When an acquaintance of hers undergoes a minor fibroid surgery at the hospital and ends up in a coma, she begins to investigate what seems like a disproportionate number of Peach Tree patients who unnecessarily end up in a vegetative state. The trail of evidence leads her to the Jefferson Institute, a secretive, state-of-the-art facility that houses long-term coma patients. But trying to tie the hospital together with the the institute leads through a minefield of disbelief, hostility, secrets and murder that leaves Susan wondering whom she can trust.
The End Result
It's hard to say who's to blame. The cast obviously knows how to act, but their performances consistently come across as either overblown, dull or, in Davis' case, borderline comatose. The script doesn't help matters, removing the original's edge by dulling the sense of paranoia, eliminating the feminist angle, dumbing down the more realistic medical aspects, making the villains seem distractingly inept and sapping all the suspense out of a restructured ending. Because it's a four-hour miniseries, the creators feel like they can toss in extra characters, but it feels like they introduce them all within the first 20 minutes, making for a dizzying opening that feels rushed, minimizing dramatic impact.
Veteran TV director Mikael Salomon, who previously helmed two miniseries remakes -- 2008's The Andromeda Strain and the 2004's Stephen King adaptation Salem's Lot -- displays little of the visual panache he showed cinematographer/director of photography in films like The Abyss, Backdraft and Always. Rather, the whole production feels at best by-the-numbers and at worst like a chintzy movie of the week that blew most of its budget on the cast. What little thrills are generated from the script are negated by some unnecessarily shaky camerawork, abrupt scene transitions and cartoonish villains who all seem to be on the verge of cackling and wringing their hands. I haven't read Robin Cook's novel to know if the characterization of the main goon in the miniseries as a hallucinating murderous psychopath is truer than the original film, but his story takes things on a tangent that seems out of place in the script.
There are some interesting elements to the remake that have become more topical nowadays than back in 1978 -- stem cell research, for instance -- but Coma doesn't really present them in a thought-provoking manner, and it feels at times like the filmmakers wanted to make this remake just because tossing in references to stem cells and cloning just would make it sound hip and edgy. It doesn't, of course, but the cast, despite underperforming, keeps it all watchable. If this were the first few episodes of a TV show, however, it's hard to believe that Coma would do enough to hook viewers for the long haul.
- Acting: C- (A great ensemble cast consistently underwhelms.)
- Direction: D+ (Fails to convey drama and suspense while delivering sterile visuals.)
- Script: D+ (Too many characters, too few thrills, too little real emotion.)
- Gore/Effects: C (No gore; little need for special effects.)
- Overall: C- (A rote thriller boasting little beyond a big-name cast.)
Coma is directed by Mikael Salomon and airs on A&E on September 3 and 4, 2012.