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Lions Gate presents
Stephen King's Riding the Bullet (2004)

"As far as I'm concerned, it's Anything Can Happen Day."
- Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: April 20, 2005

Stars: Jonathan Jackson, David Arquette
Other Stars: Barbara Hershey, Erika Christensen, Cliff Robertson, Peter LaCroix, Jeff Ballard, Jackson Warris
Director: Mick Garris

Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and some nudity
Run Time: 01h:38m:55s
Release Date: April 19, 2005
UPC: 031398172529
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB+B+ B

DVD Review

Writer/director Mick Garris seems to be something of "go to" guy when it comes to adapting Stephen King books into films. Riding The Bullet is the fifth work by the megapopular horror author he has tackled (including The Stand miniseries from 1994, as well as the upcoming treatment of Desperation), and with this one does what has proven difficult for other directors, which is to nail King's writing style and transform it accurately onto film. And maybe I'm not alone with that thought; I normally ignore cover blurbs on DVDs, but on the front artwork for this one there's a quote from King himself, claiming Riding the Bullet is "the best of the independent films made from my work since Stand By Me."

Casting aside the large scale, more successful mainstream projects (The Shining, The Green Mile, even The Shawshank Redemption), there have been a ton of indie clunkers made from King books and stories, and very few have come close to being true to the writer's unique style—such as a good chunk of Mary Lambert's 1989 Pet Semetary, which still ranks as one of my favorites adaptations. While his almost high concept books might seem like perfect movie fodder, faithful readers will understand that it is often not the story as much as the way that King tells it, relying on the inner thoughts of characters to reveal motivations far better than dialogue ever could, along with a sometimes long and chatty path to the heart of the matter.

Riding the Bullet was one of King's shorter pieces, originally distributed as a downloadable e-book, and Garris does little to really pad the narrative, keeping much of the original structure intact. The story is set in 1969, with death-obsessed college student Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson) having to hit the road and hitchhike 120 miles in the dead of night to see his mother (the ageless Barbara Hershey) in the hospital. That's just the surface plot, as poor Alan has to come to terms with more than just the inevitable approach of death on his journey, but the appearance of the spectral George Staub (David Arquette) as a greasy Grim Reaper/hoodlum (imagine an evil Large Marge) who forces Alan to make unthinkable choices and to confront the ghosts of his past.

Jackson, looking a bit like a younger Johnny Depp here, spends a lot of time walking along foggy country roads, talking to himself (literally a duplicate of himself), having character-expanding flashbacks and encountering strange things along the way, including sharing a great scene with Cliff Robertson as a lonely driver teetering on the edge of death himself. Arquette understandably dials up the ham a bit, but as a typical King thug he does get to growl his lines as he roars along in his 1958 Plymouth Fury; in the original e-book it had been a Mustang, but Garris goes for an injoke by replacing it here as a subtle nod to King's haunted car classic, Christine.

This isn't the most frightening King story ever (far from it, actually), but the film version holds true to the flow of the book, managing to deliver a perfectly poignant climax that seems to soften the veiled horror elements that have come before. In fact, Garris points out in one of the commentary tracks that people seem to be split down the middle on Riding the Bullet, that it doesn't have enough outright horror in it, save Arquette's death rider character. It's ultimately more of an introspective piece, but I think most King fans will appreciate the way this one feels and sounds, in the way Garris captures the nuances of the author's simple dialogue, and the frequent repetition that generally echoes with deeper meaning as the story progresses.

Riding the Bullet had originally been intended for theatrical release, but ended up premiering on the USA network. Lions Gate has issued the theatrical cut for this DVD, with a bit of brief nudity and plenty of coarse language reinstated.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Lions Gate has issued Garris' film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, giving it the proper theatrical aspect ratio. The transfer is impressive, and for a film with nearly every scene outdoors at night, this one looks solid all the way around. Blacks look deep, with no major loss of detail when it comes to shadows; colors, most of the palette being some variation of icy blue or fiery red, appear with no trace of bloom or smear. Some of fog sequences reveal a bit of fine grain, but that's a small negative on an otherwise nice-looking transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in two surround flavors, either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. Take the 2.0 if you have to, but the 5.1 track offers more pronounced directional movement across the front, a few more well-placed discrete rear channel cues, and a deep sub track that rumbles in the right spots.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Mick Garris, Jonathan Jackson, Joel T. Smith, Robert New, Gregory Nicotero, Howard Berger
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There are a pair of commentary tracks, a solo one from writer/director Mick Garris, and the other being a group talk with Garris, actor Jonathan Jackson, producer Joel T. Smith, director of photography Robert New and special effects supervisors Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger. The track with Garris by himself is the better of the two, noticeably less crowded and easier to follow, and he gets to expound more on King's enthusiasm for the project or discuss the writing/directing end of the creative process. This wasn't necessarily a film that seemed to beg for two commentaries, and if I had to chose I'd opt for Garris alone.

Next is a collection of extremely short featurettes, lumped under the heading of Shooting the Bullet Feature Gallery. The longest segment runs just under five minutes, with the shortest running just over a minute, and that one unfortunately happens to be the one with horror artist Bernie Wrightson. The segment titles are fairly self-explanatory, each covering an aspect of the production:
David's Makeup (01m:58s)
Alan's Artwork (01m:16s)
The Picture Cars (01m:32s)
A Cemetary Shoot (03m:32s)
Fury Crash (04m:55s)
Shooting at Thrill Village (03m:27s)
Storyboard Comparisons (03m:32s)

A brief bit of redemption at the slighting of Bernie Wrightson comes with the Artwork Gallery (02m:49s), which features some of his original work used in the film. A theatrical trailer is included, and the disc is cut into 24 chapters, with optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

As a film, this isn't necessarily a very scary one, but it is incredibly faithful and flows with the hard-to-translate style of the writer's imagination. If nothing else, Mick Garris should pat himself on the back for being one of the few who can make a Stephen King film that looks and feels like a Stephen King book.

With that said, this is an easy recommendation for King fans.


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