In 1977, Robin Cook’s first major novel, “Coma,” was published. It was rather successful, earning him a spot on the New York Times’ best-seller list, but just as impressive was the fact that it became a movie the very next year, starring Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas. It wasn’t exactly a bad attempt at telling such an interesting story, but it did have its share of problems including being rather stretched out and taking quite a while to build suspense. Now, over 30 years later, the story has been given a second chance to be adapted, but this time it’s in the form of a miniseries.
The story involves a medical student by the name of Susan Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose), who is attempting to become a surgeon. Not long after she begins her rotation at Peach Tree Memorial Hospital, she discovers that one of her friends who was in for surgery lapsed into an unexplained coma. Upon further investigating the incident, she discovers that this has happened multiple times, with many of the patients ending up at a mysterious coma treatment center known as the Jefferson Institute.
Her investigation begins to have consequences when her friends start getting fired and she herself nearly gets dismissed from the hospital. However, a powerful friend of hers, Dr. Theodore Stark (James Woods), helps her out and urges her to continue. Thing only seem to become worse as she gets assaulted one night and even discovers hidden cameras in her apartment. Her search eventually leads her to the Jefferson Institute where she makes a horrifying discovery that finally explains everything.
As I mentioned earlier, the story at the heart of “Coma” is a rather interesting one and could be told well under the right circumstances. However, given that one of the main problems with the original 1978 film version was that it felt stretched out, a miniseries was not exactly the best route for it. The movie had run a little under two hours, but the newer version runs a whopping 160 minutes, so those behind it obviously thought they had enough material that was worthy of filling up that time.
Unfortunately, the result is a story that feels even more stretched out than before. This version ends up taking even longer to get going than the previous one, but what would you expect when they have nearly a full hour more to work with? The filmmakers’ best solution to filling this time seemed to be to fill it with several characters that end up feeling superfluous such as a fellow med student whose main role was to run around and worry about Susan or Memorial’s head of psychiatry who’s in a strange relationship with him.
It was rather surprising to see that some of these small, unimportant roles were played by rather well-known film and TV actors. Such big names as Geena Davis (the head of psychiatry), James Woods (Susan’s unexpected friend at the hospital), Joe Morton (another doctor at Memorial), Ellen Burstyn (the head of Jefferson Institute), and Richard Dreyfuss (a professor) make small appearances. Why they would sign on for such small roles in a miniseries that had some clear issues even at the script stage is anyone’s guess.
Another issue with this miniseries involved its attempts to build suspense. There is almost no suspense at all in the first part (the miniseries is divided into two parts), whereas in the second part, the filmmakers mistakenly think an overly-long sequence involving Susan being chased by a maniac will make up for it. Even near the end when Susan is at the Jefferson Institute, it never really feels like she’s in any danger given the characters who are threatening her. For a story that should be very suspenseful, you could say that this is the project’s biggest failing, as it should feel as though she’s in danger throughout.
Turning now to the DVD itself, the video is presented in a 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. It’s a decent transfer, but the picture is not as sharp as it could be, resulting in a slightly dulled look. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio is a little on the soft side. As a result, I had to turn the volume on my TV way up to hear what was being said, though, with this adjustment, pretty much everything was adequately audible.
Now let’s take a look at the biggest failing of the DVD itself: the fact that it contains no special feature whatsoever. I’m not talking about “no special features” as in there’s only a trailer or TV spot, I mean that there are really no special features at all. No “making of,” no commentary, no marketing material. Nothing. For someone who loves watching the extras on any Blu-Ray or DVD regardless of how good the movie or show was, this was quite disappointing.
In the end, it could be that “Coma” was never meant to be a full movie or miniseries, as is evident by both versions being rather stretched out to fill their runtimes. Perhaps it would have been better suited as an episode of some medical mystery-drama. This makes me curious as to whether the 300 page Cook novel works the same way. Was he the one that added all the filler, or was his novel simply twisted around by those who adapted it? Either way, even after two attempts, it has been unsuccessful. Perhaps one day someone will find the right way to tell this story with all the suspense it requires. Then again, this could simply be the case of a story that works better in book form.
Special Features: 0/10
Overall Rating: 4/10
Available on DVD starting tomorrow.
Now playing in theaters: Cloud Atlas, Paranormal Activity 4, Argo, Taken 2, V/H/S, Looper, Hotel Transylvania, The Master, Arbitrage, The Dark Knight Rises
This review is based on a copy of the DVD received for reviewing purposes.