Directed by David Cronenberg
Distributed by Paramount Home Video
What would you do if you knew that someone would commit a horrible crime in the future? Could you kill that person even if it meant your own life was at risk? Can a person’s death be justified if you knew it could save the world? How could you be sure that the future can be changed? Johnny Smith knows.
Johnny (Christopher Walken) leads a pretty normal life in a small town familiar to anyone that has seen or read any of Stephen King’s earlier works. He has a mop style haircut, a job as a teacher, and a lovely girlfriend named Sarah Bracknell. Life is great, and all is grand! Wait! Watch out for that milk tanker!
Aw crap, Johnny … Look at what you did. You crashed right into it, and now you’ve got yourself in a coma! Well, at least you won’t have any bills or work to worry about for the next half a decade. What’s the worst that could happen when you wake up?
Oh man, the bad times just don’t stop, do they, Johnny boy? Mr. Smith can now see into the past, present, and future just by having contact with another human. Let’s just hope you never get too close to a politician. That could only lead to big trouble.
The Dead Zone is one of those adaptations of King’s written words that works quite well. The director, David Cronenberg, perfectly captures the deep loneliness that Johnny endures when he discovers that his powers are both a blessing and a curse that is slowly killing him.
Johnny is stuck in an endless winter. He must remain alone to stay healthy, but at the same time his seclusion is just as bad. By the time the film ends, it’s hard not to feel an attachment to him. Much of Johnny’s connection to the audience is thanks to Walken. He doesn’t go overboard with the reactions to the visions or the intensity needed when he is piecing together a murder or worse.
Of course when you have a film dealing with visions, you also need a little bit of flair to sell a flashback. We get a very brief WWII scene that manages to pack in a great deal of action and emotion with one swift whack. The same can be said during Martin Sheen’s evil political candidate portrayal near the end of the picture. I’d hate to give it away to those who have yet to see it.
If gore is what you’re looking for, there isn’t a lot to be found here. There are kids drowning, a bloody suicide, and lots of gunshots. The difficult thing is trying to decide what the movie should be. It is not a horror film or a thriller. The Dead Zone is more of a film about decisions and loneliness. While not exactly the norm for Dread Central, there is a twitching body and a pair of tits so you can’t really say it’s a total loss.
It wasn’t apparent at first that this film also has a political agenda. It’s astounding that the message seems even more potent today than it did in 1983. The Dead Zone sends out the question without having to pound it into your head. It’s simple, it’s easy to digest, and it means something in the troubled political waters we live in today.
The Dead Zone has quite a number of extras, and I am not talking about 5.1 Surround Sound or widescreen. There are four small documentaries that address the main aspects of the film. Each segment includes interviews with cast and crew, but sadly no Stephen King. They are all watchable without turning down dull street. Even though these extras are all good and plenty, much of it could have been better put to use with a commentary. There’s not just one layer to the film, and the shortness of The Dead Zone‘s special features doesn’t do the film the justice it deserves.
Still, even if this release had a thirty-second extra hidden as an Easter egg, it would have more going for it than Paramount’s original release. Double-dippers wondering whether or not to take the plunge should just jump right on it. The water’s warm, and it ain’t because I peed in it!
Memories from The Dead Zone
The Look of The Dead Zone
Visions of The Dead Zone
The Politics of The Dead Zone
4 1/2 out of 5