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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/31/00

1983 (1999) - Columbia TriStar

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Christine Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C/D

Specs and Features

111 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, talent and filmographies, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai, Closed Captioned

"For the first time in my life, I found something uglier than me. I know I can fix her up."

In the long string of movie adaptations of Stephen King novels, John Carpenter's Christine has got to be one of the more fun ones. The basis of the story (a high school nerd becomes popular, gets the girl and becomes a self-centered punk) isn't highly original. Carpenter plays it smart by playing up the humor and the absurdity of death-by-possessed-car and makes Christine a fun and scary ride.

The prototypical nerd in question (horn-rimmed glasses, pocket protector and all) is Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon). He's a complete mama's boy and does his chores every morning before leaving for school with his best friend, Dennis (John Stockwell). Dennis is popular, good-looking and on the football team. Clearly, their ability to be friends despite the nerd/jock high school socializing taboo results from a childhood bond that cannot be broken.

After a particularly trying first day of school, Arnie buys an old beater of a car - a 1958 Plymouth Fury, nicknamed Christine. The old man he buys it from assures him that the rewards he'll reap from taking in the smells of his first new car (in words that I dare not repeat in this review) are reason enough to buy it. So Arnie pays for it and stores it at a local garage. He then invests all of his free time fixing up Christine.

Christine is a car that was just born to be bad. As Arnie fixes her up, the two begin feeding off of each other's obsessions and become protective of one another. When Arnie finally lands Leigh (Alexandra Paul), the girl of his dreams ("She looks smart, but she's got the body of a slut"), Christine, good devoted car that she is, naturally becomes jealous. Words cannot do justice to what happens when Christine gets jealous, but it works on film. Soon, Christine becomes a vehicle (sadly, the pun is intended) for Arnie's revenge against those who bully him. He is ridiculed day in and day out by the local bad-asses. These are the kind of kids that look like they've been in high school forever, and have little chance of ever making it out of their senior year. When they meet their inevitable demise at the hands, that is... wheels, of Christine, it's handled with a well-balanced blend of humor and horror. There is no really plausible way to make a Plymouth Fury look scary and intimidating, and thankfully the filmmakers kept that in mind when making Christine.

Christine has got to be, outside of Halloween, one of Carpenter's finer looking films. He's a master of making full use of the widescreen frame of vision, to create a picture that moves and seems very three-dimensional. This is part of what makes Carpenter so successful as a director in the horror and science fiction genres, where use of foreground and background is essential. His work here, with cinematographer Donald M. Morgan, looks a lot like some of his earlier work with Dean Cundey in films like The Thing and the underrated The Fog. So what Christine may lack in story detail, it certainly makes up for in visual appeal.

The DVD presentation of Christine is an average effort. On the video side, we get a pretty good anamorphic widescreen transfer, with a pan and scan version on the reverse side of the disc. Most of the faults in the picture lie in the print used for the transfer and the age of the movie itself. There is a modest amount of grain, which appears every now and then throughout the movie, and some noticeable edge enhancement. However, black levels are nicely deep, and colors and flesh tones are rendered accurately without over-saturating the picture. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track leaves something to be desired. Dialogue is hushed and muffled, making it difficult to follow the story at times. Effects are mixed adequately, but there is very little (if any) use of the surround channels, which gives the overall sound mix a flat, hollow feel.

Even more disappointing are the features - that is to say, the almost complete lack of features. Unless you consider some notes in the DVD booklet, filmographies and a fairly extensive audio and subtitle set as extras, this disc is not going to satisfy. There isn't even a trailer. John Carpenter has a big following in the fantasy genre, so I can't help but feel Columbia really dropped the ball here. My understanding is that Carpenter himself is not a fan of this movie, so I would assume that's why he opted out of doing a commentary track (which he has been willing to do on many of his other films, old and new).

Christine, the DVD, is really light on the extras, but the good-looking widescreen picture should make up for that. And any fan of the movie should be thrilled to have it in its original widescreen format. It's a fun fright flick, reminiscent of 1950s drive-in movies - the kind designed purely to make you laugh and jump out of your seat. I'm a fan of Carpenter's earlier work, and until The Fog and Escape from New York make their way to DVD, I'll happily watch this one instead.

Dan Kelly
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