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"I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being. It happened in the summer of 1959 -- a long time ago, but only if you measure in terms of years. I was living in a small town in Oregon called Castle Rock. There were only twelve hundred and eighty-one people, but to me it was the whole world."
Those are the first lines spoken by Richard Dreyfus as the wistful narrator of Rob Reiner's 1986 classic "Stand By Me" -- hitting Blu-ray with a 25th anniversary edition today -- and like all truly great opening lines it immediately sets the tone for what turned out to be one of the greatest coming-of-age films ever made.
For those of you yet to experience this masterpiece (shame on you!) it concerns four young boys on the cusp of adolescence who find out the body of a dead kid named Ray Brower is somewhere by the train tracks in a neighboring town. They set out on foot down the tracks, across bridges, through woods and swamps to claim the body and the eerie glory they associate with it. What they don't realize is this cheerful little romp will turn into a rite of passage for all of them.
Along the way Gordie (Wil Wheaton, also played by Dreyfus in present-day) is dealing with issues of having lost his brother (a super-young John Cusack) and the resentment he feels from his father. His best friend Chris (River Phoenix) is a strong, smart boy wise beyond his years struggling to overcome his family's rotten reputation. Teddy (a pre-Haim Corey Feldman) is a mildly psychotic kid whose obsession with all things military stems from his WWII vet father who now resides in a mental hospital. Then there's Vern (Jerry O'Connell)… well every movie needs a funny fat kid, right?
You might be shocked to discover this warm childhood fable about the bonds of friendship came from the same mind that gave us Carrie murdering her classmates, or Jack Torrance trying to chop his family into little pieces. Yes, Stephen King wrote the semi-autobiographical story "The Body" on which the film is based, originally one of the quartet of novellas in "Different Seasons" (which also included "The Shawshank Redemption"), although the hilarious scene involving the most vomit you've ever witnessed was at first a separate story published in a nudie mag called Cavalier. (Stephen King gotta eat.)
Rob Reiner directs the film with incredible sensitivity, never letting it become too corny nor does he wallow in the inherent darkness of dealing with death on multiple levels. It's as much about the bulls**t kids talk about to pass the time ("Mickey's a mouse, Donald's a duck, Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy?") as it is about mortality.
Like many who take those first steps outside their hometown, Gordie realizes by the end that there's a bigger world out there and he has the cojones to navigate it. What King, Reiner, and the awesome cast evoke is that first sense of crossing over from childhood to adulthood that we've all felt, and even though it takes place in the '50s will still resonate with anyone whose ever experienced the bittersweet twinge of nostalgia in their mind.
Extras! The great director commentary and documentary from the DVD are here, along with a new 25th Anniversary picture-in-picture retrospective with Reiner, Wheaton and Feldman.