Arrow Gives ‘Flatliners’ A New Lease on Life [4K Review]

Every cinephile has a list of films they want to watch but has managed to put off for…an incredibly long time – in this case over thirty years. One of those for me was Flatliners (1990), Joel Schumacher’s dark drama about a group of med students flirting with death to see what might be on the other side of life. It was a minor hit in theaters, and I remember that cover art staring back at me from VHS shelves for years and years.

Thankfully, my first Flatliners viewing came courtesy of Arrow’s new 4K release which seems practically essential once you’ve witnessed the beauty of cinematographer Jan De Bont’s aesthetic. But there’s more to it than visuals, with an engaging story that suggests returning from a dalliance with death provides more than a cerebral thrill. And the cast assembled is a rock-solid combination of ‘90s actors: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Stephen Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon. There’s a lot to love.

Nelson Wright (Kiefer Sutherland) is a med student with a death wish—specifically, his own. Nelson is convinced some thing, some place, must exist after clinical death. Using his medical know-how and a small team of trusted students Nelson intends to “die” for one minute before being resuscitated, ideally returning with undisputed knowledge of “the other side”. The experiment is a success but Nelson doesn’t come back the same. Soon he begins to have visions of past sins… though he chooses not to share this information with the group. Everyone else wants their turn as a temporary corpse but it isn’t long before they all learn the secret Nelson was keeping. But how can the living right wrongs that, in some instances, concern the dead?

Schumacher invites his audience into a world of frazzled med students, with heart rate monitors and lots of drugs with long names and medical gizmos as they do important things in an exact sequence in order not to kill their colleagues. I like the tension this process brings because none of these people is an expert at causing death and the likelihood one of them will die from the procedure feels great. This is especially true once they begin to up the ante with each other, seeing who can stay dead the longest. Sure, most if not all of this is likely garbage science. But it kept me enthralled and that’s what matters.

It also helps casting found all the right actors for these jobs. Sutherland is the lone wolf who gets too high on his own supply. Julia Roberts tries to be the most sensible. Oliver Platt is the sarcastic skeptic and pragmatist. William Baldwin is the charming playboy. Kevin Bacon is full of hubris. It’s a constant clash of ego and personality and each of these actors has the chops to give their character life.

A good part of that has to be attributed to Jan De Bont’s cinematography, which I consider to be some of the best of the decade. The way he colors scenes based on characters and their actions is quite gorgeous. Some scenes are bathed in blue gels, others red. The plane which everyone visits during death is grim and foreboding. De Bont aids writer Peter Filardi’s script immensely by using his visual language to support the written word and Schumacher’s action. Seeing these tenets of cinema working together so well on screen is a testament to the filmmakers’ clear vision.

Given how much I’ve gushed about the look of Flatliners it should come as no surprise the 2.39:1 2160p picture is stunning, featuring a fresh 4K scan of the original camera negative approved by De Bont. The lighting is minimal, but in such a striking way it’s clear De Bont’s setups are still large to get such precise looks. Colored lighting permeates many shots, bathing the screen in hues of blue and red. It’s often otherworldly – and dark, but with the stability and improved contrast that is expected of 4K. Film grain looks natural; no waxy faces here.

English DTS-HD MA tracks in both 2.0 and 5.1 are available. The surround soundtrack offers better immersion, particularly when we leave the real world and enter the death/dreamland where atmosphere pours out from every corner of the room. James Newton Howard’s score sets an eerie mood with minimal sound design before unleashing a torrent for the climax. Dialogue has good prioritization and always sounds clear. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

An audio commentary is available with critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry.

“The Conquest of Our Generation” (HD, 19:11) is an interview with screenwriter Peter Filardi.

“Visions of Light” (HD, 18:23) is a fantastic interview with Flatliners director of photography Jan De Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer.

“Hereafter” (HD, 14:22) is a great interview with 1st assistant director John Kretchner.

“Restoration” (HD, 10:47) is an interview with production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy.

“Dressing for Character” (HD, 6:26) is an audio interview with costume designer Susan Becker.

A theatrical trailer (HD) runs for 1 minute and 27 seconds.

An image gallery (HD) contains 12 pictures.

Special Features:

  • NEW 4K RESTORATION from the original negative, approved by director of photography Jan de Bont
  • Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 surround soundtracks
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand new audio commentary by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry
  • The Conquest of our Generation, a brand new video interview with screenwriter Peter Filardi
  • Visions of Light, a brand new video interview with Flatliners director of photography Jan de Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer
  • Hereafter, a brand new video interview with first assistant director John Kretchmer
  • Restoration, a brand new video interview with production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy
  • Atonement, a brand new video interview with composer James Newton Howard and orchestrator Chris Boardman
  • Dressing for Character, a brand new interview with costume designer Susan Becker
  • Flatliners theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
  • First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Amanda Reyes and Peter Tonguette
  • Flatliners
  • Special Features


Flatliners is solidly directed, well written, and beautifully shot – all good reasons to add this 4K disc to your collection.

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