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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Coma (2012), directed by Mikael Salomon [A&E mini-series]

*** Currently available on Netflix Watch Now

The book, by Robin Cook, was such a mess that, for Executive Producers Ridley and Tony Scott, improving it must have seemed a virtual fait accompli. All they really needed to do was update it a bit (the book was written nearly 40 years ago), somehow make our heroine's actions more believable, and then find a way to work in the cops as if the characters actually understood what a police department is for. Happily, they succeeded.

Oh, plenty of questions remain if you think about it. But that's the thing: you have to think about it. Cook's book was a passive thing and reading is an active pursuit, so you really had no choice with the book. Here, there's enough going on that you can let the movie do the thinking for awhile. Now, that's no recipe for a great movie, but it can work for a pleasant diversion.

Lauren Ambrose plays Susan Wheeler, third-year medical student and granddaughter of the builder of Peach Tree Memorial Hospital. Now deceased, his name lives on, and provides the protection Susan needs when she goes off the rails and starts investigating a series of unexplained coma cases at the hospital. (In the book, her only protection was a handsome young doctor who wanted inside her lab coat.)

I'm not giving anything away when I say that Susan's research leads her to the mysterious Jefferson Institute, presided over by Ellen Burstyn. The film opens with one of those home movies radical animal rights activists might make, except that here the radicals are attempting to break into the Jefferson to expose whatever it is they're doing there. What they're doing, ostensibly, is providing long-term care for coma patients. Of course, they're really up to something far more sinister.

I remember very little about the original film (the one with a young Michael Douglas), but I do remember all those bodies suspended on wires, like so much meat. Pretty old-fashioned, like vacuum tubes and those bing-bong-bing-crsssshh modems from Wargames. This Jefferson operates more like a high-tech assembly line, with computerized overhead transporter units. And if you're wondering what the families think of this, one cool scene shows you.

The book had a hit man and useless police. This film also has a hit man, though not a professional one. And if he's just as unbelievable, at least he's consistent with the medical themes of the story. As for the police, once they get something to go on, they take action. Not much, maybe; it was just nice to know the characters knew who they were.