Stand By Me



  review by  Jurassic Mark

Picture: Fine by me.
Sound: Fine by me.

The DVD for Stand by Me features a full length commentary by director Rob Reiner. Normally, I would rather watch a movie than listen to the audio track. There are several reasons why:

1) Often, key personnel are missing from the commentary. I don't want supplementary material from assistant producers, key grips or supporting actors. This usually happens because the crucial people are dead, unavailable, abhor talking on audio tracks or want nothing to do with the movie. If you don't have a (living) director or major actor lined up for your DVD commentary, I say skip it.

2) Sometimes key personnel are involved with the audio track, but you begin to suspect that they may not be the brilliant filmmakers you thought they were.

3) Key personnel are involved, but would rather promote themselves rather than talk about the techniques of filmmaking. These people usually take credit for something they obviously had nothing to do with. A director will talk about his story (when the movie was based on someone else's novel). These people will have you disbelieve the axiom that movie making is a collaborative effort.

In Stand by Me, Director Rob Reiner does a nice job of making himself seem like a genius and everyone else as competent helpers. For example, Stand by Me is based on the novella The Body by Stephen King; yet, King's tale is slyly usurped by Reiner. When Reiner literally uses King (such as the vomit story), Reiner says he didn't think it was very good, but "audiences loved it." With one statement, the director criticizes King, and covers his own ass.

Reiner otherwise takes credit for the story throughout the commentary. I didn't have a problem with much of this. I believe Reiner and co-writers Raynold Gideon and Bruce Evans did an admirable job expanding King's original idea. They also wrote much of the dialogue Yet, Reiner goes out of his way to applaud himself for improving King's novella. I find this very strange because Reiner recorded the audio track long after filming another Stephen King story called Misery. I've read The Body; and I've read Misery. I think Misery is devoid of a commentary track because Reiner changed very little of the source material..

Is Reiner a technically sound director? He mentions early in the commentary that he doesn't like to talk about technical matters. I think this is a copout. He actually does talk about camera work and cinematography. Unfortunately, all he talks about is shooting scenes from a long lens. I was left with the belief that in 1986 (Reiner's third film) he learned how to effectively use a long lens. I cannot emphasize enough Reiner's stylistic long lens (all kidding aside).

Reiner has only directed twelve films to date, but seven are quite good (his first seven). All of these titles fit comfortably on my DVD shelf. They are as follows: This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and A Few Good Men.

Reiner's last five films are: North (universally panned), The American President (good if you ignore the liberal "brainwash"), Ghosts of Mississippi, I Am Your Child (TV), and The Story of Us (regarded slightly better than North).

If I were a movie fan contemplating listening to the audio track for Stand by me, I would consider Reiner's recent examples as an inadequate director and skip his self-indulgent DVD commentary.

Jurassic Mark

SCORE: 3 Stars

Separate, apart, entirely different from my DVD review, I have nothing but good things to say about Rob Reiner's Stand by Me. The premise is sound. Four children embark on a curious adventure to see a dead body. The time and place for our tale is important. The kids live in a small town in the late Fifties (perhaps early Sixties) where they enjoy an independence which does not exist today.

The juxtaposition of loss of innocence and witnessing death is an important theme in Stand by Me. It's not a new theme. Immediately I think of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. There is also a contemporary film comparison. Stand by Me came out in 1986. The Oscar winning film for that year was Oliver Stone's Platoon. In a key scene early in the movie, Chris (Charlie Sheen) sees his first dead body. He gets the dry heaves, and, graphically his innocence begins to dissolve. Stone's dialogue brilliantly underscores the moment. Platoon Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) sums Chris up as " simple son of a bitch."

I can't talk about Stand by Me without using tired phrases like "coming of age." Nevertheless, I'm not prepared to call it a "formula picture." I commend those who can tell stories about their teenage years. Many people look back on their early teens as the best times in their lives. I'm one of those people. Stand by Me is a great film because it sets the perfect tone. The movie is sentimental, but never maudlin. Lesser films cross the line and become sappy. Stand by Me is more concerned with telling a complete story than trying to manipulate you into numb, nostalgic mood.