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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Kingdom Hospital (2004)

"What happens in our kingdom has consequences in your kingdom."
- Doctor Gottreich (Bill Meilen)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: October 13, 2004

Stars: Andrew McCarthy, Bruce Davison, Diane Ladd
Other Stars: Brandon Bauer, Jack Coleman, Jennifer Cunningham, Meagen Fay
Director: Craig R. Baxley

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (horror, intense medical scenes, brief sexual situations)
Run Time: 11h:05m:42s
Release Date: October 12, 2004
UPC: 043396041936
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+AA B-

DVD Review

Kingdom Hospital is a very odd place. As the opening sequence informs us, it was built on the site of the Gates Falls Mill, which burned to the ground in 1869, causing the horrible deaths of many of the children who worked there. The hospital and its facilities were designed to be the embodiment of rational thought and science, the very antithesis of superstition and the supernormal, but its hallways are plagued by sounds of a girl crying and other inexplicable noises, and it's frequently shaken by tremors and minor earthquakes—which have no effect on the area immediately surrounding the hospital.

Stephen King drew his inspiration for Kingdom Hospital from the Danish mini-series Riget ("The Hospital"), directed and co-written by Lars von Trier. King's version hews fairly close to the original, retaining most of its characters and repeating their story arcs. There's everyman Dr. Hook (Andrew McCarthy), his equally bland Wonder Bread girlfriend Christine Draper (Allison Hossack), and his arch-nemesis Dr. Stegman (Bruce Davison). Stegman's brilliance is only matched by his brusqueness and disdain for all of his co-workers, but he's facing charges of malpractice as well as accusations of taking credit for another researcher's work. Then there's the goofy Elmer Traff (Jamie Harrold), a young doctor who's madly in lust with the much more mature Dr. Lona Massingale (Sherry Miller), and Nurse Carrie von Trier (Lena Georgas), who faints at the sight of blood. Heading our crew is the beatific hospital administrator Jesse James (Ed Begley, Jr.), who's so involved in promoting his touchy-feely "Operation Morning Air" that he's unaware of the weirdness going around him.

Into their lives comes Peter Rickman, a famous artist who's the victim of a horrific hit-and-run accident. We've already seen his vision, as he lay bleeding by the side of the road, of a giant anteater-like creature (with long, razor-sharp teeth), whose thoughts Peter seems to hear, and who drags him closer to the road where he can be seen. He also sees another mysterious apparition, a young girl with a bell. As he slowly recovers in ICU, it's only a matter of time before he crosses paths with Mrs. Druse (Diane Ladd), a would-be psychic who leads Kingdom Hospital's staff and patients into a strange world between life and death.

Kingdom Hospital's premiere in March 2004 had strong audience numbers, but they dropped quickly, and after the fifth episode, it was shunted off to a certain death up against CSI and The Apprentice, with predictable results. Despite King's cachet and the built-in audience he would presumably bring to the show, incessant network hype, a faux book by Mrs. Druse, and a supposedly real website for the hospital, the show was essentially a flop.

Riget was less than five hours in length, and a lot of the King version's weaknesses can be tied directly to his need expand it greatly. Although some of the characters (Peter Rickman, who King based on his own real-life experience) add richness and resonance to the story, many others are obviously filler. In many of the episodes, characters are brought to the hospital, hang around for a while and interact with the staff, but then disappear and are never (or seldom) heard from again. It's as if King was inspired by the deaths that begin each episode of HBO's Six Feet Under, but in that series the deaths serve as catalysts for the plot lines. In Kingdom Hospital, we're encouraged to identify and sympathize with the personages, only to have them yanked away from us, and the effect is jarring—and after it happens for two or three episodes in a row, tedious.

King also just doesn't know when to stop. At times, it seems like he can't get through a single scene without some gratuitous weirdness—surgeons with giant saws, operating staff singing and dancing around a patient, talking brain scans (!)—and the cumulative effect is numbing. Where a more judicious choice of unexplained events, à la Twin Peaks or The X-Files, would have added resonance and depth, the silliness of these devices seriously detracts from any atmosphere the series might have otherwise had. There are more distractions: the self-indulgent King can't resist repeated references to himself, in the form of novels and several mentions on TV, silly names (Jesse James and Johnny B. Goode), talking animals, and a little witchcraft and time reversal thrown in for no apparent reason. And the visitations by the ghost girl Mary, so eerily effective in the original, are here repeated with such frequency that their impact is completely lost.

