Generally when you think of the name Stephen King images of horrific things pop into your head, rarely are they ever of something pleasant. While King is best known for his scary stories, the man has also written some of the greatest dramatic stories over the years as well…stories that eventually went on to become absolutely brilliant films in their own right. Whether it was The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile, plenty of King films have received notoriety over the years for their brilliance. One film, however, isn’t always remembered so much as a King story as it is a Rob Reiner film. That film is, of course, Stand By Me, a coming-of-age drama that revolves around four boys and their search for a dead body. While it does have elements of King creepiness, it’s definitely much more of a drama rather than straight up horror like It (damn clowns!).
In a small woodsy Oregon town, a group of friends–sensitive Gordie (Wil Wheaton), tough guy Chris (River Phoenix), flamboyant Teddy (Corey Feldman), and scaredy-cat Vern (Jerry O’Connell)–are in search of a missing teenager’s body. Wanting to be heroes in each other’s and their hometown’s eyes, they set out on an unforgettable two-day trek that turns into an odyssey of self-discovery. They sneak smokes, tell tall tales, cuss ’cause it’s cool and band together when the going gets tough. When they encounter the town’s knife-wielding hoods who are also after the body, the boys discover a strength they never knew they had. STAND BY ME is a rare and special film about friendship and the indelible experiences of growing up. Filled with humor and suspense, STAND BY ME is based on the novella ‘The Body’ by Stephen King.
I don’t remember when I first watched this film, but the story forever stuck with me. Not even the discovery of the dead body or any of that, but more just the experiences these boys had going out on their own at such a young age in search of…something. The body was just an excuse, really, for the four boys to spend time together and while their adventure is relatively minor, it’s just the sense of comradery and dependence on one another that makes you feel so easily connected to them. It’s not hard to imagine that you’re one of them as they each have their own unique flaws and attributes that you can relate to (or in some cases you could perhaps relate to more than one).
This is really the type of film you hate to see end; at less than an hour and a half long you really just want the story to continue going on for another hour. You connect or relate so easily with the characters in the film that it’s hard to let go so soon; even though it’s a twenty-five year old film at this point and quite a bit of it is dated visually, the story and characters are really quite timeless. Plus the lack of cell phones and technology inundations makes the likelihood of kids hearing about and finding a dead body before the cops makes it slightly more plausible; I’m not entirely sure how grounded that logic is in reality considering two groups of kids/teenagers found the body before any kind of law enforcement official, but it’s just one of those things you look past because the film is so damn enjoyable.
As great as the story is, it’s the actors that really sell it. This film is a really nice collection of actors, ranging from Richard Dreyfuss as the narrator (and older Gordie) to Kiefer Sutherland as the main protagonist in the film to Corey Feldman. While you still see some of these actors in films to this day, sadly there are a few who are either not with us anymore (River Phoenix) or simply not acting in much of anything (Feldman). Plus there is a brief appearance by John Cusack and…well, it’s just one of those films you watch for the story and the acting never really springs to mind because it all just feels so natural and organic…which is exactly how it should feel, really. But the performances in this film really are just fantastic—all of the main boys have a naiveté about them that really just helps sell the young, innocent mind of a kid. Sure, they smoke and curse so they aren’t really all that innocent, but considering the trouble homes they each come from it’s just another layer of reality that helps sell it all.
Overall Stand By Me is really one of those classic films that isn’t ever brought up all that much; it’s definitely a well-loved film, but when it comes to rattling off your list of favorite films it’s just not one of those films that springs to mind immediately…perhaps because you remember it so fondly that you think of their adventure as your own and by that elevation of it in your memory it becomes more than just a film. However you cut it, this is a Highly Recommended film.
Sony releases Stand By Me in a pretty nice release. The disc itself arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with decent disc art on the Blu-ray…and, well some inserts and that’s it. No DVD copy or anything this time around. Of course there’s an easily navigable menu system, but other than that there’s really nothing new here to talk about, as the majority of the extras are all ported over from the eleven year old special edition DVD.
The AVC encoded film makes the various outdoor landscapes look as thrilling as it possibly can, although the fact the film is twenty-five years old now does lend itself to be a bit more susceptible to grain and the like. Overall though Sony did quite a nice job restoring the quality of the image, with plenty of detail to be had from the myriad of areas the boys travel through and alongside. Audio is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix but it really could’ve fooled me—there really just isn’t a lot of force to this track. Never mind the overall lack of LFE output that packs any kind of punch, the surrounds just aren’t that widely dispersed either. This isn’t that surprising considering it all stems from a source that is a mono track, but it does make for a rather lifeless sounding track at times. It definitely doesn’t sound bad, just not that great either.
• Audio Commentary with Director Rob Reiner
• “Exclusive Featurette “Walking the Tracks: The Summer of STAND BY ME including interviews with Stephen King and Rob Reiner”
• 25 Years Later: A Picture-in-Picture Commentary Retrospective with Director Rob Reiner and Actors Wil Wheaton & Corey Feldman
• STAND BY ME Music Video
Owners of the past releases will find the only new addition here is the “25 Years Later: A Picture-in-Picture Commentary.” The rest of the extras (what little there are) are ported over; the 25 Years Later retrospective, however, is really just flat out fantastic. It has a bit of an overlap when you’ve already heard the original Reiner commentary, but it’s still very much worth listening to/watching. The added input from Wheaton and Feldman is a welcome addition, though I’m a bit bummed O’Connell couldn’t join them.
Overall this isn’t a film that really demands Blu-ray (especially the audio), but it’s still a nice set and anyone who is a fan of it will definitely want to check out the “25 Years Later” PiP commentary. Highly Recommended.
Stand By Me: 25th Anniversary Edition arrives on Blu-ray on March 22nd