Riding the Bullet Review
There’s a general consensus that most Stephen King adaptations are poor. I am not a reader of Stephen King’s novels, but I’ve seen quite a few films based upon his work. Here is an amazingly well put together survey, collecting the opinions of an individual (myself):
|Carrie||The Lawnmower Man|
|The Shining||Pet Sematary|
|Cat’s Eye||Sometimes They Come Back|
|Stand By Me||Sleepwalkers|
|The Running Man||Tommyknockers|
|The Stand||The Dark Half|
|It||The Rage: Carrie 2|
|The Shawshank Redemption||The Mangler|
|The Green Mile||Needful Things|
Wow, actually that’s quite a lot of Stephen King based films I’ve seen. So in my experience we’re looking at 50/50, which means that the general consensus is clearly wrong, so there. Whether or not any of those I’ve listed are truly faithful to their novelised counterparts remains a mystery to me, and perhaps forever will. So without further ado – let’s a do.
21 year-old Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson) is a gifted artist, but much to the chagrin of his teacher and friends he only ever infuses his work with images of death and decay. One night he sees Death before him and toys with cutting his wrists in the bath tub while at a party; he does so, but only as a result of receiving a shock surprise. When he gets out of hospital he’s greeted by his girlfriend Jessica (Erika Christensen), who gives him a pair of concert tickets. All set and ready to go, Alan’s plans are quickly thwarted when he receives a call informing him that his mother (Barbara Hershey) has recently suffered a stroke.
Skipping the concert Alan decides to hitchhike his way to his mother’s hospital back in his hometown, but his journey is about to become the toughest he’s ever faced. Along the way he encounters several strangers and becomes tangled up in his own revealing past pertaining to the death of his father and his odd obsession over dying. Alan’s obsessions are about to become a hard hitting reality when he meets George Staub (David Arquette) on a quiet night. But will he make the make the choice when offered between life and death?
Mick Garris, who is no stranger to Stephen King’s writings, having directed The Stand (see “Good”), Sleepwalkers (see “Shit”) and The Shining TV mini-series (see “Haven’t seen yet”) returned to the horror maestro’s work in 2004 with a story based upon King’s best selling e-book, which was written in 1999, shortly after King’s almost fatal road accident. As with more than a few adaptations of any book the transition to film can often be difficult and certain liberties are almost always taken. Director/Screenwriter Garris - while professing to adhere to the story’s central core - takes King’s contemporary tale and transplants into the sixties era; not only does this provide the means to chuck in a bunch of other King references – such as Christine for example – it evidently highlights a love for rock “n” roll music, which was in its element by 1969. Furthermore the director interprets Alan Parker’s internal thoughts in a more direct, visual manner, by showing us a metaphysical twin. So there may well be cause for fan concern, but I don’t think we’re looking at anything detrimental here.
In fact Riding the Bullet is a well put together psychological tale of repression, self-hatred and guilt, and the inevitable journey one must take in order to find redemption. It could have been a difficult, rambling mess of a production, but Garris has the good foresight to direct in a rather low-key, steady paced manner, allowing for the film’s narrative to unfold simply, yet directly over the course of a lean ninety-five minutes. And that’s all anyone could hope for, given that the story doesn’t greatly rely on big shocks and special effects; although Garris naturally dishes out a few impressive moments including some nice CG trickery in the form of Alan’s animated bathroom beauties, a nasty dog getting smashed into by a big truck and KNB, with their usual high standard make-up work. Predominantly a character piece, then, we’re drawn into the mystery surrounding our protagonists through interspersed flashbacks, dreamscapes and foreboding exchanges of dialogue which lead up to its final denouement; though light touches of humour are thrown alongside its emotional drama, acting as a counterpoint to its serious subject matter. It’s not easy to maintain a consistent tone when juggling these various elements, but Riding the Bullet ensures that it gets across King’s intentions while successfully catering for genre fans.
