Coma is probably the best item that demonstrates the fact that techno-thriller author Michael Crichton had an alternative career path in filmmaking if desired. Coma is a taut medical drama or a science-fiction horror depending on how you look at it, and is a worthy filmography addition to the man who directed cult classics such as Westworld and Runaway.
In hindsight, twenty-three years after the film's making, Coma has a plot lifted straight out of a collection of the best seventies paranoia writing. Genevieve Bujold plays Dr. Susan Wheeler, a young, smart and determined woman who begins to suspect foul play when her best friend lapses into a coma after undergoing a routine operation. After digging up some 'hidden' research at the Boston General Hospital where she works, Susan soon learns that many patients have undergone 'harmless' operations, only to be left in a coma afterwards. Susan's suspicions are aroused further when she discovers that all of the comatose patients are then shipped to one place, the mysterious Jefferson Institute. However, Susan's investigations have caused annoyance amongst some people, and her silence soon becomes desired at any cost.
Based on a small-selling novel by Robin Cook, writer/director Crichton produces a slick, scary and intelligent movie on a small budget and with relatively few superstar actors. Genevieve Bujold is an inspired choice as Susan; she's both sexy and yet aggressively driven to find the truth, and Bujold provides a delicate balance of fragility and self-conviction. Equally well cast is a young Michael Douglas as Bujold's love interest, who may or may not have faith in her instincts. Richard Widmark, Lois Chiles and Rip Torn also provide good supporting turns.
What stands Coma apart from most low budget seventies chillers is Crichton's fascination with giving the film a glossy futuristic finish, as if he is hell-bent on slipping in the notion of advancement-gone-too-far into the film, which is certainly a feature of some of his other efforts such as Disclosure, Jurassic Park and The Terminal Man. Crichton lets the story drive the film, and doesn't pander to visual directorial tricks to force the narrative home. Coma works simply because the story can be related to every member of the audience, as the fear that a doctor may not necessarily be doing his best attempt to save your life is a universally shared one, and the film exploits this notion to the most horrific level possible.
Presented in both 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and 4:3 unmatted fullscreen, Coma was originally shot open-matted and thus the viewer has the choice of choosing the cinema version in widescreen or the unmatted version which contains slightly more visual information at the top or the bottom. The anamorphic widescreen version has a better clarity and the image appears less grainy, whilst the fullscreen version has more of a washed-out quality. Even so, Coma has been given the best picture version yet on DVD, and the film looks fresh despite a few speckles and the dated seventies décor.
Presented solely in the film's original mono, the audio track is clear enough if recorded at a lower level than usual. Coma is certainly not a sound-effect driven film, but the sounds that are available are presented perfectly acceptably.
Unfortunately, the only extra available on the DVD is the theatrical trailer, which does a good job of highlighting the tense potential of Coma as a film even if it gives some plot elements away. Despite the inclusion of the trailer, the extras are a missed opportunity with no retrospective making-ofs and no commentaries.
Coma is a classic medical/horror film that is a good example of how a well-constructed plot can be the most fundamental aspect of a film. The picture and sound quality of the film are fine, although you might want to view the film before buying it, as the extras are disappointing. Even so, Coma can be purchased quite cheaply from most Region 1 stockists.