Tag Archives: Tom Selleck

Michael Crichton’s Coma

There’s nothing freakier than hospitals in Hollywood, or at least in the horror/thriller genre. Those long, deathly silent hallways that lead nowhere in particular, the cold, venereal steel tables, sheet white walls and lab coats and a general air of unrest. It doesn’t help the discomfort levels when there’s a diabolical conspiracy afoot and one can’t trust the doctors, those very harbingers of healing that are supposed to be ultimately trustworthy. Michael Crichton’s Coma takes full advantage of a nightmarish premise like this, perhaps too much in its final act, but the first two thirds are a clammy bad dream of worst case scenarios and extreme medical malpractice. Genevieve Bujold plays a junior doctor at Boston Memorial who slowly begins to notice a pattern of surgeries leading to suspicious comas, and the subsequent disappearance of the resulting vegetables. Her boyfriend and fellow doctor (Michael Douglas) brushes off her concerns as stress induced paranoia, the head of anesthesia (Rip Torn, so stoically intense he looks like one of those trolls in the hobbit that got turned to stone) casts threatening glances her way when she goes nosing around, and the hospital’s executive physician (Richard Widmark) seems amused when she brings the matter to him. These days it’s just a tad obvious that with those reactions that pretty much everyone except for her is in on the whole deal, but this was back in the late 70’s when certain narratives were still fresh. Besides, the fun isn’t in eventually getting to the bottom of things but in the chases, near misses and cat and mouse stuff along the way, and in terms of suspense this has some doozy moments. Bujold scours the bowels and ducts of the hospital and another nefarious rural institute like a spy in a complex labyrinth of boiler rooms, air intakes and empty rooms, while a heinous assassin chases her down and gets totally fucked up by this resilient gal. Douglas is billed alongside her but is only around in a glorified supporting turn, while Bujold, who is a gorgeous and incredibly dynamic leading lady, gets to do all the stunts, hurdles, combat scenes and handle the big revelations in panicked closeups. An interesting choice is to have no music at all for the first half of the film, and then when the first clue in the breadcrumb trail is discovered, the score kicks in. It’s a solid thriller that gets a bit overcooked when Widmark goes all Satan near the end and starts monologuing, but until then the pace is restrained, the mood vague and chilly. Watch for a shockingly young Ed Harris in his very first film role, and Magnum PI as an unfortunate victim of the evil plot. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

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