Cujo: 25th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (7th December 2009).
The Film

Stephen King’s prolific ability to write, and write well, has turned his name into something huge in movie and TV adaptations. But long before Frank Darabont was spinning King’s shorts into masterpieces (of which “The Mist” (2007) is maybe best, especially in black and white), when King’s stories were just barely starting to make yearly appearances at the box office, King’s stories brought in some of the biggest names to direct them. Well at least the first two, between “Carrie” (1976) and “The Shining” (1980) King formulated two masterpieces in horror movies. Even though King has said in his book “On Writing” that he was too drunk at the time to remember writing “Cujo,” the film adaptation was the first in a long line of quick adaptations. It has some of the signature King flourishes in the characters and the emphasis on a younger child, though lacks the awesome interconnectedness that his books all have. Instead, “Cujo” (1983) pulls together some of the good elements of king but cuts off so much to the film that it feels a little lacking.

In Castle Rock Maine, the Trenton family is going through some troubles. The young son Tad (Danny Pintauro) is terrified of monsters in his bedroom while his father Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly) is having trouble with an ad campaign at work and Donna (Dee Wallace-Stone) is cheating on Vic. One day Vic’s ad campaign goes totally down the drain, the cereal line that his company represents gets recalled and so he decides to make a trip into New York to take care of business. He’s also just found out that Donna was having an affair, so he’s a little stressed at the situation. In the meantime Donna’s car has been having trouble and so she takes Tad along with her to the mechanic’s house in order to get it fixed. Donna broke off the affair but has also been stressed out. To calm her down, the mechanic’s family dog Cujo has been bit by a bat and gone rabid, trapping them inside Donna’s broken down pinto in the middle of nowhere.

There’s an impressive amount of character development to the movie, building the relationship between Donna and Vic, as well as Ted’s little curiosities and problems with monsters. The problem is that none of these really come into a factor in the long run of the movie. It’s nice having well developed characters and all, but all of the subtext just gets thrown out the window with a really quick, abrupt and cheesy ending. The book’s original ending and format gives more time for these developments to matter, it’s more about the mentality of being trapped in a car with a dog trying to kill you outside, moreso than the dog trying to kill you. The movie on the other hand is about some scary dog, which isn’t that scary, but I can see how it could have gotten intense. It’s hard to lay the blame at the feet of screenwriters Lauren Currier and Don Carlos Dunaway, these are two different formats and you’re always going to leave something out, but the way the movie ends just makes most of the first 40 minutes feel like a waste.

Still the movie is fairly good visually. Lewis Teague’s directing has some flashes of goodness, with the scenes where Cujo is chasing the rabbit at the beginning or when Donna is fainting after being bitten by Cujo. The movie has some good cinematography and style to it, bringing in a decent amount of the "killer animal" vibe that had permeated so many 80’s horror movies. Teague has a good understanding of how to make the movie look exciting, but I could have used a little more intensity out of Cujo at the end. He turns the dog into another 80’s psychokiller of sorts, only without any sort of cheesy dialogue, though I’m still on the fence on how effective it is.

“Cujo” turns out to be one of those movies that’s in the cultural zeitgeist but I don’t quite understand why. It’s not a cult classic or really a genious piece of film. It’s a passable 80’s horror movie based on a Stephen King book, not exactly a unique description of a film. But there’s something about a killer dog that people just remember, sort of like how “Old Yeller” (1957) got rabies, only this time it’s a more badass St. Bernard. “Cujo” may not be scary, but it’s not a poorly put together movie, that is until the all to abrupt happy ending. It may be that I know the ending to the "Cujo" novel and feel a bit let down, but the comically abrupt ending doesn’t quite work in a movie that wasn’t quite awesomely bad.

Video

Remastered for Blu-ray, the film is presented in a 1080p 24/fps 1.85:1 transfer with AVC MPEG-4 encoding at about 28 Mbps and it shows a fine remastering job. Blu-ray is a beautiful format for older movies and "Cujo" manages to retain the feel of an 80’s movie while cleaning up the image and that colors show up well, the image has good black levels and everything is clean and crisp like you would expect out of a Blu-ray. This movie is looking good in high-definition and only has some noticeable drops in a couple scenes, such as the spinning in the car scene, but these seem to have more to do with original techniques and style rather than the actual film.

Audio

Similarly remastered is the soundtrack, providing an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit that tries to do a little more than it should. It’s a fine standard to have for audio tracks, but there are times where it feels like the original audio has been pumped or altered too much as it tries to come through this high quality format. My usual audio inclination is to just clean up what is there rather than try to turn it into something it’s not. Thankfully they’ve also included the original English Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono track that just feels better to my ears as this is what the sound was designed for, especially with a movie that doesn’t exactly have a masterful scoring, but rather some good use of audio jabs and music to set the mood.
Also included are English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish subtitles.

Extras

For an "Anniversary Edition" the special features appear incredibly sparse, though have a good amount of content to them, including only an audio commentary, a making-of documentary and a single bonus trailer.

First up is the audio commentary track with director Lewis Teague, which is loaded up with opening stories of the film, as well as giving a fairly detailed history of putting everything together. Teague is nice enough to listen to and has some great stories about the film, but he trails off later into the movie and nearly comes to a halt. He has some good insight onto the process of making the movie, describes himself as coming from the "Roger Corman school," and even his Salt Lake City based Mormon crew that worked on the film. Some interesting points in here, but not particularly engaging.

Next and finally is the 42 minute 48 second documentary about the making of the film, it's broken down into three parts described individually below:

- "Part 1" runs for 15 minutes and 47 seconds, this section focuses on putting together the movie speaking with a Stephen King biographer, Teague and a bunch of the producers who were involved with the film. Apparently King wrote the original draft and strayed from the book, according to Teague. It’s almost a more upbeat and informative version of the film.
- "Part 2" runs for 17 minutes and 5 seconds, King's biographer does a bit more talking about King’s mindset, though it’s a bit weird to hear him talk about Stephen King in this way since it makes him sound dead. They go over some of the effects, the use of the dog trainers and even show some behind-the-scene photos to supplement the interviews that make for a more well rounded experience.
- "Part 3" runs for 9 minutes and 4 seconds, focusing more on the post production of the film, speaking with composer Charles Bernstein, the director and producers about the sound design, and finally the editing of the film. It’s a good touch to close out this fairly comprehensive making of. My hope would have been that they could have brought back some of the actors to talk about the movie as well, but it’s still a fine enough making-of.

The bonus trailer is for “Lionsgate Blu-Ray” and runs for 1 minute and 6 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C Video: A- Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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