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Rob Reiner
James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall, Graham Jarvis, Jerry Potter
Writing Credits:
Stephen King (novel), William Goldman

Paul Sheldon used to write for a living. Now, he's writing to stay alive.

When romance writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) crashes his car on his way to deliver a manuscript, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), his biggest fan, rescues him and nurses him back to health. But when Annie discovers that Paul kills off her favorite character, Misery Chastain, in his last book, she demands that he write a new novel and bring Misery back to life, or else.

Box Office:
$20 million.
Opening Weekend
$10.076 million on 1244 screens.
Domestic Gross
$61.276 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 8/1/2000

• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Misery (1990)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 5, 2007)

One of the most successful big screen adaptations of a Stephen King work, 1990ís Misery introduces us to famous novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan). When he finishes his newest opus and leaves his remote mountain cabin to deliver it, Sheldon hits inclement weather and crashes his car.

Sheldon passes out but local resident Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) comes to his rescue. His self-proclaimed ďnumber-one fanĒ, Annie nurses the severely injured Sheldon back to health. All goes well until she reads his latest in his series of novels about Misery Chastain. Annie adores these tomes but goes over the edge when she discovers that Sheldon kills the character in the new book.

Annie already showed some signs of mental instability, but she completely loses it at this point. While local sheriff Buster (Richard Farnsworth) searches for the missing Sheldon, Annie grows nuttier and develops a strong fantasy attachment to Paul. The movie follows his attempts to escape for her deepening insanity.

A viewer would have to see Misery as one of Kingís most personal works given the obvious similarities between the author and the Sheldon character. Itís awfully tough to see it as anything other than a poison pen letter to Kingís more obsessive fans.

Whether or not one reads Kingís autobiographical viewpoint into Misery, the film provides one of the authorís most compelling tales. Of course, King didnít work in a vacuum, and the movieís pedigree helps it. Behind the camera, we find Rob Reiner as director and William Goldman as screenwriter. Both collaborate well here, as the film forms a nice union of script and direction.

I think Reiner remains best at comedies, but that sensibility actually allows for a looseness behind Misery that a more traditional horror director might lack. Reiner creates a perverse humor beneath the insanity and nastiness. These elements allow the darkness to work even better. An unrelentingly cruel tale would get old, while the occasional moments of cynical levity open up matters and dig at us more. No one will call this flick a laugh riot, but its dark humor gives it a strange tension it otherwise might lack.

Caan and Bates fill probably about 95 percent of the movieís screen time, so their work becomes crucial. Bates earned a Best Actress Oscar for her turn as Annie. We donít often see performers rewarded for films of this sort, though history would repeat just a year later when Jodie Foster won the same prize for The Silence of the Lambs, another genre effort.

While Iím not sure Bates deserved such a high honor, I do like her work as Annie. One could easily make Annie a broad, cartoony personality. Those elements exist in her makeup anyway, and someone else couldíve delivered a performance devoid of any reality or nuance.

Bates manages to avoid those pitfalls. She takes Annieís absurd side and adds a layer of real darkness. Rather than offer a one-dimensional nutbag, Batesí Annie becomes something nastier and more believable. She does this without irony as she buys into the role with full conviction.

Caan gets the less showy of the two parts, but he plays Sheldon well. I like the contrast between Annieís exaggerated wide-eyed fan and the more cynical, jaded Sheldon. Of course, the differences between the two make the path they take all the more delicious, as we expect a tough guy like Caan to easily be able to make mincemeat of a tubby softie like Bates. The fact that she almost always maintains the upper hand creates a great tension as we wait to see where the film will go.

Misery lacks the broad drama or scope of many other King offerings, and I think its simplicity is what makes it special. This is a work that could actually succeed as a stage play, though the movie still feels like a fully realized piece of cinema. The film works on all levels to become a winner.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C+/ Bonus D-

Misery appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. A mix of problems marred this mediocre presentation.

Inevitably, the lack of anamorphic enhancement exacerbated some of these. Definition seemed erratic, though not as bad as Iíd expect for a non-anamorphic transfer. Most of the flick presented acceptable delineation, though sharpness was generally lackluster. I noticed sporadic examples of jagged edges and shimmering as well as occasional signs of edge enhancement.

The transferís biggest concerns came from source flaws. Misery often displayed specks, blotches, nicks, and other marks. Though these werenít overwhelming, they showed up frequently and created more than a few distractions.

I didnít expect a vivid palette from Misery, but I thought the colors looked a little too drab even when I considered the filmís design. Skin tones seemed a little purple, and other hues veered into the muddy realm. They werenít bad, really, but they lacked much clarity. Blacks seemed pretty deep and dense, at least, though shadows tended to be somewhat thick. I felt this transfer was just good enough to merit a ďC-ď, but it occasionally dipped into ďDĒ territory. Itís not a satisfying presentation.

Donít expect a lot from the low-key Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Misery. The soundfield appeared moderately restricted. The forward speakers offered a modest spectrum in which we heard a bit of ambient audio from the sides. It remained gentle at most times, though some useful sound could pop up there. I thought things tended to be a little too ďspeaker-specficĒ, though; a few elements were too heavily localized for my liking. The surrounds mainly provided light reinforcement of the forward speakers. Music and some effects appeared from the rears Ė a thunderstorm proved pretty active - but this was usually a very forward-oriented soundtrack.

The quality was positive. Dialogue always sounded crisp and natural, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were clear and clean without any distortion, and they also demonstrated reasonable dimensionality. Through the film, the music appeared well rendered. Nothing much happened here, but the audio was acceptable.

Virtually no extras showed up for Misery. The DVD included the teaser and theatrical trailers. Nothing else appeared on the disc.

I donít know if Misery is the best adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel, but it resides high on that list. A simple but chilling tale, this one benefits from excellent acting and concise storytelling. Unfortunately, the DVD proves less winning. It offers weak visuals, average audio and almost no extras. I canít recommend such a lackluster release, even though I like the movie a lot.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4333 Stars Number of Votes: 30
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