A few months ago I watched Ghostbusters again for the first time in years, and once it was over I realized that I’d never enjoyed it as much as I just had, no matter how often I watched it when I was younger. The thing is, the movie is just better when you’re older. Sure, it’s fun when you’re a kid, as you can pretend that there’s still a chance that you can actually become a Ghostbuster, but as an adult, you get to enjoy the film for all the sharp, witty, sexually charged jokes that you just don’t understand as a kid. The movie just gets better as you grow up watching it, and I found the same to be true when watching Stand By Me.
Based on the novella “The Body” by Stephen King (yes, really), Stand By Me is a story about four boys embarking on a expedition to find the rumoured body of another boy from their same small town who had recently gone missing. It’s a fairly straightforward plot; however, it soon becomes a journey of self-discovery, companionship, and memories that will last them a lifetime. The four boys — Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) — each represent different personalities that any of us can recognize from our childhood, and just how much the viewer can relate with these characters is the main reason why the film is so brilliant.
Of course we all didn’t go off looking for dead bodies, outrun a train, or find a leech in our underwear, but as a man who was once young himself, (and let’s face it, while for everyone, guys are the target audience) I knew exactly why these guys believed the stuff they were talking about — well before the thought of girls ever entered the picture — was important. How did I know? Because I had those exact same conversations with my friends at that age.
The journey these four boys take is fun for them at first, but quickly becomes filled with encounters and conversations that show just how hard it is to be as fragile as we all are during that vulnerable time in our lives. From losing someone close to you, to being pre-judged by everyone around you, to dealing with abuse in the only way someone feels they can, to simply being “the fat kid” or being bullied, Stand By Me touches on multiple subjects that many will identify with, at least, on some level, and almost feel represented by one (or more) of the boys in the film. It quickly becomes a journey towards the future for those involved, and a journey into the past for those watching.
Much of the praise for this film has to be given to the actors involved. Rarely do you find an ensemble cast of pre-teen boys who have the acting chops that these kids have. Of course, while all extremely talented individuals, we do learn in the special features that the film’s director, Rob Reiner, brought the kids up to the set a month early, and began doing trust, and other acting exercises with the group, in order to not only give them the experience they were lacking (for example, this was O’Connell’s first time acting, at the ripe, old age of 11) but also to make them a tighter knit group, who the viewer would believe had been friends for years beforehand.
Of course, even with the acting lessons, these kids brought their A-game. Wheaton plays the film’s lead, and the most sensitive one in the group, and he does so quite well. While King’s novella “The Body” centered more around Phoenix’s character, Reiner thought the emotional journey of Gordie worked better on the screen, and he was right, mainly due to Wheaton’s strong performance. Phoenix blows his part out of the water, and it’s instantly recognizable as to why he was thought to be the next big thing before his tragic death in 1993. At the same time, Feldman delivers what many would consider, the performance of his career in the film’s biggest wild card, Teddy. Lastly, there’s Jerry O’Connell, who took me by surprise, and — while mainly being used as the comic relief — stole the show on many occasions.
There’s also some great work done here by Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the local bully, Ace Merrill. He fits the role perfectly, and fires off some great one-liners along the way. While it’s easy to hate his character, there’s no denying his charisma on the screen that will have you laughing out loud more than once, in spite of yourself. There’s also — what we’d now call a cameo because we know him, but at the time was no doubt a big role even with how small it was — John Cusack, who played Gordie’s brother Denny. Denny is a big part of Gordie’s spiritual growth, as coming to terms with Denny’s death is the central theme of his journey. Cusack, while only in a few scenes, shows his natural talent, and with ease, helps the viewer see why Denny was such a great guy.
Stand By Me is a classic film that a lot of those reading this likely saw when they were younger. If you haven’t seen it since, do yourself a favour and watch it again now, because like Ghostbusters, this is a film that you will appreciate so much more now that you aren’t just seeing it from the perspective of the kids involved, but as the grown man, looking back, telling a story that we all have our own versions of.
The film looks fantastic. Not all transfers are going to look as crisp as we’d like, but when looking back at the original screens, some of which you can see while watching the special features, you really do see how much better the film looks on Blu-ray. Presented in 1080p 1.85:1 format, while a little grainy at times, it never takes away from the film, and easily qualifies as the copy of this film to own. The audio also sounds fantastic, presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA, the number one hits of the times come bouncing out of the speakers beautifully, while the dialogue and sounds are sharp and clear.
Blu-Ray Exclusive: Picture-in-Picture Video Commentary with Director Rob Reiner and Actors Wil Wheaton & Corey Feldman – Fans will eat this up, as we’re introduced to the trio at almost the same time they’re introduced to one another, for what they believe, is the first time in over a decade. Just as described, the three give commentary on the film as it plays, while they’re down in the corner with headsets on. Seeing their reactions, and live thoughts on the film really add to the experience, and this may pull in some who would otherwise find it too boring to just listen to someone talk over a film.
Audio Commentary – There’s also a regular audio commentary with Director Rob Reiner. Alone, Reiner is able to give more thoughts on the production of the film, and his own thoughts and experiences, which make this a solid listen for those who are interested, even if you watch the above commentary track beforehand.
Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand By Me – Here’s a great feature that almost hits the 40 minute mark, and involves everyone in the film, outside of River Phoenix. Hearing from Wheaton, O’Connell, Feldman, Reiner, and even Kiefer Sutherland, is just great, and really shows how much these guys cared about this film. There’s also a lot from Stephen King, who wrote the semi-autobiographical novella “The Body,” which the film is based off of. It’s a great piece, and definitely worth watching if you enjoyed the film on any level.
Stand By Me Music Video – This one is self-explanatory, however, it’s fun to look back at how simple a video the song received, seeing how it’s still such a huge hit today. The video also included River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton, which was cool to see.
Stand By Me is a coming of age story that any guy watching will be able to relate with on some level. As I stated earlier, while there’s fun to be had by all that watch it, this is a movie tailor-made for guys more so than any film I can think of at this point in time. While the eras have changed, the message stays the same, and I have to wonder, with how much technology owns the youth of today, will this film mean as much to our kids as it does to us? If not, it’s truly a shame.
Columbia Pictures presents Stand By Me. Directed by: Rob Reiner. Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland. Running time: 88 minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: March 22, 2011.
Tags: Corey Feldman, John Cusack, Kiefer Sutherland, Stephen King, Wil Wheaton