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Old 08-17-2004, 08:59 PM
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Default Christine




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: August 25, 2002

Released by: Columbia
Release date: 8/3/1999
MSRP: $14.95
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes | P&S: Yes



At the time of its release in 1983, the pairing of John Carpenter and Stephen King for Christine was a horror fan's dream. Carpenter was fresh from his string of modern classics like The Thing, Escape From New York and Halloween, and Stephen King was at the peak of his popularity with bestsellers like Carrie, The Dead Zone and Cujo. Needless to say, the expectations for a collaboration of two of horror's modern age icons were huge. Christine went on to become another hit for the two masters of the macabre, but John Carpenter has since publicly dismissed the film as by far the worst of his oeuvre. Does Christine have anything impressive under the hood, or was its box office success solely due to the names of the talents involved? Buckle up and let's find out!

The Story

inline Image To the tune of George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" the camera dollies down from the top of an automobile assembly line to reveal Christine, a red 1958 Plymouth Fury. New and nearly completed, a man takes a quick inspection of her motor only to have his hand crushed after her open hood mysteriously slams shut. Although regarded as an accident, this was certainly Christine's doing, and would serve as a prelude for the destruction she'd cause throughout her future.

inline Image Jump twenty years later to 1978, and best friends Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) and Denis Guilder (John Stockwell) embark on their first day of school. While Denis is a jock popular with both the men and the ladies, Arnie is a timid and scrawny social nothing controlled by his parents aspirations. After his first shop class, Buddy and his friends reaffirm Arnie's social status by harassing him and destroying his lunch. Denis steps in and saves the day and gives Arnie a ride home. On the way Arnie forces Denis to stop and on a whim goes out and buys a now broken down and barely running Christine with his saved up college money.

inline Image Despite his parent's objections against Christine, Arnie keeps her and works vigorously to rebuild her from the bottom up at a nearby auto wrecking yard. As Christine beings to take shape (much to the surprise of everyone), so does Arnie's persona and confidence. Upon completely restoring her, Arnie is the new top dog in town, and even takes out dream girl Leigh Cabot (Alexandra Paul). But his fascination and adoration for Christine become so overwhelming that he beings isolating himself from his friends and family. Christine insures his love for her never dies, as she deals personally with anyone who tries to get in her way. She can be burned, trashed or crushed, but nothing will stop her from being with Arnie. To quote a song from her radio: "You're mine, and we belong together, for eternity."

inline Image Christine is a classy and effective film that works on a number of layers. Foremost, as a horror film it is able to remain convincing and achieve a foreboding and creepy atmosphere whenever the title character is on screen. While the thought of a vehicle being scary is absurd, John Carpenter manages to make King's material appear convincing. The film also works as a biting commentary on teen life, which is at times more revealing than most of the other teen films of the era. Lastly, and perhaps most effectively, Christine works as a character study of a weakling who gets his power and confidence from his car. Here is a guy who'd rather take his car out for a drive than his girlfriend to bed, and as John Carpenter has done so effectively before, his descent into madness is compelling.

inline Image The acting is top notch, as the three leads, Gordon, Stockwell and Paul are all very convincing and believable in their roles. They bring a required human element to the film, making their outcomes all the more concerning. We care about these characters because they are real, not just prototypes of cliché character types. Character actors Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky both contribute memorable roles and make the most of their underwritten parts as well. Not a sour note in the entire film, this is another one of John Carpenter's traditionally well casted films.

inline Image Perhaps the biggest triumph of the film though, is John Carpenter's ability to keep things frightening, while shying away from his trademark gore and jump scenes. It is that looming presence of Christine in the shadows, always conscious of the happenings around her that is scary, not how she dismembers her victims. Not since Halloween has John Carpenter been able to achieve such an effectively creepy mood by showing so little. Not a single shot of gore is included in the film and it benefits immensely from that exclusion. Christine is about the car's relationship with Arnie, not the people it kills, and by refusing to show any of the deaths she inflicts, it keeps the story focused and artful.

inline Image Creating an enjoyable film out of a big name collaboration like Carpenter and King is a tough feat. Viewers go in expecting that traditional Carpenter stylistic touches, while at the same time others go in demanding certain elements consistent in all of King's work. While Kubrick's The Shining was a fine film, it strayed heavily from the book and therefore skewed audiences. Christine though, stays true to King's source material while containing the traditionally effective photography and style that has made John Carpenter's films so memorable. Nearly twenty years later, Christine remains effective and chilling, and still stands as one of Stephen King's best and most faithful adaptations to grace the silver screen.

Image Quality

Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 and a useless 1.33:1 on the flip side, Christine has never looked better. Given how many of John Carpenter's earlier efforts have appeared somewhat washed out on DVD, I was pleasantly surprised as to just how accurate the color representation was on this disc. From Christine's passionate red finish to the lush greens of the leaves on the trees, all the colors here look vibrant and lively. Even the black levels are deep and strong, which is uncharacteristic for a low budget film from the early 80's. Fleshtones are nicely saturated and the print is extremely clean, with hardly any grain at all. The print looks very sharp, maybe even too sharp at times, but still, this is an excellent transfer from Columbia.

Sound

Christine's engine roars loudly in a 2-channel Dolby Surround track, but still leaves a lot to be desired. The audio is clear and well defined, with a nice balance between the dialogue and Carpenter's effective synthesizer score. The vintage music is presented in a similarly fine fashion, but unfortunately almost all of the sound stays up front. The surrounds are limited only to faint traces of the score and a few ambient sounds, making the film sound much more like a stereo track. There is no directional movement, but the overall this track is decent, if quite under whelming.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Upon insertion of the disc, a simple but effective motion menu appears as Christine rides into the front of the screen. Unfortunately, other than that there is little of mention in the supplemental department, because other than a few filmographies there are no extras on this release. Columbia never even took the time to include a trailer. Considering the majority of Carpenter's other films are extensive special editions, this is a huge disappointment. Both of the film's stars, John Stockwell and Keith Gordon have both gone on to make quite a name for themselves as directors, so a commentary with them and Carpenter speaking on the craft would have surely been exceptional. A missed opportunity.

Final Thoughts

Christine is a stellar film that works as a teenage character study and as a horror film. Carpenter triumphs in retaining suspense without any gore or blood, and this film remains one of his classiest works. The DVD features an excellent visual transfer, a decent sound mix, and a definite lack of supplements. At only $14.95 though, this is an easy recommendation to all horror fans. So hop into your 1958 Plymouth Fury's, pickup this DVD, and take Christine for a spin.

Rating

Movie - A-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B-
Supplements - D

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 51 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English 2.0 Dolby Surround
  • Spanish 2.0 Dolby Surround
  • Portuguese 2.0 Dolby Surround
  • English Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • Portuguese Subtitles
  • Chinese Subtitles
  • Korean Subtitles
  • Thai Subtitles
Supplements
  • Filmographies
Other Pictures

 

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