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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Stand By Me: Deluxe Edition (1986)

"You guys wanna go see a dead body?"
- Vern (Jerry O'Connell)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: March 22, 2005

Stars: Whil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell
Other Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Casey Siemaszko, Gary Riley, Bradley Gregg, Jason Oliver, Marshall Bell, Frances Lee McCain, Bruce Kirby, William Bronder, Scott Beach, John Cusack, Art Burlee, Andy Lindberg, Kent Lutrell, Richard Dreyfuss
Director: Rob Reiner

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, strong language, some crude situations)
Run Time: 01h:28m:34s
Release Date: March 22, 2005
UPC: 043396104204
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Stand By Me is one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King book to date. Based on his novella, The Body, from the 1982 Different Seasons collection (which also features the writings that led to Apt Pupil and The Shawshank Redemption), it tells the story of four 12-year-old boys from Castlerock, Oregon, who, in the summer of 1959, set out on an adventure that will forever change their lives. The boys—Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (an unrecognizable Jerry O'Connell)—sneak out into the woods to find the body of a dead boy in hopes of becoming famous.

One afternoon, Vern overhears his older brother, Billy (Casey Siemaszko), talking to a friend about how they accidentally discovered the dead body. Immediately, Vern seeks out his friends, who devise a plan to sneak away in hopes of snagging the body first. Despite concerns that their abusive fathers will object, Teddy and Chris decide to ask permission to sleepover at one another's house. Gordie doesn't need to worry about his parents, because both of them have been neglecting him since the death of his older brother, Denny (played in flashbacks by John Cusack). After all of them have successfully duped their parents into letting them spend the night at one another's house, they head for the woods and start their adventure.

While following the train tracks, the boys encounter the town's notorious junkyard dog, debate who would win in a fight between Superman and Mighty Mouse, and even have some personal moments. Gordie is a talented writer, but his father disapproves of his being an author. Yet, while Gordie's family is unsupportive, he finds refuge in Chris. Their relationship is a vivid portrait of the importance of friendship, though at times it feels a little too adult to be the relationship of 12-year-olds. I can't remember any point in my early adolescence where I argued with my friends about my future as these two characters do.

However, even if the emotional confrontations that the boys experience are somewhat forced, they are a welcomed addition to what could easily be a brainless adventure yarn. The character of Teddy is a truly interesting figure, filled with rage at his abusive father, yet fiercely loyal to the same man. There's also an honesty in how the characters are presented with falling quickly into emotional fits of anxiety and fear, and then quickly dismissing them through silly jokes. The precious character moments, which I won't reveal here because it will only spoil the viewing of them, work to heighten the tension of the plot points—such as when the boys have to cross a bridge while a train bears down upon them—because it cements the characters in reality. The inclusion of a subplot featuring Chris and Vern's older brothers led by the villainous Ace (Kiefer Sutherland), also creates an urgency to the plot, as the two groups rival one another to find the dead body.

The script, by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans, is a coming-of-age tale that is at times overly melodramatic but effective nonetheless. Each of the boys confronts his inner demons as the events of their journey progress and they all grow up, to some extent, by the time the story comes to an end. When the closing credits begin to roll, the characters have come to more profound understandings of friendship and the importance of life. Some of the plot devices have been accused of being too Hollywood, such as the inclusion of Chris stealing his dad's gun prior to the trip. I don't deny that most boys wouldn't steal their dad's gun, but it seems safe to conclude that Chris would, and how Rob Reiner handles its presence in the story is truthful to what these characters would do under the circumstances. One point that doesn't ring true to me in the script however is the language. I highly doubt that 12-year-olds in small town, 1959 America would use some of the language included so freely here. When I grew up in the city nearly 30 years after this story is supposed to take place, none of us swore the way these boys do.

