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Sanctuary Visual Entertainment presents
The Dead Zone: SE (R0 PAL) (1983)

"Mr. Vice President, Mr. Secretary, the missiles are flying. Hallelujah!"
- Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen)

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer   
Published: May 10, 2002

Stars: Christopher Walken, Herbert Lom, Brooke Adams
Other Stars: Tom Skerrit, Martin Sheen
Director: David Cronenberg

Manufacturer: Sanctuary Records
MPAA Rating: R for (language, some violence)
Run Time: 01h:43m:19s
Release Date: March 05, 2002
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-C+B- B

DVD Review

The Dead Zone explores the question of whether a political assassination can ever be right. If you saw Hitler three years before he came to rule Germany, and you knew what he would eventually do, would you kill him? Would you be right? Many Stephen King books and movies are known just for their gore and horror, rarely for their subtle layers and complex questions. However, The Dead Zone is one of those films where the supernatural is just a device that is used to ask larger philosophical questions. And in doing so, it has become one of the great King adaptations.

Johnny Smith (Walken) is a schoolteacher in a small town. He's happy, until he's hit by an 18-wheeler and sent into a coma for five years. When he awakens, he finds his lover has married someone else, his whole life is in shambles, and more than that, he can read into the future (or past, or other personal information) of any person he touches. But when he uses this ability to save a child from dying in a burning house, people treat him like some circus freak, a metaphysical Elephant Man. He isolates himself from most of the world, but when he shakes the hand of Greg Stillson (Sheen), a candidate for the Senate, he gets a vision too terrible to ignore. Should he act on this supernatural hunch, or stand idly by?

David Cronenberg always seemed like a good choice to direct a Stephen King film. His first few outings, like Shivers and The Brood, were gory and horrifying. But when it came to The Dead Zone, Cronenberg took a different tact. Much as he would five years later in his masterpiece Dead Ringers, Cronenberg toned down the gore and horror, letting the deeper implications of the work come to the fore. Of course, The Dead Zone doesn't have the emotional complexity and psychological confusion of Dead Ringers, but the script is still strong enough to support Cronenberg's more somber style.

The Dead Zone also doesn't have Jeremy Irons to play twins (truly one of the great performances in all of cinema), but the cast, including Christopher Walken, Tom Skerrit, and Martin Sheen, are more than up to the task given to them. Walken especially shines in his role, conveying the horror he feels when he finds out about his ability, and the ambiguity inherent in his very existence. Any time he touches someone, he might learn something devastating about them. He might even be able to change their future, and the future of the world, forever. How can anyone live with that? Sheen is also especially good as Stillson. When he's campaigning in the present, he comes off as a very affable and likeable man, but in the future, he's scary in his intensity. The duality of the performance makes it even harder for the audience to completely align themselves with Smith. The supporting actors also give the cast a strong grounding and make a fairly unbelievable tale that much easier to accept.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The copy of this disc I have seems to be defective. It looks like Sanctuary created a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, but something must have happened in the authoring process, because the transfer on the DVD is full frame, with all the images look anamorphically squeezed. Every one looks strangely thin and too long in height. There's even small black bars on the left and right. 1.85:1 transfers should have small black bars at the top and bottom on anamorphic TVs, the presence of these windowboxing bars confirm my suspicion that a correct 1.85:1 transfer was put together, but something went wrong afterwards. The image that is there looks very good, a large improvement over when I last saw the movie on cable. It seems the colors here are a bit more muted than on the region 1 disc, but there's a lot less grain and fewer scratches present. If Sanctuary fixed the bug, I would gladly go back and revise my grade on this transfer, but as it is, I have to grade it down until I hear that Sanctuary has done this movie right.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer on this disc is more conservative than on the region 1 disc. The surrounds are used, but they're very hard to notice. I had to sit close to the rear speakers just to make sure there was information going to them at all. So this mix is centered more on the front speakers, and they do their job, providing crisp, clear dialogue that doesn't sound dated.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Writer Stephen Jones, Critic Kim Newman
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Booklet
Extras Review: I must be getting spoiled. I look at special editions today and I see hour after hour after hour of extra material. Sanctuary calls this a special edition, and it's most definitely an improvement over the region 1 disc, but it still leaves some things lacking. The disc comes with a very large booklet that has the production history of the film, an international poster gallery (this is VERY interesting), cast and crew bios, a Cronenberg filmography, the script to an alternate opening (also very interesting), and an essay on Cronenberg by Stephen Jones. The booklet alone almost makes this worth the special edition title, but there's more. There are two commentaries. One is by Stephen Jones, who has obviously written on Cronenberg, and King as well. The other is by film critic Kim Newman. Now, both of these commentaries are fine, if a bit dry, but here is my real complaint: If you're going to do a special edition of this movie, why not get some of the people who were directly involved? How about a commentary with King (although I don't know his position on commentaries, but I know he likes this film), or Cronenberg (I know he does commentaries), or Walken or Sheen? Why do we get all our information through second hand sources? The extras are rounded out with a theatrical trailer that is in considerably worse condition than the film itself.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Coming right off of the cult hit Scanners, The Dead Zone was a sharp left turn for David Cronenberg. Going from sci-fi action and gore to psychological horror with a more restrained style, Cronenberg turned in a movie so good that it is often uttered in the same breath as those two other horror greats adapted from Stephen King novels, Carrie and The Shining. The special features on this PAL edition would make it worth seeking out if it weren't for the apparently defective transfer that may hopefully be fixed in later pressings.


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