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NEEDFUL THINGS

You got to give the devil his due, because as Stephen King adaptations go, NEEDFUL THINGS ($15) is a lot of fun. After all how can you go wrong with a dark comic, horror tale that features Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer and J.T. Walsh? The plot of NEEDFUL THINGS concerns the opening of a new shop in the town of Castle Rock, Maine. With a curious moniker, and an even more curious proprietor named Leland Gaunt (von Sydow), Needful Things is unlike a typical antique shop, since it always seems to have the one item that would be the customer's fondest desire. And, if the customer doesn't have the ability to pay in cash, Mr. Leland Gaunt is always willing to work out "special terms" for their purchases. Unfortunately, those "special terms" usually involve playing a trick on someone else in the town. While most of the tricks would seem to be harmless fun, they tend to bring out hidden resentments in the populace of Castle Rock, and in turn, those resentments starts a chain reaction of violence and murder.

What sets NEEDFUL THINGS apart from numerous poor quality adaptations of Stephen King stories is its solid cast. Max von Sydow seems to be having a grand old scenery-chewing time portraying the bedeviling storeowner and his enthusiasm for his role is infectious. Amanda Plummer seems to have created a cottage industry for herself by portraying a bevy of oddball characters, with her role in NEEDFUL THINGS being a best of breed. For the most part, Ed Harris and Bonnie Bedelia play it straight, giving the film a strong anchor and emotional center. Director Fraser C. Heston keeps the pacing brisk for the theatrical cut of NEEDFUL THINGS, although I'd be curious to see the much longer version of the film that is purported to exist.

MGM Home Entertainment has madeNEEDFUL THINGS available on DVD in a wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The film's framing falls somewhere between 1.78:1 and 1.85:1 and always appears nicely balanced. Much of NEEDFUL THINGS looks as though it were photographed with a filter over the lens, giving the picture a somewhat soft appearance. During these numerous hazy patches of the film, the image remains entirely watchable and certainly looks better than VHS. However, because of the inherent softness, NEEDFUL THINGS isn't a title that shows off the capabilities of the DVD format.

On the other hand, colors tend to be nicely saturated, with realistic looking flesh tones. The filtered look of the cinematography sometimes renders the more intense hues in a slightly fuzzy manner, but for the most part they hold up well. Blacks appear solid and contrast is pretty good; however shadow detail can be somewhat murky. The film element used for the transfer is pretty clean, plus the grain structure that was noticeable on the Laserdisc edition of the film has been greatly minimized. There are no significant traces of digital compression artifacts during the presentation.

NEEDFUL THINGS is presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack that decodes to standard surround. The mix is pretty good for an early nineties production. There is some nice directionality in the forward soundstage, although the rears suffer from the mild weaknesses associated with matrixed surround. The surround channels provide ambience and musical fill most of the time, with noticeable effects limited to key moments. Dialogue is always crisply rendered and completely understandable. The track has a respectable bottom end that provides just enough punch, whenever the material requires it. There are no other language tracks, although subtitles have been provided in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

NEEDFUL THINGS is an enjoyable Stephen King adaptation that benefits from a great cast. MGM Home Entertainment's presentation is unremarkable, but it is the first wide screen presentation of the film and it does look a great deal better than the Laserdisc release. Because of its bargain price and the fact that the presentation is enhanced for 16:9 displays, I think fans of NEEDFUL THINGS will definitely want to check out this DVD.

 
NEEDFUL THINGS 


Needful Things (1993)

ENHANCED FOR 16:9 TELEVISIONS 


DVD reviews are Copyright 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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