel by Stephen King, centers around a group of friends in a late-1950s Oregon town. ...
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