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Susan Wheeler is a 3rd year medical student at Peach Tree Memorial. She discovers that something's not right at the hospital when routine procedures send more than a few seemingly healthy patients into comas on the operating table. Anxious to find out what's going on, she acquires access to restricted medical records. A pattern beings to emerge with each coma patient ending up at the controversial Jefferson Institute. Based on the original novel by Robin Cook and the Michael Crichton 1978 film adaptation.
As I write this, it's been a little over two weeks since co-producer for the updated COMA miniseries, Tony Scott, passed away. While there's some comfort in the fact that this project (his final) was done with his bigger brother Ridley, it's ultimately a case of what might have been. Nevertheless, the two-part four-hour miniseries aims to remedy the somewhat lackluster box office performance of the 1978 original starring Michael Douglas (then again, the original had to deal with the likes of SUPERMAN, GREASE, JAWS 2, HALLOWEEN and DAWN OF THE DEAD that same year). After pulling out all the stops with it's marketing campaign, does A&E have something to show for their efforts?
Things are different this time around for the cast of COMA. Stepping into fill the shoes of Geneviève Bujold's role is Lauren Ambrose (formerly of "Six Feet Under"). Needless to say, trying to outdo a former Golden Globe Award winner and Academy Award nominee would be tough, yet Ambrose comes through her role, unrelenting and determined to uncover the truth behind what's really going on. As for Michael Douglas' replacement, Steven Pasquale is equally as strong as Dr. Mark Bellows. The veteran actors also bring their stuff. James Woods, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Bursytn and Geena Davis are pretty much on the mark, particularly Bursytn's performance as the cold and uncompromising Dr. Emerson. I haven't seen the original, but from the sounds of things, Bursytn's take on the character is very different from Elizabeth Ashley's, but nonetheless still intimidating.
While the series starts off on a generally creepy tone, the second half veers into a stalker mode with Susan on the run from practically everyone, including Michael Weston. Weston plays the psychopathic Peter Arno, and damn it if it's not creepy having him walk the halls after Susan while calmly talking into the security PA. From there Susan stumbles onto the truth behind the coma patients, and it's not your over-the-top truth. It's a very real and very disturbing truth that touches on real-life current medical issues like human research, stem cells and others. What's even more is that accompanying the truth is your gore that's also very believable, and is a genuine contrast to the sterile feel of the labs where the coma patients are kept. Again, very disturbing.
The series kind of loses its footing in parts, namely with Geena Davis' character. Her storyline at times felt unnecessary and felt more like something of an excuse to have a cougar eyeing the young medical interns (which isn't a bad thing, sometimes). Also, the series' climax threatens to go the way of a slasher flick with Ambrose getting stuck with the clichéd female horror protagonist (yes, she ends up wet and dirty) and her pursuer wielding a syringe like Norman Bates. But even with all of that, the not-so-nice theme of medical experimentation and it's Pandora's box lingers past the end credits. The series has a great atmosphere, with some great acting to go along with it. One that for sure you'll have to check out.
Video: The press kit that I received probably isn't how the final series will look, but what I've seen looks have good detail and colour.
No real extras (it's a Press Kit screener, after all), but it's an example of the lengths A&E went to promote this series. Coming in a carboard box with a label warning the contents are perishable medical supplies, the thick booklet with "COMA" embossed on the front of it contains the usual character profiles and press kit stuff, but is also put inside a medical cooler labelling it as a human organ for transplant. Very, very cool.
A creepy, well-acted and generally grounded miniseries, COMA is something that this Labour Day you'll probably won't want to miss. While it's unknown whether it'll be released to DVD or Blu-Ray, given the quality put forth by everyone involved, there doesn't seem to be any reason why it shouldn't make it's way to home video in the future.