Release Date(s)1990 (October 12, 2021)
Studio(s)Castle Rock Entertainment/Columbia Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
In many ways, Misery still tops the list of quality Stephen King adaptations. It doesn't incorporate everything from its source novel, but one can't help but get caught up in it. Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman utilized their collective storytelling techniques and Kathy Bates gave an Oscar-winning performance. A black comedy-thriller hybrid, it's one of those rare instances when a Stephen King-based property is critically acclaimed, financially successful, well-received by audiences, and rewarded with a coveted gold statue (the only King adaptation to do so).
Writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is the author of the Misery series, a set of successful romance novels. Wanting to change his career path, he writes a manuscript for a new novel as the final Misery book is hitting shelves. After getting into a car accident on his way home during a blizzard, he wakes up under the care of Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a nurse with a warm and caring disposition, as well as his “number one fan.” Upon reading the latest Misery novel, Annie becomes enraged when she learns that Misery’s character dies. She turns more and more psychotic towards Paul, keeping him prisoner, even torturing him, and forcing him to write a new Misery book under her supervision. As Paul’s publisher (Lauren Bacall) calls the local sheriff (Richard Farnsworth) and his deputy wife (Frances Sternhagen) to find him, he soon realizes that he’ll never make it out of Annie’s home alive and must do whatever he can to survive.
Paul Sheldon's car crashing, ankle-breaking, typewriter-wielding trip to stalker hell has managed to hold up incredibly well since its debut in 1990. Almost Hitchcockian, it has a heavy emphasis on character with black comedy and screw-tightening suspense mixed together successfully. Though Paul’s attempts at reaching out for rescue are repeatedly thwarted, he never gives up and we root for him to not only get away, but get some revenge as well. At the same time, Annie Wilkes is a maniacal but lovable person, despite everything she does to Paul. It’s a remarkable thing to pull off correctly, and Kathy Bates does so in spades.
The film also comes towards the end of Rob Reiner’s incredible run of successful and diverse films that include This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand by Me (another King adaptation), The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, and A Few Good Men. Thanks to his direction, James Caan’s and Kathy Bates’ performances, Barry Sonnenfeld’s cinematography, and Marc Shaiman’s score, Misery is one of the finest character-driven suspense films ever made.
Misery was shot on 35 mm photochemical film by Barry Sonnenfeld, using Panavision cameras and spherical lenses, and was finished on film at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Kino Lorber Studio Classics took advantage of a new 4K scan of the original camera negative. The image was digitally remastered and graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are available). The most obvious difference between this presentation and previous releases is the increase in fine detail. The Scream Factory Blu-ray was cropped, but the framing on this release matches the MGM Blu-ray more accurately. The new Ultra HD also improves the color palette, dramatically so at times. Outdoor scenes in the snow were almost blue on Scream’s release, but now the hues are more precise. Skin tones are warmer, the overall picture is brighter, and blacks are deeper, with stronger shadow detail. The interiors of Annie’s house, as well as the Silver Creek Lodge, exhibit additional depth and richer color. Grain is refined and well-encoded, never appearing heavy outside of a few moments that were artificially “zoomed” during post. The image is stable, pleasant, and film-like, with nary a spec of dirt or damage left over. Optically-printed shots stand out a bit more, but this is definitely the best presentation of the film to date. It’s marvelous.
The audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. These appear to be the same tracks from the previous releases. The original stereo track is the more effective of the two since the 5.1 doesn’t offer much in terms of surround activity outside of occasional atmospherics and score (it’s more of a front-heavy presentation). The 2.0 track mixes the elements together more naturally with excellent dialogue reproduction, biting sound effects, and plenty of ambient activity, particularly during quieter moments in the house or outside in the snowy wilderness. LFE activity is limited, but both tracks are clean and free of leftover damage.
This package also includes the film on Blu-ray in 1080p, which is sourced from the same new transfer and is spectacular in its own right. Outside of a pair of audio commentaries, most of the extras can be found on the Blu-ray, all carried over from the MGM DVD and Blu-ray releases. Each disc features the following:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary with Rob Reiner
- Audio Commentary with William Goldman
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary with Rob Reiner
- Audio Commentary with William Goldman
- Misery Loves Company (SD – 29:54)
- Marc Shaiman’s Musical Misery Tour (SD – 14:31)
- Diagnosing Annie Wilkes (SD – 8:48)
- Advice for the Stalked (SD – 4:59)
- Profile of a Stalker (SD – 6:19)
- Celebrity Stalkers (SD – 5:09)
- Anti-Stalking Law (SD – 2:24)
- Season’s Greetings Trailer (SD – 2:27)
- Trailer (HD – 2:27)
- Needful Things Trailer (SD – 2:01)
- The Silence of the Lambs Trailer (HD – 1:52)
Both commentaries provide excellent information about the film. At the time of the recording, Rob Reiner says he hadn’t seen the film in over ten years. As such, he dips in and out, but when he’s on, he talks at lengths about his experiences developing the project and making the film. William Goldman also takes pauses while watching, but is open and honest about his time working on the film and what his opinions are on the source novel versus the finished product. Misery Loves Company is an excellent making-of by Michael Gillis featuring interviews with Reiner, Goldman, Barry Sonnenfeld, Frances Sternhagen, Kathy Bates, and James Caan. Marc Shaiman’s Musical Mystery Tour features an interview with the composer about his score for the film. Diagnosing Annie Wilkes, Advice for the Stalked, Profile of a Stalker, Celebrity Stalkers, and Anti-Stalking Law all feature interviews with forensic psychologist and author Reid Meloy, John C. Lane of The Omega Threat Management Group, and prosecutor Rhonda Sunders, all of whom explore the psychology of Annie Wilkes and discuss real life stalkers. The rest of the extras consist of the film’s two trailers, as well as two trailers for other Kino Lorber titles. Not included from the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release are two interviews from 2017: Rob Reiner Directs a Thriller and Greg Nicotero: Practical Effects and Human Replicas. Also missing from a couple of overseas DVD and Blu-ray releases is a photo gallery. The discs are housed in a black amaray case with the original theatrical artwork, which is also showcased on the limited edition slipcase housing.
Well-deserving of its stature, Misery is a finely-tuned piece of work. The film has been released on home video a number of times through various studios, but having it in nearly perfect quality is reason enough to pick it up again. There may be a couple of things missing that owners of the previous Scream Factory Blu-ray release may want to hang onto, but this is definitely a worthy upgrade. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons