Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 9/28/00
The Dead Zone
1983 (2000) - Paramount
review by Todd Doogan of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
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 its shocking and oh,
so disgusting, its refreshing at the same time. Its life
affirming in a way. His style is so clinical - its 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 wasnt
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 didnt
know that famed musical and comedy filmmaker Stanley Donen had
already been approached. So when Donen said hed do the film,
Cronenberg was out in the cold. At this point he A) had never read
the original novel and B) didnt like the Stephen King-adapted
script, so he wasnt 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 didnt want to write the film
himself, and so he looked at all the commissioned scripts. The King
version was out because Cronenberg didnt like the focus (it
totally centered on the Castle Rock murders, which occupy about 20
minutes of the finished film). He didnt 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 didnt 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.
Its 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
doesnt 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. Hes 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 hes 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 its all pretty thought provoking and
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 youd think this is a film that seems
out of place with his body of work - among them
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? Thats 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 isnt 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. Im of the mind that no
Cronenberg film should get dumped onto DVD (as was the case for
Videodrome and the
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 doesnt do "special editions" unless theyre
gonna be huge releases, but still. Here, we get a trailer and thats
it. Its a nicely presented trailer to be sure, but no
commentary? No retrospective? Its 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 havent seen it
yet, give it a shot. Youll be surprised. The horror is pretty
understated (save for one really upsetting scene in a bathroom). But
weve all seen worse on the news, havent 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 shouldnt prevent anyone
from taking this film home. Its definitely recommended by the
staff of the Bits.