Plot: What’s it about?
I remember as a kid seeing a TV spot for Needful Things and being so wowed by it. It showed a bag with what appears like a face coming out. It’s hard to find, but was surprisingly effective, at least for me. This was also in a time when that was all I had to go by. The internet was very young, for those who even had it, but this added to my anticipation, not just for this, but for many films around this time. This film probably won’t be on many top 10 lists in regards to Stephen King adaptations, but I doubt it’ll make the worst lists either. Instead, it falls pretty comfortably in the middle. Seeing it again after all these years, it’s more violent than actually frightening, but filled with plenty of colorful characters, all effectively portrayed by some great actors. I can see why some actors prefer to play the villain as Max Von Sydow’s character is so deliciously evil that he’s clearly enjoying himself, but also steals every scene he’s in. Ed Harris is just as good as the hero of the film, a role that might’ve been largely forgettable by a lesser actor, but Harris makes it work in his favor.
We’re introduced to the quiet little town of Castle Rock, the kind of town that everyone knows everyone else’s business and you can’t help but run into someone you know. Oh, how things are about to change. A mysterious man, driving a vintage, 1950’s style black Mercedes comes to town and opens up a shop called Needful Things. This man is known as Leland Gaunt (Max Von Sydow) and while he’s not explicitly called it, we pretty much know he is in fact the devil, that or something of an errand boy for the devil himself. Ed Harris plays Sheriff Alan Pangborn, he proposes to his girlfriend, Polly (Bonnie Bedelia) who suffers with Arthritis. We learn that Sheriff Alan moved from a big city after an incident in which he was overly violent with someone while on the force. Think of him as the glue that holds everyone in town together. We’re introduced to more than a handful of characters including Danforth “Buster” Keeton (J.T. Walsh) who embezzled $20,000 of the town’s money and has issues with another officer of the town. He hates for anyone to call him Buster. Then there’s Nettie Cobb (Amanda Plummer) as a waitress who has conflicts with another local in town. Then there’s the Baptist preacher and his ongoing battle with the Catholic priest. The whole focus of the new shop is that the buyer finds an item, or a needful thing that they can’t live without and it comes at a cost. Ultimately all of the town will eventually turn against each other, all the hand of the shop owner himself. Some such things include a character throwing turkey muck on some white sheets and a young boy who purchased a rare baseball card, but must pay the price as everyone else who shops at the store. It’s easy to catch onto how the film works as it progresses. The locals come to the store to purchase their needful thing, but it comes at a price, and eventually they start murdering each other.
Much has been said about the longer cut of the film that aired on TV and now we’ve got that version included in this set. It adds a good bit of footage to the film that was cut from theaters for pacing reasons. Still, I think the theatrical cut works well enough that not too much feels shortchanged. I’ll say again that the film is more violent before anything else. There are a few tense moments, but it’s not particularly thrilling in the traditional sense. There’s a lot more to the film than I’ve touched on, but it’s because the multiple characters, but the cast all bring that special something to their roles that the individual personalities shine through. More than two decades after it was released, Needful Things remains a mostly positive experience. Check it out if you haven’t yet.
Video: How’s it look?
We’ve got two different cuts of the film on two different discs in two different aspect ratios. This should be fun. First off, we’ll start with the theatrical 4K disc – it’s a modest improvement over its Blu-ray counterpart with bolder, brighter colors (to an extent), clearer edge definition and strong contrast. In effect, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from a catalog title that’s been given the “4K treatment.” The other disc is the 191 minute TV cut shown in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio (we all remember 4:3 TV’s, right?) which does look good, but there’s no comparison to the 4K version. Maybe someday we’ll get a disc that checks all the boxes. The caveat here is that if you want the longer version, it’s there but it looks visually inferior to the theatrical cut. Decisions, decisions…
Audio: How’s it sound?
The DTS HD Master Audio mix has a few moments, but the majority of the film is dialogue driven. Yes, we get the obligatory third act “action” that does make use of the surrounds and the like, but by and large this is a front-heavy soundtrack. Vocals are sharp, directional effects are there but not too prevalent making for a good, though not amazing, listening experience.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – We get a very good commentary track with Director Fraser C. Heston with segments from Interviewer Walton Olsen. There’s really not a dead spot here as Heston covers various topics. He has fond memories of working on this film and speaks of his main producer really helping him and tons of other interesting tidbits. He even touches on the longer TV version and speaks of scenes he would’ve left in if he could have. This is definitely worth listening to.
- Interview with Screenwriter W.D. Richter – The title says it all, we get a new interview with W.D. Richter and get thoughts on the screenwriting process, etc.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
The previous version was lacking the TV Cut, but that’s been rectified here. There are colorful characters and the premise is a good one. Led by strong acting all around, this film is at least worthy of a rental for those who haven’t seen it. It might not be the best or most popular Stephen King adaptation, but it’s still a solid film.