Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Coma on Blogcritics.
Michael Crichton may be best known as the author of techno-thrillers such as Jurassic Park, Sphere, and The Andromeda Strain, but he was also heavily involved in the film and television industry. Long before Crichton created the medical drama ER for television, he directed the 1978 film Coma. Coma is a medical-thriller starring Geneviéve Bujold and Michael Douglas. Many of Crichton’s books have been adapted for film, but this film is based on the work of another author, Robin Cook. Like Crichton Cook was a medical doctor, whose books centered on the abuse of power and technology. Though Crichton had only directed one other feature film, the sci-fi cult-classic Westworld before tackling Coma, his expertise in the subject matter made him a logical choice. Crichton, who also adapted the screenplay, infused the thriller with drama and suspense keeping the viewer guessing at what will happen next.
Bujold plays Susan Wheeler, a resident at a teaching hospital, who is trying her best to keep up with her male colleagues. She’s afraid to get emotional and puts up a tough exterior so the men won’t accuse her of “acting like a girl.” This puts her at odds with her boyfriend Mark (Douglas). Mark is also a resident at the same hospital, and is next in line for an upcoming Chief Resident position. Susan’s life is thrown into turmoil when her best friend undergoes routine surgery and ends up in a coma. Unwilling to accept it’s just a rare reaction to the anesthesia Susan does some digging and discovers several other cases of young healthy patients ending up in a coma after minor surgeries.
Convinced there is a larger conspiracy Susan digs deeper into the underbelly of the hospital’s medical history. Unwilling to rock the boat and jeopardize his future promotion Mark tries to convince Susan she is overreacting, and she soon finds herself alone in her quest for the truth. At the outset Coma seems fairly straightforward medical drama, but amps up into a thriller, and even borders on horror. There are plenty of tense and unnerving moments throughout the last half of the film. The story touches on many subjects including medical ethics, women’s lib, and corruption making Coma more than just a run-of-the-mill thriller.
Bujold is very good as Susan, showing a woman who is able to take care of herself, while at the same time having her vulnerable moments. Douglas plays more of a supporting character in this film. At the time he had been best known for his work on The Streets of San Francisco. He also does a good job of a character that you don’t quite know what side he is on. Crichton does a great job of building the tension throughout the last act of the film, but the climax itself is a bit of a letdown. It doesn’t ruin what is otherwise a good B-movie kind of thriller, but it did leave me feeling like there should have been just a little more of a bang to end the story.
The Blu-ray is presented in a 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The picture quality looks of its time. There is a grain that is inherent to the time period of the film. Most of the scenes take place in a hospital setting, and Crichton was clearly going for a realistic look. The drab and sometimes run-down nature of a well-worn workplace comes through in this film. The detail is surprisingly good, even the darker nighttime scenes are easy to see. I can’t say the colors are vibrant given the white, and brown tones that dominate this film, but everything looks sharp and realistic. The mono soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD MA. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand. Certain sounds stand out nicely such as the beeping heart monitor during the surgery scenes and a whistling tea kettle throughout of pivotal scene of the film. Special features are basically nonexistent except for the original theatrical trailer, which has been enhanced for 16:9.
Overall Coma is an enjoyable thriller worth watching. It’s a cool early role for Michael Douglas, before he became a big star. Any fan of Michael Crichton will also be interested in checking this film out.