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MGM Studios DVD presents
"He doesn't want to be dead anymore!"
DVD ReviewSuperstar novelist Stephen King actually penned five novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, which became known due to an especially diligent fan's discovery. This real-life occurrence provided the basis for his novel The Dark Half, in which a college professor's mass-accepted literary alter ego actually comes to life. In 1991, King collaborated with renowned horror guru George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) to craft a film version. I have not read the novel, but I understand that the movie sticks very closely to its source material. Unlike some other films based on King's novels, detractors cannot claim that King had nothing to do with the product. Unfortunately, The Dark Half suffers from a lengthy running time and a lack of unique tension within the screenplay.
Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) has achieved remarkable success through many novels that appeal to the masses' need for violence and horror. However, the legions of fans have no idea that he is the true author. They believe them to be the work of George Stark, a supposedly imaginary writer with especially graphic prose. But could this creation actually be alive? When Thad decides to sever ties with his pseudonym and reveal the truth, mysterious events start occurring. The people involved with his publicity stunt begin to die, and all the evidence points to him. Castle Rock Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Michael Rooker) doesn't believe Thad is the murderer, but fails to comprehend the otherworldly nature of the killings.
This tale contains a unique premise that should lead to an intriguing and tense journey. Romero and King don't seem like the pair to miss an opportunity to send audiences scrambling from the theater in fright. Yet there's something missing from this collaboration that would have generated a more effective experience. Although I did flinch at a few surprising moments, the murders are actually fairly predictable. Too much time is wasted on the police procedure, and we never get to explore the deeper issues. If Thad and his wife Liz (Amy Madigan) do survive the experience, will he be able to live normally without George Stark? I admire the creators for not providing an overly detailed explanation of every minute detail. However, that might have at least been more compelling than the by-the-numbers horror scenes.
Timothy Hutton plays the dual roles of Thad and George and does a decent job keeping each from slipping into caricature. His work in their final conflict nicely maintains the differences and eerie similarities between the two. Sadly, I was having a difficult time staying interested by this point, 100 minutes into the film. Romero spends many of the early scenes injecting impending dread, but the tension just can't be sustained for the entire two hours. The countless sparrows in the gruesome finale do provide some nasty chills reminiscent of The Birds, but it can't save the overall experience. Though it has some original ideas, The Dark Half falls short and becomes a mediocre experience.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: It is extremely distressing to see even this mid-level release given such a lackluster transfer. The pan-and-scan format does not help this film, which would benefit considerably from wider frame. I have read that George Romero preferred the pan-and-scan format, but it seems difficult to imagine his reasons. This transfer contains plenty of grainy moments and a minimal amount of sharpness to the images. Nothing distracts completely from the viewing, but few positives exist in this presentation.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: Considering the unfortunate visual transfer, this 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track actually works relatively well. The audio remains centralized and rarely moves through the sound field, but it emits quite clearly from the speakers. The dialogue is easily understandable, and the scare effects do serve their purpose. While not a superior effort, this transfer does offer a worthwhile listening experience.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Extras Review: The only saving grace of this minimal release is a two-page collectible booklet that gives us a few behind-the-scenes anecdotes. The included material remains brief, but several interesting items do appear. The lone additional feature is the full-frame trailer, which gives away plenty of information in typical fashion.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsThe Dark Half begins with the chilling vision of a living eye functioning inside the head of a young boy. While that probably will end it for the more squeamish viewers, it raised my hopes that this tale would be more than just another horror film. That promise dissipated during the weighty middle act and eventually dulled my interest in the story. Given the lack of extras and below-average transfer, this release is recommended for devoted fans only.
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