But Kingdom Hospital is far from being a complete disaster, as the above paragraphs might imply. The performances are good, and Craig Baxley's direction (he's worked with King in the past) is consistently interesting, far superior to the plodding craftsmanship most often seen on TV. Some of the bizarre humor, including a headless man desperately searching for his missing body part, an operation on an ambulance-chasing lawyer that includes recording and notarizing every thought and action by the staff, and a TV reporter who doesn't want to be confused by facts, is quite funny and hits the mark. Baxley's direction and King's humor combine in a quick cut from a man blowing his brains out to spilled spaghetti falling on the floor, which is both tasteless and extremely funny.

The series is also pretty to look at. The hospital interiors are attractive yet seemingly realistic, and Rickman's house is stunning. Baxley used the bleach bypass process for scenes in the operating room, and the slightly desaturated colors add a bit of documentary authenticity. Makeup and prosthetics (including some gruesome operating scenes) are well done. The Antubis, the bizarre anteater-like creature, which hovers somewhere between good and evil, is an original creation, and also beautifully realized. The gorgeous title sequence is highly reminiscent of the one from Six Feet Under, which isn't surprising because Digital Kitchen is responsible for both.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic transfer is great, with snappy colors, good black levels, and lots of detail. Skin tones are generally realistic, although sometimes they tend toward orange.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: On par with the image, the audio is excellent, with great dynamic range and clarity. The 5.1 mix envelops the listener with music and environmental sounds, such as rain, but they're never overdone.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Kingdom Hospital DVD release, Seinfeld DVD release, Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Asylum of the Damned, Boa vs. Python
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/executive producer Stephen King, director Craig Baxley, executive producer Mark Carliner and effects supervisor James Tichenor
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Eight-page printed insert
Extras Review: Inside the Walls: The Making of Kingdom Hospital is a bog-standard interview featurette, with various cast and crew members explaining what the series is about. In its 19m:19s, there's a bit on the production's history, how it was shot (all scenes in particular location, rather than by episode), and the usual compliments for each other's work. Patients and Doctors: The Cast of Kingdom Hospital is more of the same, with the actors analyzing their characters. One of the actors contributes an amusing anecdote about meeting Stephen King for the first time, and we learn that Diane Ladd drew on her own interests for the psychic Mrs. Druse. There are more self-congratulatory comments, and its 14m:44s aren't any more interesting than the first featurette.

Things pick up in the 7m:15s of Designing Kingdom Hospital: A Tour, which gives us a tour of the production offices and sets in British Columbia, scenes of the hospital interiors being constructed, and a look at the costume design. But the gem of the extras is the all-too-brief (8m:19s) The Magic of Antubis. It's a fascinating look at the creation of the Antubis, the evolving strategies of its realization on the screen, and the difficult CGI process finally chosen.

There's a full-length commentary with writer/executive producer King, director Craig Baxley, executive producer Mark Carliner and effects supervisor James Tichenor. King does most of the talking, recounting the genesis of the project and Lars von Trier's delight, his collaboration with writer and medical expert Richard Dooling, and the casting process (apparently, so many actors were interested in the series that it was impossible to find a copy of the original in New York and Los Angeles!). He further discusses how Kingdom Hospital differs from run-of-the-mill TV series, points out many of the elements taken from Riget, and the difficulties of the shooting process. It's not a bad commentary, but is occasionally grating when the other three laugh in unison at King's incredibly lame jokes.

A DVD promo for the series is included, as is a promo for Seinfeld and four other trailers. The printed insert includes an episode guide as well as two pages of notes by King. Two discs are included in each of the two keepcases, which are packed in a cardboard slipcase.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital is a hyped-up, overblown version of the superior Danish mini-series on which it's based. Although it's pretty to look at (both the series itself and the beautiful transfer), King just doesn't know when to say "no", and the end result, marred by excess, is disappointing.


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