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Paramount Studios presents
The Dead Zone (1983)

"Do you know what God did for me? He threw an 18-wheel truck at me and bounced me into nowhere for five years!"
- Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 25, 2000

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

MPAA Rating: R for (language, some violence)
Run Time: 01h:43m:00s
Release Date: September 19, 2000
UPC: 097360164640
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+A-A- D

DVD Review

As is now plainly evident, Stephen King's books have often been made into very weak films, sometimes just plain lousy ones. Being a huge Stephen King fan for almost my entire life, I have had to endure the pain of these movies that often misunderstand and badly interpret King's writing style. In a sense, I feel sorry for him, in that his reputation as an author has been so badly stereotyped as a strictly gore and horror man (though this is changing a bit nowadays). In reality, beyond the blood-drenched movies based on his work, the books themselves are very intelligent and have many subtle layers. Whenever he is asked to give his opinion on movies made from his novels, King most often points to The Dead Zone as "the one that got it right." Unfortunately, the psychological drama was overshadowed by King's reputation, and the far more violent, darker Cujo and Christine (both released the same year) received a warmer welcome from the public.

Christopher Walken stars as Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher in a small, Northeastern town (near King's fictional town of Castle Rock) who has a happy love affair with co-worker Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams). Fate intervenes, however, and one evening Johnny gets into a car wreck that leaves him comatose. He awakens five years later to find his entire world thrown upside-down. Sarah has married someone else, the world has changed around him, and he must endure lengthy therapy to regain the use of his body. In his state of despair, he makes the frightening discovery that he has gained the ability to see into the pasts or futures of anyone he touches. He is also able to absorb incredible amounts of personal information from this simple act, as well. After his abilities save the life of a child in a burning house, the local press treats him as a sideshow and he is forced into a life of solitude, away from the public eye. Johnny faces a serious moral dilemma: Should he use his powers to alter the future for the good of mankind, or stay in isolation?

In the directorial history of David Cronenberg, Dead Zone ranks as another A-list feature he has been involved with. For starters, like most of his work, special effects or camera trickery are sparingly used, only when absolutely necessary to forward the story. He crafts a very absorbing, serious drama using well-developed characters. Considering the time period of the film, Stephen King-mania could have easily turned this into something much more akin to a cheap horror movie. Cronenberg's creepy, subtle style gets over this hurdle well, and still manages to make a disturbing story unfold.

The cast here is one of the best ever assembled, with Christopher Walken taking focus as the emotionally tortured Johnny Smith. Even the smallest roles feature solid, recognizable actors, including familiar Cronenberg faces like Nicholas Campbell and Geza Kovacs. Tom Skerrit makes a short, but needed appearance as the local sheriff, and Brooke Adams perfectly embodies the woman with whom Johnny is infatuated. Herbert Lom is featured as Johnny's doctor, especially effective in a time when his Pink Panther roles were typecasting him. Martin Sheen nicely rounds off the film as Greg Stillson, a sleazy politician running for Senate whose life eventually interconnects with Johnny's.

Another element worthy of mention is the haunting and emotionally charged musical score by composer Michael Kamen. Capturing much of the overall sadness and fear present in the movie's tone, the score compliments the visual style very well. All of this adds up to a film that delivers an extremely balanced, artistic experience that has been buried in the past and forgotten amongst more icon-based Stephen King films like Misery and Christine.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1:85:1, the transfer here is extremely good and has improved the quality of the film in many ways. Colors are far more vibrant and well-balanced, and the general picture composition is more impressive in widescreen. The source print is certainly aged a bit, with plenty of grain and scratches, but it doesn't hurt the overall presentation. The transfer is thankfully free of compression flaws, not an easy feat considering the amount of wintery and muddy colors in the classic New England homes. Black level is crisp and sharp, the anamorphic enhancement has added a nice, soft increase in resolution. Many other films of the same time period don't look this good on DVD, so Paramount definitely gets some points for this transfer. English subtitles (yellow with black bordering) are also presented and, for the most part, they accurately represent the dialogue.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The biggest surprise in this release is the vibrant new Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix. Most noticeably, the musical score has been beefed up a bit, and takes center stage in all channels. Ambient sound effects are placed into the surrounds; certain scenes even contain split surround effects. Obviously, being dialogue-oriented, the soundtrack isn't mind-blowing, but it's been improved in various, subtle ways that add much dimension. The LFE channel seems to be well used to add bass-extension to the music as well as other onscreen events. The Dolby 2.0 Surround Pro-Logic track is also of very good quality, though it lacks the kind of the surround channel clarity the 5.1 mix has. A French Pro-Logic Mono track is also included and, though functional for French speaking individuals, it's extremely harsh and flat.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: After the impressive presentation, the utter lack of extra features is very disappointing. The original theatrical trailer is here (not bad quality for the age, either) and that's about it. The disc also needs many more chapter stops. Having listened the wonderful commentary David Cronenberg gave for the Criterion version of Dead Ringers, I have hoped he'd give another one somewhere. I'd have loved a commentary here, especially since Dead Zone is rather obscured amongst Stephen King films. Production notes or something would have been nice too. I also remember a making-of feature I saw once a long time ago, made when the film came out, and that might have made a nice addition.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The Dead Zone is a superb psychological thriller with a powerful cast. Despite the lack of suppliments, the audio/video treatment is very nice, resulting in a disc that any Stephen King or David Cronenberg fan should want to own. Highly recommended.


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