Updated: Feb 13, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“CASTLE ROCK: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; TV-MA for frightening and intense scenes, brief profanity and some sexual content; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: All great!
STEPPING INTO Stephen King’s Castle Rock, neighboring town to Derry and Jerusalem’s Lot, is a cool idea … as long as it’s from the safety of your living room.
So when Hulu announced “Castle Rock” was coming, shivers raced across America – in a good way. The series would be made up of new stories based on King’s work delivered by the talents of J.J. Abrams and crew. Hulu and Abrams had already developed a fine adaptation of King’s “11/22/63,” a miniseries starring James Franco about a man who goes back in time to prevent JFK’s assassination.
“Castle Rock’s” first episode is full surprises, just as hoped. Production values and casting is superb throughout, with Terry O’Quinn opening the story as Dale Lacy, the retiring warden of Shawshank State Prison. Shawshank has been sold to a private company and Lacy is out. Looking to expand occupancy, the new warden has guards investigate Cellblock F located deep below the prison. The section was closed years ago after a fire swept through, killing several inmates. One of the guards, Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher) finds a young man imprisoned there in a small, dark cage.
Bill Skarsgård of the 2017 “It” plays The Kid. Here, he’s little more than a ghost of a man. Who imprisoned him; will something bad happen if he’s released, and who in Hades is he? When questioned, all The Kid repeats is a name: “Henry Deaver.”
Deaver, a death row attorney played by André Holland as an adult and Caleel Harris as a child, is summoned back to his hometown. He is the adopted son of Ruth Deaver, who is apparently suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s. She’s played by Sissy Spacek, the first to play King’s “Carrie” on film.
The series is loaded with references to King’s stories and films: “The Shawshank Redemption,” “It,” “Cujo,” “Stand By Me,” “Needful Things,” “Pet Sematary,” “Misery,” “Dolores Claiborne,” and more. “The DNA of the series is very much like a bookshelf of Stephen King novels,” says writer Marc Bernardin in “Castle Rock, Blood on the Page,” one of three bonus features. “He’s all about building these people that you can relate to. What if my child died and then came back? What if the dog in the house suddenly went wrong? What if my husband was a nightmare?” Bernardin left his job as Entertainment Editor for the Lost Angeles Times to become a writer for the show.
“To feel fear for a character’s story you have to connect with them. It’s a genre [King] invented, which is character horror,” says Co-Creator/Executive Producer Dustin Thomason.
The cast also includes Scott Glenn as retired sheriff Alan Pangborn; Melanie Lynskey, psychic real estate agent Molly Strand; and Jane Levy as Diane “Jackie” Torrance, the young, self-appointed historian of Castle Rock “murder capital of 1991.” She’s renamed herself after her favorite uncle, Jack, who we know from “The
Shining.” There’s no lack of suspense here.
At least in the first half-dozen or so episodes. Unfortunately, “Castle Rock” slowly begins to jump the shark about midway through. Co-creators Thomason and EP Sam Shaw, with Abrams, were so eager to sample all of King’s techniques they fall overboard. They also want to explain away Castle Rock’s mystery, and that just doesn’t work. In the words of another famous writer/filmmaker team, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
As noted, production values in the Warner Brothers Home Entertainment and Bad Robot presentation are first rate. The series was captured by cinematographers Jeffrey Greeley and Richard Rutkowski (1.78:1 aspect ratio), with an extremely dark palette of desaturated cool tones for the prison and winter scenes, and richer warm tones for the summer days. The 4K and Blu-ray both look great, sourced from a possible 4K master, but not confirmed, with the edge logically going to the 4K for natural color, detail, and contrast. Filmed in Massachusetts and West Virginia, whose abandoned and haunted penitentiary stands in for Shawshank, there’s no doubt we’re in King’s haven of nightmares.
With its cinematic look, we’d expect an Atmos soundtrack, but a 5.1 Dolby HD-Master track delivers clear dialogue, tension-filled silence, and ambient and special effects. That’s just fine, since overhead sound isn’t used too much – except in a key scene. Original music was written and arranged by Chris Westlake and Thomas Newman, who wrote the eerie opening and closing themes. The score is peppered with classic rock and classical selections. Fans will note Warden Lacy is listening to 100.3 FM WKIT in Bangor, Maine, in the opening scene of the first episode. King owns the station along with WZON AM, and appears in much of his work.
Warner and Bad Robot deliver three great bonus features including the collection of three-minute analyses by Thomason and Shaw for each of the 10 episodes that originally appeared on Hulu. Not every series does this in the transfer to disc or streaming, so major kudos are earned here. The comments are smart and entertaining, giving insight into the writers’ and filmmakers’ process.
There are two 20 minute featurettes, “Castle Rock, Blood on the Page” and “Clockwork of Horror,” with interviews from King, Abrams, Thomason, Shaw, Bernardin and the actors. They’re far from the standard EPKs. King was a consultant on the series, but didn’t write for it. He is obviously pleased to have these artists play in his world.
“We spent a lot of time talking about what keeps us up at night … biblical terrors, and nightmares and disasters, and tragedies … Who has hung around in a town like Castle Rock? Who stays and why, and what does life feel like in that town?” Shaw wonders.
“The beautiful part about ‘Castle Rock,’ the series lets us take this world that [King’s] created and tell a brand new story, [without] limiting ourselves to any one aspect,” Abrams says.
The human element is always behind King’s stories. The “what if?” is there for adults and children. Mysteries are solved and the ending isn’t always happy. “Castle Rock” Season Two is in the works, possibly focusing on Jackie Torrance. I’m up for that.
You don’t have to be a follower of King or Abrams to enjoy the series. Yes, it’s uneven, even disappointing at times, but there’s still no place else many would like to visit ... just as long as nothing follows us home.
— Kay Reynolds