Kingdom Hospital (DVD)

Kingdom Hospital (DVD)
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley - Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Diane Ladd, Bruce Davison
Updated: 10-09-2004

If you enjoy TV shows like St. Elsewhere, Twin Peaks, and American Gothic then you will love Kingdom Hospital. It’s a miniseries which ran on ABC earlier this year, but suffered from rather poor ratings – I suspect it’s because it was pre-empted a few times, and was absolutely loaded with commercials. Stephen King presented the program (it’s adapted from a 1994 Danish miniseries by Lars Von Trier called The Kingdom) and I am a big fan of his… but even I couldn’t stick with this show when it originally aired.


What a difference a DVD makes. Without the concentration-blowing commercial interruptions, and the luxury of being able to watch as much (or as little) of the 13 hour opus as one likes, Kingdom Hospital plays a lot better. That is not to say that it’s a perfect miniseries. It’s pretty weird, takes some getting into, and it almost lost me a few times with its weirdness. I felt some of the music choices were really inappropriate and rather irritating, and thought one scene of the doctors breaking into a song-and-dance routine was far too “Cop Rock”. But if you stick with it throughout all it’s quirky eccentricity, Kingdom Hospital will reward you with some terrific characters, excellent acting performances, and an intriguing storyline.


Kingdom Hospital takes place in a haunted health care facility in Maine, which was built on the site of a Civil War-era fire where a score of helpless children perished. It’s King, so you can bet the ghosts aren’t too happy with their lot in the afterlife. The chilling but comedically off-kilter teleplay (one installment was entitled “The Young and the Headless”) features a strong ensemble cast and a few memorable talking animal characters. Most striking of all is an often malevolent but always judicious giant anteater (CGI, modeled on the real dead; voiced by Kett Turton) named Antubis. Antubis’s long tongue finds ants hiding in some very unexpected places (“Antsolutely delicious!” he chortles, dipping into an insect-infested human brain).


The story follows a famous artist named Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman) who is checked in to the hospital after being hit by a van while jogging on the side of the road (the driver – very similar to the man who hit and almost killed King in real life –  is a drunken, dog-distracted stoner with several points on his driver’s license). Peter is in a coma, but his thoughts can still be heard, and sometimes he wanders the halls of the long-ago burned “Old Kingdom” with a ghostly little girl named Mary Jensen (Jodelle Ferland). Mary’s best friend is Antubis, while her nemesis is an evil undead boy named Paul (Kett Turton). They haunt the hospital for very different reasons. The three of them make up an odd trio called… you know it: Peter, Paul and Mary.


Aside from patients, the large ensemble cast also features a slew of doctors and hospital staff. Andrew McCarthy (as the conscientious but strange Dr. Hook), Bruce Davison (as the egotistical Dr. Stegman), and Ed Begley, Jr. (as the sunny, oblivious Dr. Jesse James) are just a few. To name everyone in the cast, and the interesting little roles they play, would make this review look like the Yellow Pages of Maine.


To tell you an awful lot about the complex plot would also be pointless. It’s pretty much a “you have to be there” kind of thing. I will say that it is not a scary ghost story; it’s more a soapy ghost story, but it is still a lot of fun and well worth your investment in time. There are a ton of little tidbits thrown in especially for King’s fans, and I suspect it’s quite a bit different from the Danish original.


The DVD set (coming out on October 12, 2004) is on four discs and includes the entire series: Thy Kingdom Come, Death's Kingdom, Goodbye Kiss, The West Side Of Midnight, Hook's Kingdom, The Young And The Headless, Black Noise, Heartless, Butterfingers, The Passion Of Reverend Jimmy, Seizure Day, Shoulda Stood In Bed, and the Finale.


There’s commentary on the first episode with King and the series director, Craig R. Baxley, plus the co-writer (Richard Dooling) and some of the producers. It’s quite a crowd, but luckily King does most of the talking. There are also several featurettes:


Patients and Doctors: The Cast of Kingdom Hospital

Inside The Walls: The Making of Kingdom Hospital

Designing Kingdom Hospital: A Tour

The Magic of Antubis


All of them are quite good, but there’s not too much about the source material, and no interview / reaction from Lars Von Trier, which I would have liked to’ve seen (Von Trier is quite a character, so that would have been a fun addition).



Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson

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