Rob Reiner’s Classic Stephen King Adaptation Stands the Test of Time.
There are films that can land on you so hard at such a perfect time that they can almost make you afraid of revisiting them, of discovering that you have no solid tether to the person you were when the story meant so much to you and you’ve somehow invited an unwelcome stranger into your house. What makes Rob Reiner’s film — adapted from the Stephen King novella “The Body” — so effective, in spite of however long it’s been since the last meeting, is that it knows this all too well. For all that Stand By Me is absolutely one of those “1980s Nostalgia Movies,” it’s not in mourning for the time or the place in which its set, but for the people who pass through it.
Set in Castle Rock, Oregon in 1959, the movie follows Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman), and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) as they hike out into the woods to find the body of a local boy who went missing, but what it’s “about” is far more dense than you’d expect from its sub-90 minute running time. The four 12-year-olds are clinging to their last summer before junior high school, and what starts as a lark to be hailed as local celebrities grows into a study of the men these boys will become, even as they cling fast to their youth on their journey to confront death.
Having one of the great observational writers of our time on source material duties couldn’t have hurt, but Stand By Me is universally counted among the best King adaptations for a reason. For all the plates he’s having to spin, Reiner captures a window into the world these characters inhabit so elegantly that it seems simple. The screenplay by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon weaves through character introductions, flashbacks, story-within-a-story vignettes, and even a frame narrative without ever feeling rushed or crowded, and Reiner wrings incredible pathos out of his young actors alongside the “kids on an adventure” comedy and thrills. Scenes like the boys playing cards in their clubhouse or local bully Ace (Kiefer Sutherland) threatening Gordie and Chris on the street are the kind of invisible table setting that are fully functional in establishing relationships but also feel like a version of experiences these characters have had a hundred times before.
The movie also features a meandering “story over plot” structure as the kids rove toward their backwoods destination. Between the seemingly direction-less structure and the keen observation of youth on the cusp of change, it’s almost like someone doing their version of a Miyazaki movie before that was a thing people shot for. Reiner had a knack in this era for movies that seem loosely-designed on the surface but are in fact tight as a drum. That serves him especially well here, but none of it works if the performances aren’t all keyed in just right. While the cast is packed with character actor legends and blistering up-and-comers, it’s a testament to Phoenix and Wheaton how much of the story rests on their shoulders and how natural they make it look.
Stand By Me paints a picture where the ugly shadows of the town these boys long to escape and the light of the bonds that keep them together — even if only for now — are inextricable. And while so many films about the longing for the days of our youth are ever looking behind, Reiner’s movie argues that the death of childhood finds rebirth by instead looking forward.
There’s a case to be made for this being Rob Reiner’s prettiest film, and the 2160p Ultra High Definition conversion kicks up the quality from the Anniversary Blu-ray appreciably, filling the 1:85:1 frame with more detail and clarity than any other release by a long stretch of track.
The movie’s warm pastoral color palette and soft lighting really benefit from this transfer, and the dawn and night time scenes really show off the blacks nicely. Remastered from the 35mm negative and presented in Dolby Vision, this transfer really nails the “looking through a hazy backyard widow” aesthetic of Thomas Del Ruth’s cinematography while still capturing the fine details like minuscule ripples in the water or the fraying cords on the boy’s camping packs. The layer of grain never makes things feel overly fuzzy or murky, even in the dimmer scenes, adding texture instead of the over-slick plastic look of excessive scrubbing. It’s a beautiful picture seemingly without trying, which is how you know a lot of people tried very hard indeed to achieve this result.
In addition to the English 5.1 mix from the earlier blu-ray, the 4k release of Stand By Me features both an English Dolby Atmos and English DTS-HD Mono option. Vocals are punchy and clear even when spoken low, and the bass doesn’t show off much except for when it’s time to run a train down the tracks or give a cowboy serial kick to a gunshot, and then it flexes tidily. What’s especially impressive is how vibrantly the background sounds come through, laying just under Jack Nitzsche’s snyth score to make the woods and fields really come alive as the kids stroll along.
It’s fortunate that the previous Blu-ray had a handful of solid exras, because this release barely adds to them. There’s exactly one set of new exclusive features in this release, and then the 25th Anniversary extras are on the included Blu-ray disc.
Disc 1 (4K UHD)
Deleted and Alternate Scenes – Presented in HD (6 min)
Disc 2 (Blu-Ray)
Picture-in-Picture Commentary – With Director Rob Reiner and actors Wil Wheaton and Corey Feldman
Audio Commentary – With Director Rob Reiner
Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand By Me – Making-of featurette, SD (37 min)
“Stand By Me” Music Video – SD (3 min)
Stand By Me is available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on 4k Steelbook, 4k Blu-ray, and Blu-ray disc.
Get it at Amazon: Stand By Me 4K UHD Steelbook
Cinapse may earn commissions on purchases through our affiliate links.