I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anybody?
When I first read Stephen King’s novella “The Body”, I finished the book with tears in my eyes, and a feeling I can only describe as grieving. I was barely 14 at the time, and the story helped usher toward adulthood, as well as bring on the stark realization that, no matter how much we’d like to, there is no going back. The boredom of a hot summer morning, and days that seemed endless, hiking through the woods to the old barn to dig for buried treasure, and the innocence to actually think I might find it. Even at that young age, my childhood seemed a distant speck in the rearview mirror. I smoked cigarettes. Hell, I even drank a bit. Days were getting shorter, and nights were getting long. Girls became an obsession, and the toys I once coveted were packed away in dusty boxes, stacked beneath the posters of Led Zeppelin that covered the faded Star Wars stickers on my closet door. I put the book down, and I looked around the room. I wanted to tear it all down. I wanted to go back. But you can’t go back, no matter how much you’d like to.
Stand By Me, Rob Reiner’s incredibly faithful adaptation of King’s story, always gets the same response from me. It’s a wonderful film, but I hate to watch it for the very same reasons I hated reading The Body. It takes me back to a place I wish I never left.
When the news of a missing child leads to the discovery of a body on the railroad tracks, four boys – Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman), and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) decide to venture into the wilderness to find it, partly out of morbid curiosity, and partly because this may be the last time all of them are together. While in their hearts they think they’ll be friends forever, they can feel the changes, and know this is probably going to be their last careless summer.
Featuring a splendid young cast that features breakout performances by both the late Phoenix , as well as Kiefer Sutherland and John Cusack, Stand By Me ranks as one of the best adaptations of King’s work, and the first such adaptation of one of author’s less fantastical tales. So worried that the film may get lumped in with the lackluster lot of other films associated with King’s work, Reiner and the studio opted not only to change the title to suit a more mainstream audience, but forgo all mention of the writer in the film’s publicity campaign. It’s success paved the way for films like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, showing both Hollywood and moviegoers that Stephen King was not simply just the master of blood and guts horror, but a truly gifted wordsmith capable of generating tears as well does scares.
Sony brings Stand By Me to Blu-ray with a solid 1.85:1 transfer. The image has a softness to it that’s in keeping with the dreamlike aesthetic Reiner employed while filming it, so it’s not the sharpest transfer I’ve seen, however the level of detail is high, especially in facial features and textures of fabrics . Colors are a touch muted, with occasionally muddy blacks but, overall, the film looks great for its vintage. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack replicates the dialogue and music well but leaves a little to be desired in terms of immersive qualities as much of the action is limited to the center channel. Bass is satisfactory, with some pleasing rumble, especially during the train dodging sequence, while highs are crisp and clear.
Extras include a fantastic PiP commentary track which offers lots of interesting tidbits about the production from participants Rob Reiner, Wil Wheaton, and Corey Feldman, as well as great making-of documentary entitled “Walking the Tracks – The Summer of Stand By Me”, which features interviews with all of the principal cast members (save, of course, for Phoenix), as well as King, who goes into depth about the genesis of the story. Also included is the previously available audio commentary track from Rob Reiner, the Stand By Me music video, trailers, and BD-Live! functionality.
One of the most beloved films of my generation, Stand By Me comes to Blu-ray where it is sure to impact the lives of a whole new generation as the story this film tells is a timeless one. Sony’s Blu-ray presentation isn’t quite up to par with its better offerings, but the film looks and sounds great, and that, along with the compelling collection of extra features, make this an essential addition to every Blu-ray collection.