As one who has a brother that is (or was) a bit of a Stephen King fanatic and loves goofy King adaptations like Pet Cemetery, I’d never seen The Dead Zone, and I’m a Christopher Walken (True Romance) fan. I’m also a David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers) fan. And now that I’ve finally seen The Dead Zone, I can consider myself having a fairly complete existence now.
Based on King’s novel and adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Boam (The Lost Boys), Johnny S…ith (Walken) is a happy teacher in New Hamphire who is going to marry Sarah (Brooke Adams, Days of Heaven). But it all changes one night when he’s involved in a car accident severe enough to put him in a coma for several years. When he wakes from the coma, he has a tendency to determine a person’s death when he touches them, sometimes it’s a family member, but still, creepy talent, yeah? The doctor treating him (Herbert Lom, who played Dreyfus in the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films) believes him and wants to try to help him however he can, even while Johnny’s helping the police chief (Tom Skerritt, M*A*S*H*) solve a series of crimes involving children. When Johnny meets aspiring policitian Jeff Stilson (Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now), he has a vision about him and feels compelled to do something about it.
What’s good about The Dead Zone is that Cronenberg is able to transform the film from some freak with morbid ESP powers into a story involving a man’s unwanted new knack for premonitions into more of a film where he attempts to deal with this “gift” when adjusting to his new life. Having never read the book before, I’m guessing that in between that and Cronenberg’s adept direction for the story, there’s a happy medium achieved that is widely enjoyed.
Many people who love King’s work have listed this among the better films based on King material, and I’ve seen a bunch of them and I’d be hard pressed to disagree with it. It’s suspenseful and tense while advancing the story, and Walken’s performance carries the film through. It’s still fun to watch after a couple of decades.
If I were to speculate, it sounds like this may have been recorded on a stereo mix and remastered to accommodate a surround mix. The surround mix sounds a little bit hollow and unnecessary, so I’d recommend the stereo option more than anything else, since there’s not a lot of surround activity worth circulating.
I don’t know if the picture is any different than the previous DVD, but the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen looks OK. It’s not the cleanest print in the world, so there is the occasional speck of dirt, but otherwise looks good.
For something that’s a supposed “Special Collector’s Edition”, there’s not enough special stuff in it worthy of collection. There are four featurettes on various aspects of the film that run about a half hour in length, and feature new (or recent) interview footage with Cronenberg and Adams, but nothing of real substance. No commentary from Cronenberg or Adams, and not even a hint of participation for King. What gives? Paramount could have done a little more justice to many people’s favorite.
The film is great, but why do the extras suck? More to the point, the extras are more disappointing than anything else, and I’d doubt they satisfy the Cronenberg or King fans out there who enjoy this film (and there’s a bunch of them). Sadly, I’d guess that this may be the best version of The Dead Zone that comes out to DVD, regardless of next-generation video quality, but if you’ve got the first DVD, I don’t see a huge need to upgrade at this point.
Special Features List
- Memories from The Dead Zone
- The Look of The Dead Zone
- Visions From The Dead Zone
- The Politics of The Dead Zone