A young med student who has just started her internship at an Atlanta hospital uncovers a frightening conspiracy.
It was, of course, only a matter of time before someone got around to mounting another adaptation of Robin Cookís Coma. After all, itís been twenty-four years since the Michael Crichton-helmed film version hit theaters, which is practically a lifetime in Hollywood years. So a couple months back a two-part miniseries was broadcast on A&E, bowing to rather dismal ratings. Why did so few people tune in? Canít say for sure, but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that most people in the target audience were already familiar with the story, which goes a way toward defeating the purpose. If you know whatís coming in a story like this, craft is the only thing left to hook you, and thatís something this version sorely lacks.
Crichtonís movie isnít great (in large part because Cookís novel isnít great, although the movie does improve on the book), but itís creepy and effective. The image of those comatose bodies suspended from the ceiling by wires is an indelible one, one that is in no way robbed of its power by time and familiarity. Nothing in this new version comes close to touching that moment. In fact, thereís not a whole lot here that works in any way. Thereís nothing new, and certainly nothing memorable.
Let me give you a warning: If you buy, rent, borrow, or steal this release, do not read the summary on the back, as it more or less reveals everything that goes down. If for some reason you donít know what this story is about and donít want to have it spoiled, donít even glance at the back of the packaging. That being said, it wonít take you long to figure out whatís going on anyway.
Coma opens with footage from some sort of exposť (I donít know if itís supposed to be a documentary, news report, or online video) that claims to know whatís really going on behind the doors of the hospital, and once the story proper begins it wastes no time getting right to the weird stuff. It also wastes no time making clear who the good guys and bad guys are (you know exactly whoís going to end up doing what from the moment each character is introduced), and anyone paying even the least bit attention will figure out the particulars of the sinister goings on.
Had the movie anything to offer in terms of well-drawn characters, a smart pace, storytelling savvy, and/or some good shocks, the lack of suspense wouldnít necessarily be a deal breaker. But it doesnít offer any of those things, so it turns out to be a slog. Both writer John J. McLaughlin (whose career includes both Black Swan and the Tommy Lee Jones disaster Man of the House [Iíll give you a minute to let that sink in]) and director Mikael Salomon (who photographed such flicks as The Abyss and Backdraft before turning to directing, with most of his output being for television [including a 2008 adaptation of Crichtonís The Andromeda Strain]) botch their efforts, taking the lean source material and injecting extraneous characters and unnecessary subplots, and either slowing things down to a snailís pace (the first half drags) or barreling through at a clip obviously designed to cover up the ridiculous turns of the plot (the second half never slows down), which throws everything out of whack.
In place of the suspense and creeping dread the Crichton version had to offer, here you get stupid, implausible action sequences. Itís a tossup as to which is more ridiculous: when the main character (played by Lauren Ambrose, whose work leaves much to be desired) repeatedly ditches rounds without being sent packing, or when she starts sneaking through ducts like heís John McClane. You know those garbage trucks with the extension arm on the side? One of those picks up a car and tosses it off an overpass, killing the driver. This is done in the middle of rush hour in a major metropolitan city, yet no one witnesses it.
Let me repeat that: A car stuck in traffic gets picked up and thrown from an overpass and not a single person notices. The main character is able to sneak around the facility where all of the weird stuff is going on, never requiring a key card or any sort of identification, and never being noticed by the security guards that are always patrolling or watching monitors. And instead of offing the new girl who is running around and causing trouble, the bad guys choose to off the dozen or so well-known, influential people sheís talked to about her suspicions. (Thatís by no means the extent of the inanities, but you get the idea.)
The single dumbest addition to the plot is a killer who does the bad guysí dirty work. Heís not your run-of-the-mill hired thug, as he was in the í78 flick, but is instead some poor sap whoís being kept hopped-up on psychotropic drugs. He hallucinates, is fed misleading information, and frets over crimes he may or may not have committed. Thereís a long sequence where he chases the main character, a sequence which goes on forever, serves no purpose whatsoever, and gets dumber and dumber as it goes along (which is true of the miniseries as a whole).
The entire second episode is more or less one long chase scene, with Ambroseís character running from place to place, often encountering bad guys who helpfully explain their nefarious plans to her. And when sheís run out of bad guys to talk to, the whole thing just sort of ends, with people acting completely, illogically out of character, and the ruthless, power-mad villains saying the hell with it and just giving up.
This being a suspense-horror flick of the modern age, there has to be some sort of twist. The twist here is just as lame as everything else, and so obvious youíll have figured it out long before itís finally explained. The bit of plot that fuels the twist takes the place of the gender politics in Cookís book and Crichtonís movie, which is unfortunate, as itís nowhere near as interesting. Sure, the whole bit about a woman intruding into a manís world was more novel back in the Ď70s, but itís still relevant, and can still add weight and drive to whatís otherwise little more than escapist fare, and this miniseries could use a big shot of both.
Coma is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the image has been enhanced for anamorphic displays. The visuals here are intentionally dark; daylight exteriors are infrequent, and even then the skies are gray and cloudy. (The miniseries was filmed in Atlanta in late 2011, and the crew obviously made the most of the atypically overcast weather.) Interiors are black and gloomy, and colors have been desaturated, with steely silvers and grays dominating. Thereís some crush in all of those shadows, and moirť and aliasing are noticeable at times. Coma is a little slicker than most basic-cable offerings (Ridley and Tony Scott number among the producers, so the budget was probably a little higher than normal), and thatís certainly reflected in this discís transfer.
The only audio option is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Although theyíre not consistently active, the surrounds get a good bit of play here, opening up the music (which is never more than generic) and channeling some effects during the chases and whatnot. Dialogue sounds fine. The low end has a modest presence. English, English SDH, and French subtitles are available.
No extras are included.
Stick with Crichtonís version. Or read the book. Or do both. Just make sure you avoid this thing.