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The utterance of the name Stephen King will likely strike fear in your heart for one of two reasons. You have read one or more of the vast library of his horror novels and been genuinely frightened. Or you have suffered through one or more of the god awful film/TV adaptations of one of his novels. Either way, the name Stephen King is scary, very scary!

However, do not let your fear frighten you away from King's latest television foray, as Kingdom Hospital is not based on one of King’s novels, but on director Lars von Trier's bizarre mini series, Riget, aka The Kingdom. I have not seen the original series, so I cannot compare. No doubt there are fans who love the original and therefore despise the remake, but it should be noted that von Trier was an executive producer for the King remake, so at least King’s version is an authorised American rip-off.

Kingdom Hospital

Series


Kingdom Hospital has a dark past, or the least its location has a dark past. Two devastating fires, one destroying a mill in 1886 and another destroying a clinic in 1936 have meant the foundations on which Kingdom Hospital is built are haunted. The hospital staff have become accustomed to the bizarre and unexplained phenomena that make their workplace unusual, but the staff themselves are strange and unusual as well.

There is idealistic neurosurgeon Dr. Hook (Andrew McCarthy) who is infatuated with the beautiful Dr. Christine Draper (Allison Hossack). But Dr.Hook has major problems when controversial doctor Dr. Stegman (Bruce Davison), arrives at Kingdom. Dr. Stegman, after being fired from his previous position, has arrived at the hospital hoping to start fresh. But the staff despise him for his arrogant, bizarre behaviour and his frequent demeaning treatment of staff members, including security guard Otto (Julian Richings) and orderly Bobby Druse (Del Pentecost). Bobby's mother Sally (Diane Ladd), a frequent visitor to Kingdom, believes there are evil paranormal elements at the hospital and becomes particularly disturbed when famous artist Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman) arrives at the hospital after a hit and run accident.

The various narrative elements of Kingdom Hospital are far too complicated to write about here, but this 13 part maxi-series ( 13 episodes is too many to be deemed a mini) has its good points and bad points. Overall, the series is a masterpiece when compared with some of Stephen King's past television offerings. The cast of the series is particularly impressive with Andrew McCarthy, Bruce Davison and Diane Ladd all offering engaging performances. At times, Kingdom Hospital tries too hard to be a hospital version of Twin Peaks. There are various bizarre moments, like the staff breaking into song, that just feel forced. No television series should try and match the mystery and magic of Twin Peaks, because there is no way any show could possibly be as strange, funny and entertaining as David Lynch's landmark 1990 series.

Kingdom Hospital
Having said that, if you enjoyed Twin Peaks or the highly underrated American Gothic, you will most likely enjoy the weirdness of Kingdom Hospital. This series is perfectly suited to DVD, as you can watch as many episodes as you like without having to catch up with it each week. Watching three or four episodes in one stint allows certain incidents and sequences of events to make more sense than if you only watched one episode a week. Kingdom Hospital is more black comedy than horror, so those expecting another terrible Stephen King TV series will be pleasantly surprised to find that overall, Kingdom Hospital is King’s best TV outing to date.

Video


The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of the series is near perfect. Stephen King insisted that the series be shot on film and the merits of this decision are apparent on DVD. Colours are vibrant and pristine with blacks solid and shadow detail impressive. Kingdom Hospital is a very dark show, but it's never a problematic darkness. Skin tones are realistic with sharpness and details of reference quality. The 13 episodes are spread over four discs with each instalment free of compression imperfections. This is as good as DVD gets!
 

Audio


The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is equally impressive with a well balanced, across the channels package. Dialogue is clear and audible in the centre channel with violent screams and the menacing musical score filling the rear channels. The sub woofer gets a nice work out with the frequent earthquakes, growling of strange creatures and other constant unexplained phenomenon. This is a faultless audio presentation.

Extras


A very ordinary audio commentary by writer/executive producer Stephen King, director Craig Baxley, executive producer Mark Carliner and special effects supervisor James Tichenor is provided on the two hour pilot episode, ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. Four commentators should mean that there is always someone talking. Unfortunately, that's not the case here. There are quite a few silent moments and when someone is talking they simply sound like a public relations rep for the show. It's clear that everyone is very passionate about the show and they all had fun working together, but in the end it all amounts to simple gushing. Two trailers are also included on disc one. One for the release of Kingdom Hospital on DVD and the other for the Johnny Depp film Secret Window.

Kingdom Hospital  
Disc four contains four featurettes covering various production aspects of Kingdom Hospital. ‘Inside the Walls: The Making of Kingdom Hospital’ runs for approximately 15 minutes and offers quite a lot of information about the production of the series. There are interviews with King, the cast and director Craig Baxley, who amazingly directed all 13 episodes of the maxi-series.
‘Patients and Doctors: The Cast of Kingdom Hospital’ is the second 15 minute featurette and it looks at the various cast members of the series including Andrew McCarthy, Bruce Davison, Diane Ladd and Ed Begley Jr. Although this is the standard promotional, ‘everyone is so wonderful to work with’ featurette, any excuse for an Andrew McCarthy interview is fine by me.

‘Designing Kingdom Hospital: The Tour’ runs for seven minutes and focuses on all the different design aspects of the production. Members of the production team directly address the camera and demonstrate how they constructed all the different elements of the series, from constructing the set to making hospital booties. ‘The Magic of Antubis’ should serve as a warning to anyone interested in working on CG in film and television. These people work very hard and don’t get any sleep, and it shows on camera. All the CG guys look and sound very sleepy, but at least the work they sacrificed sleep over is phenomenally effective. Antubis, a bizarre anteater type creature who sounds like a mobster, is one of the best parts of Kingdom Hospital.
 

Overall


Kingdom Hospital is not for everyone and you will either love or hate this series, but it's definitely worth a look on DVD if you managed to miss it when it was originally broadcast. I am not a Stephen King fan and I thought it would be quite difficult to watch all 13 episodes of the show. The only interest it held for me was the promise of seeing '80s star Andrew McCarthy in a decent role. However, I found myself completely addicted and I couldn't help but watch episode after episode. At the very least you should rent Kingdom Hospital and either return it perplexed or immediately go out and buy it.


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