Yet, this is a minor point and while watching the film it never occurs to me to even question the accuracy of the dialogue in an historical framework. This is a tribute to the performances by the four leads, each of which really earns his acting chops here. River Phoenix was one of the greatest young actors we had, prior to his tragic death, and his role in Stand By Me is one of many powerful performances that he has left us with. There's an otherworldly quality to his line readings and a tremendous strength in his expression. Equally impressive is Wil Wheaton, who doesn't have as flashy a part as the others, but serves as the anchor on which the story is weighed. It's up to him to make it work, and he comes through with the perfect dance between naïve child and soon-to-be adult. During the film's closing scenes, the sincerity of Wheaton's performance causes the script's content to resonate with the audience. Additionally, Corey Feldman turns in the standout performance of his career, suggesting a depth of understanding not seen in his other work; the rage exhibited by him is frighteningly real. Furthermore, Jerry O'Connell is a nice balance to the other three actors, giving a dose of comedy that lightens the mood enough to keep the viewer from being overwhelmed by the foreboding subject matter.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Stand By Me, however, is its vivid depiction of a bygone time in America—there will likely never be another time quite like the late 1950s in which to grow up. Despite some of its flaws, it still presents an arresting tale of youth during that time period, giving younger audiences a window into this now lost era.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image transfer is the exact same as the prior special edition release from 2000. In fact, the whole DVD is exactly the same. The result is an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer that is a bit rough during the first 10-15 minutes of the film, with numerous instances of print defects and scratches, alongside some noticeable mosquito noise. Additionally, the image is slightly washed out, but not too bad. However, as the events of the story get cooking, the image transfer gets remarkably better. Skin tones are accurate, depth is strong, and contrast is solid. Blacks come across nicely and the overall transfer creates a film-like look. Apart from the rough beginning, this is some nice work.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanish, Portugueseyes

Audio Transfer Review: I must admit that I was slightly confused by the audio setup on this DVD. The audio menu explicitly states that the available languages are all in mono, which fits with this being a re-issue of the special edition release. However, when I played it in my studio, the receiver played it in Pro Logic. Yet, no sound came through the surround speakers, so I'm going to chalk that one up to a tagging error. The dialogue comes across nicely, as does the score and soundtrack, and accurately presents the original sound mix. It isn't a flashy mix, but sound effects sound good in the front soundstage and the end result is a nice piece of film preservation. There also are French, Portuguese, and Spanish mono mixes available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Chinese, English, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Karate Kid, Fly Away Home
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Rob Reiner
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:46s

Extra Extras:
  1. Stand By Me: Deluxe Edition Movie Scrapbook—a newly created insert with pictures, cast and crew information, and details about the production.
  2. Stand By Me Music Video—the original music video made for the song when the film premiered in 1986.
  3. Soundtrack—the CD of the movie's soundtrack.
Extras Review: Since this is just a slightly spiffed-up version of Columbia TriStar's prior special edition release, the extra features here are primarily the same as before. In fact, the set is actually just the special edition DVD in new packaging with a collectible booklet and CD soundtrack. The insert, Stand By Me: Deluxe Edition Movie Scrapbook, gives a brief introduction to the movie and contains excerpts from the 1986 press kit about the cast and crew. There are some nice pictures in the booklet, with the original poster art and also a listing of the soundtracks songs. The CD features select songs that are featured in the film. Each of them is a fun throwback, especially Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis. Considering that these are the only new features, the DVD probably would not be worth its retail price for those who already own the special edition (an investment in the soundtrack should suffice).

In terms of the extras carried over from the previous release, the audio commentary by Rob Reiner starts things off on a rather dull note. He points out some minor details about the production, such as the fact that the kids did not smoke real cigarettes. However, he fails to make any substantial comments about how he directed the children or the thought processes that went into making the film. In fact, there are several long gaps in the track that are begging to have him talk about the events up on the screen. There also is an isolated score track, which features not only the original score but also the songs used in the film.

However, things get much better with the documentary, Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand By Me (36m:43s). Featuring interviews from the three surviving boys, as well as Reiner and King, the documentary covers the origins of the story up to River Phoenix's death. Stephen King's comments are especially interesting since he sees this film as the first truly successful adaptation of his work. The cast members, especially Jerry O'Connell, all have a fun time in their interviews while recalling the shoot. Unfortunately, there isn't any footage from the actual production, but the information discussed here is worth taking a look at.

Following that is the music video for Stand By Me (03m:20s), featuring Ben E. King singing his famous song. It's an extremely old video, lacking all the flare that populates MTV these days. There are also talent files on the principle cast members as well as King, and Reiner. Finally, the theatrical trailers for The Karate Kid and Fly Away Home are both shown in 1.33:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo sound. With the exception of the documentary, the extras on this release are just average.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Stand By Me is an effective movie, painting a striking depiction of 1950s America and the essence of male adolescence. The image transfer here is rough towards the beginning, but increases as the film goes on. The mono sound mix sounds good, though it's nothing flashy. The extras, like the transfers, are holdovers from the 2000 special edition DVD, with the added bonus of the film's soundtrack on a CD and a collectible insert. It probably isn't worth a double dip, but for those who don't own any version of the film, this is an ideal purchase.


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