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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/28/00

The Dead Zone
1983 (2000) - Paramount

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Dead Zone Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/D-

Specs and Features

103 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0) and French (DD mono), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

David Cronenberg has always been one of my all-time favorite filmmakers... and that thought scares me. Cronenberg has such a skewed perspective of human beings and the human form, that even if it’s shocking and oh, so disgusting, it’s refreshing at the same time. It’s life affirming in a way. His style is so clinical - it’s like watching a documentary about the human condition each and every time you pop one of his films in. The Dead Zone was the first feature film he worked on that wasn’t based on something he wrote. Maybe it was his desire to work on a Steven King story that attracted him to it. Or maybe not. Either way, The Dead Zone is pure Cronenberg, through and through.

Cronenberg was originally approached to direct The Dead Zone a long while before he took the job in 1983. But one of the producers didn’t know that famed musical and comedy filmmaker Stanley Donen had already been approached. So when Donen said he’d do the film, Cronenberg was out in the cold. At this point he A) had never read the original novel and B) didn’t like the Stephen King-adapted script, so he wasn’t too heart broken about being dropped. But things fell apart with Donen and when Cronenberg was approached again, he agreed to do it despite his misgivings.

Cronenberg knew early on he didn’t want to write the film himself, and so he looked at all the commissioned scripts. The King version was out because Cronenberg didn’t like the focus (it totally centered on the Castle Rock murders, which occupy about 20 minutes of the finished film). He didn’t like another version because it focuses too much on the "Greg Stillson as Antichrist" aspect played with in the film. The overall problem he had with these versions was that they didn’t really center on the person Cronenberg felt was the anchor character of the film, namely Johnny Smith (eventually played by Christopher Walken). Cronenberg did, however, like a third version drafted by Jeffrey Boam (which did center on Smith). So given a few notes and ideas, Boam went away and came back with The Dead Zone as we know and love it.

It’s funny - a lot of people think of this film as a great adaptation of a Steven King book. But when you really look at it, it only takes a few nuggets from the book and runs with them. That doesn’t mean the book (or the film) sucks - far from it. It just means that straight adaptations of King's writing seldom work as well as they do on paper.

What really makes The Dead Zone is Christopher Walken. He is so good in this film. He’s sweet, loving, scared, happy, in love, betrayed, heroic - all those things come across by just looking at his face. The whole movie is right there in his performance. And everything you need to know can be summed up as follows: Smith is a former schoolteacher who, as a result of a car accident and a 5-year coma, wakes up with the ability to see your future if he’s in contact with your flesh for an extended period of time. Slowly he comes to grips with the power his visions bring and eventually he has to make a very hard decision. In the end it’s all pretty thought provoking and heavy stuff.

What a great little film! And in the hands of Cronenberg, it works so well. Cronenberg likes to deal with the science of the human body and mind, and at first you’d think this is a film that seems out of place with his body of work - among them Shivers, Videodrome and The Fly. But this is a Cronenberg version of a love story, and in that regard it falls well within his oeuvre. Any fan of tight suspense, searing love stories or a nice character study will thoroughly enjoy this well-made film.

But will they enjoy this DVD? That’s the question you really came to get answered. The short answer is yes. This is a widescreen anamorphic transfer and, for the most part, it perfectly captures the film. There are a few flaws (some slight edge enhancement and moiré), but there isn’t any artifcating and what color there is in this film is bold and solid here. You have two English audio tracks to choose from, a Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, and both sound fine. They're nothing to write home about, yet nothing to get your panties in a wad about either.

Sadly, the extras are very light. I’m of the mind that no Cronenberg film should get dumped onto DVD (as was the case for Videodrome and the so-God-awful-you’ll-have-to-pay-me-to-review-it movie-only, double feature release of The Fly. Grrr.). The studios should behave a bit more intelligently when it comes to these films and give us a special edition. I know, Paramount doesn’t do "special editions" unless they’re gonna be huge releases, but still. Here, we get a trailer and that’s it. It’s a nicely presented trailer to be sure, but no commentary? No retrospective? It’s preposterous, if you ask me.

So, ultimately, what we have is a film-only treatment of what I consider to be a great piece of cinema. If you haven’t seen it yet, give it a shot. You’ll be surprised. The horror is pretty understated (save for one really upsetting scene in a bathroom). But we’ve all seen worse on the news, haven’t we? The Dead Zone is a good film and it's probably never looked better at home than it does on DVD. The lack of extras are a fault, but shouldn’t prevent anyone from taking this film home. It’s definitely recommended by the staff of the Bits.

Todd Doogan
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