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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/28/00

Stand By Me
Special Edition - 1986 (2000) - Columbia TriStar

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Stand By Me: Special Edition Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+

Specs and Features

88 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:01:46, at the start of chapter 21), Amaray keep case packaging, featurette Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand By Me, commentary by director Rob Reiner, Stand By Me music video, isolated music score, theatrical trailers for Fly Away Home and The Karate Kid, talent files, production notes, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned

Until Stand by Me came along, the movie-going public hadn't really seen anything from Stephen King other than horror. Carrie had some moments of sensitivity, but, at its heart, it was still a horror movie. But Stand by Me is a tenderly-written drama, with dynamite performance by its four lead cast members, about the last days of summer for four troubled boys before they start junior high school.

Gordy (Wil Wheaton), Teddy (Corey Feldman), Vern (Jerry O'Connell) and Chris (River Phoenix) are all best friends. Each one of them is also unhappy at home, and will do anything not to have to go back there. On a mission of self-discovery, they head off into the woods to find the body of a dead kid, about their age, who went missing a few days before. While hiking through the woods, they share a lot of things with each other, both personal and inconsequential, that help them through an experience that will ultimately change their lives forever.

There are a lot of great things about Stand by Me. First and foremost, are the knockout performances by the young cast members. As actors, they're very smart and think a lot about their words and their actions, yet they still come across as kids rather than just cute faces mouthing words. Rob Reiner's delicate touch in direction also adds a lot to the movie without being too hammy or sentimental. He perfectly captures the awkward humor that comes out of kids growing into their bodies and into themselves. While the screen adaptation by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans doesn't remain completely faithful to the short story, it does capture the feelings of wistfulness and discovery of youth that are so present in King's work.

What has always struck me as just a little funny about the movie, is how the kids act toward each other. They emotionalize a great deal with each other, which is something most kids I knew when I was that age (myself included) weren't ready or able to do. We struggle even as adults to deal with our feelings, and these kids kind of play psychiatrist for each other better than any grown-up would be able to do. Yet without this element of the story, many parts of the film (that would have otherwise come across as flat and somewhat emotionless) instead become touching and emotionally truthful. Stand By Me is a magical movie that has endured as a recent classic of American cinema, and I'm sure it will continue to do so for some time.

The anamorphic transfer on this new special edition DVD seems to be the same one used on the previous movie-only release, but it shows some improvement when spread over a dual-layer disc. The main drawback to the transfer is edge enhancement that is noticeable in some of the brighter scenes. Aside from this, you're not really going to see a lot of transfer-related defects. Flesh tones are even and natural, and blacks are solid with a lot of depth. Overall, the picture quality retains an almost theatre-like appearance that is faithful to the intended look of the film.

The sound mix is the film's original monaural track, and it gets the job done. It's certainly not an active sound mix, and it lacks the depth and range of newer films, but it's a good mono mix. Dialogue is steadily maintained and clear throughout the film. Never does it sound hollow or tinny like many older films can, but I can't help but wonder why Columbia didn't decide to include a new 5.1 mix with the original mono track.

On the previous release of Stand By Me, there were no extra features to speak of. This new release more than makes up for that with a nice set of extras that really complements the film. Rob Reiner's running commentary is enlightening and, at times, very funny. He shares a lot about what went into making the film, working with the actors, location shooting and quite a bit about the train-dodging scene. It's one of the better commentary tracks I've listened to recently. The featurette (which runs about 40 minutes) is also very good. There are new interviews with Reiner, Will Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, Kiefer Sutherland, Stephen King and others involved in bringing this film to the screen. The absence of River Phoenix in the documentary is a sad reminder of his death. A few members of the cast and crew take some time to talk about his incredible acting ability and his contribution to Stand By Me. This is easily the best of the disc's features.

The music video for Stand By Me is extremely dated and a little on the not-so-exciting side. Nonetheless, if you absolutely must see Ben E. King lip synch his song with River Phoenix and Will Wheaton dancing beside him, you won't be disappointed. Aside from the many subtitle and language options, you also have the choice of listening to the film's isolated score (which is basically many variations of the title song), and you get the usual cast and crew biographies, production notes and a few "bonus" trailers. The trailer for Stand By Me is oddly absent from this disc, and Columbia chose instead to include trailers for two completely unrelated films - Fly Away Home and The Karate Kid (which needs so badly to be re-issued with an anamorphic widescreen transfer!). The oddest of the features is a menu page devoted solely to alerting you to the fact that there is a soundtrack for the film. File that one in the "completely unnecessary" drawer.

This new special edition release of Stand By Me easily outdoes the previous movie-only edition. A slight quibble with the sound mix aside, this is a good disc that will more than likely please die-hard fans. The documentary alone is enough to satisfy those looking for behind-the-scenes information about the film. That, in combination with Reiner's audio commentary, makes this disc well worth the purchase price.

Dan Kelly
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