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Christine: Special Edition

Despite decades of trying, most attempts at giving cinematic life the work of Stephen King have birthed a slew of mediocre films. With the notable exceptions of King's more realistic short stories, the genre-grounded tales of horror have been largely unspectacular. Early attempts, however, showed the promise that would keep his adaptations in the Hollywood pipeline for the next 20 years. In 1983, Christine was green-lit, while the novel was still a manuscript, and placed in the hands of John Carpenter. And while it would seem sensible to provide tales of horror to directors with proven experience in the genre, Christine represents one of the few adaptations to receive such treatment. Even in gifted hands, anyone might have a difficult time creating a horror tale wherein the antagonist is, of all things, a car. Carpenter's vision comes close to capturing the absurdity of the concept, not with a heightened sense of terror, but instead a sense of humor. At times darkly funny, the tension one might expect from a "horror" film is sorely lacking, and the characters are so thinly developed that most attempts at seriousness come across as jokes. Even with that, how else do you tell the story of a boy who becomes a man by falling under the spell of a magic automobile? In a 1957 Detroit car factory, a cherry red Plymouth Fury is coming off the assembly line when its hood slams shut on the hand of a worker, and Christine's thirst for blood is born. Twenty years later, the car rusts away in an old man's front yard. Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon), the biggest nerd in school, lusts after the car, dreaming of fixing it up and having a cool ride. Arnie is a complete loser, picked on by bullies and saved only by his odd friendship with class cool-guy Dennis Gilder (John Stockwell). But when he finally buys his dream car, taking it to a local junkyard, a stunning transformation takes place. Overnight, Arnie becomes a classic greaser, his coke-bottle glasses gone, his unkempt hair slicked back, his wardrobe suddenly fashionable. Even the new hot girl in school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul), winds up on his arm. However, his sudden hipster status doesn't escape notice. The school's bullies, either expelled or suspended after their last run-in with Arnie, sneak into the junkyard and smash Christine up. This, of course, is a big mistake — once Arnie sees his destroyed "girl," he promises her that everything will be okay, as long as they "work together." What he doesn't expect is that the car accepts this quite literally, reconstructing itself and inflicting vengeance upon those who've harmed her or threatened her relationship with Arnie. Christine is at its best in the moments that reveal the car's personality. By use of the car's radio, Christine is given life as her emotions and desires are presented through song. And while these cues possess all the subtlety of a Freghtliner blast-horn (when a stranger attempts to enter the car's locked door, Little Richard's "Keep A' Knockin" plays), their usefulness in developing the character bears itself out in the execution. The same broad strokes used to define Christine's personality are applied to the human cast. Changes in personality and character relationships happen off-screen as the story jumps in time by weeks, giving the impression that the film is short by about 30 minutes. In the charge to show Christine's violent side, the characters affected by it are thinly presented, weakening any empathy that might develop between the viewer and the people being run over. Christine seems to prove that putting a talented horror director in charge of a King adaptation doesn't guarantee a better film — instead, it seems that the source material itself simply defies a worthy cinematic adaptation.

*          *          *

Columbia TriStar presents Christine in a nice Special Edition. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is easily the best this film has looked at home, and certainly holding up better than the movie itself. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is crisp, and the animalistic roar of Christine's engine has a needed punch that adds to the car's menace. The highlight of the disc is a full-length commentary from Carpenter and Keith Gordon. While it starts out as a sort of reunion between the two, it quickly gets into the minutiae of the film's creation. It's not particularly funny or revelatory, and there's a little too much back-slapping and resume-reading, but for Carpenter fans it will be a welcome listen. Also included are twenty deleted scenes, most of which do a decent job of filling in holes in the finished product. While a few of the cuts seemed to serve no purpose, both the transformation of Arnie and the budding relationship between Dennis and Leigh get the treatment that would have served well in the final cut at the expense of 20 minutes of run-time. As Carpenter himself says in one of the featurettes, the film was supposed to be about these very relationships, so without them there's a critical problem with the intent of the piece itself. The featurettes begin with the "making-of" spot "Christine: Fast and Furious," which focuses mostly on Carpenter, the cast, and screenwriter Bill Philips recollection of the project (30 min.). "Christine: Ignition" (12 min.) and "Christine: Finish Line" (7 min.) are brief looks at pre- and post- production, respectively. Also included on the disc are cast and crew filmographies and trailers for other Columbia titles. Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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