Thankfully it has a commendable cast to get it through as well. Jesse Birdsall look-a-like Jonathon Jackson, who appeared in the woeful Tuck Everlasting (which my friend made me sit through and I’ve never forgiven her for it) redeems himself by making a suitable appearance as the lead figure we have to invest in, who finds himself struggling to come to terms with mortality over morbid fixations of death, while the highly touted Academy Award nominee Barbara Hershey puts in a pleasant performance as Parker’s mother. But it’s David Arquette who delivers the most entertaining acting, going against his usual nice guy persona by relishing his ghostly role and slightly hamming it up as one of Satan’s messengers.
presents Riding the Bullet in its native 1.85:1 aspect ratio and gives it a good helping of anamorphic-ness. The film’s transfer is stable throughout, catering well for the often changing day and night shots with well balanced contrast levels and a natural colour palette, along with strong detail. Minor edge enhancement is visible, but not too problematic.
The disc’s 5.1 channel offering is also commendably strong for a film that doesn’t initially appear to be heavily reliant on surrounds. Riding the Bullet’s atmosphere is greatly enhanced thanks to some nicely steered spatial effects and high emphasis on its colourful soundtrack songs. Additionally dialogue is sharply centred, rounding off a solid presentation.
Optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing are also included, which makes for more brownie points.
The main attraction amongst the fairly limited extras is an audio commentary by director Mick Garris, and it’s a very informative one throughout. Garris begins by talking about obtaining the rights and trying to get the film off the ground over a period of four years, made all the more difficult when every major studio turned him down. The move to go independent meant having to compromise with the film’s budget and location, and so the director explains how he and his crew went about accommodating the story as best as possible over a 30 day shoot, along with mentioning the distribution process and his close working relationship with Stephen King. He goes on to talk about adapting King’s short which was originally set in 1999, and then adding some nostalgic value, while also trying to explain his intents for the story and how it isn’t a conventional horror, along with how important the film’s soundtrack is to the overall experience. Garris also talks in detail about casting and offers some interesting insights into how movie financing works, in this case the German financers giving him grief over having huge name actors. He comes across very honest and clearly Riding the Bullet is close to his heart, and it’s a shame that the film never did receive the wider audience it deserved, subsequently tanking hard at the box office, while PG-13 shitfests were raking it in. Occasionally Garris does repeat himself when talking about how people perceive the film, whether good or bad, but overall it’s a solid and entertaining enough track which covers pretty much every base.
Next up we have Shooting the Bullet - a 16-minute featurette which is split up into several chapters, each one focuses on a different aspect of production, which basically elaborates upon what the director touches upon in his commentary. Beginning with Thrill Village, Mick Garris talks about finding the perfect old fashioned amusement park in Vancouver, where the featurette then shows plenty of behind the scenes footage and introduces Jonathan Jackson. From here artist Bernie Wrightson delivers his thoughts on providing Alan’s Artwork from a personal standpoint, coming across very enthusiastic. Next is David Arquette’s Make-up, with input from KNB’s Howard Berger, who explains the several stages of make-up, along with the actor’s thoughts on the overall process. There are also a few behind the scenes shots for this. The Picture Cars is presented by the Transport Department’s Dean Fitzpatrick and Reggie Singh, whose job is to find the appropriate vehicles to match the film’s time period, while The Fury Crash goes behind the scenes of the film’s main car smash, and is perhaps the lengthiest segment of the featurette, showing us various set-ups and special effects work. Finally, A Cemetery Shoot has Jonathan Jackson talk about his character, before we go behind the scenes of said shoot, with additional input from producers Joel T. Smith and David Lancaster.
Annoyingly the featurette has certain moments during which an overlaid score is so loud that it often drowns out the dialogue coming from the interviewees.
Lastly the film’s trailer is also included.
Any film that opens with a shot of an attractive nude model is bound to grab your attention, and in Riding the Bullet’s case it maintains its consistency throughout, even if there are no more nudey bits afterward.