The Dead Zone: The Final Season
Studio: Lionsgate Studios
US Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 546 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1:78.1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
The Film - out of
The Dead Zone was a shining star in USA Network’s line-up when it premiered to record numbers in 2002. It was a high point in a small wave of great shows that the network bowed. The premiere was no fluke, as the intriguing sci-fi show managed to maintain its success through the season and then, when the second season bowed, its place as a bona-fide hit was secured.
The show is based on the best selling novel by Stephen King about John Smith, a schoolteacher involved in a terrible car crash that leaves him in a coma for six years. When he awakens, he quickly realizes that he has psychic abilities allowing him, upon a mere touch, to experience visions of the past and the future. His longtime girlfriend before the crash, whom he was to marry, has moved on and married the sheriff and he has a son, being raised by them. In the years since he woke up, he has developed a strong relationship and friendship with the Sherriff and his once girlfriend. He is bound by duty and a dedication to do what it right; to embrace his gift, his curse and to save those that his visions give him sight to do so. He has also been burdened with visions of an apocalypse, the end of the world brought about by a slick and sly politician Greg Stillson. The tale told in the book (and the David Cronenberg movie starring Christopher Walken) has been a thread faithfully explored in the six seasons the show ran.
After an almost two year hiatus the show returns. One of the shows legacy producers and Trek Alumni Michael Pillar past away suddenly, and since that sad event, The Dead Zone has been creatively adrift. The show managed to remain exciting and stretch the exciting concept slightly but not enough to be fresh. The ever deepening conspiracy surrounding Greg Stillson, now the Vice President of the United States was served well by the writers and by Sean Patrick Flannery’s smug, deceptive and almost tragic portrayal. As the nemesis to Johnny Smith, played through the series by Anthony Michael Hall with genuine curiosity, caring, intelligence and kindness, Flannery provides the sort of nuanced bad guy that every good sci-fi show needs to thrive.
This final season makes some significant changes, both in front of and behind the camera. The show moved from its long-term location in Vancouver to the other side of Canada, Montreal. The major changes come with the cast. The opening episode loses a significant and popular character, giving the show a chance to bring in a new face and new tensions and conflicts. Young Johnny, ‘JJ’ (Connor Price), is replaced by a new actor with a little more charisma and the psychic hero’s sidekick, Bruce (John L Adams), moves on to a new job, appearing in the fewest episodes so far. Brave choices for a somewhat tenured show, and creatively speaking, they were the right choices, but the rhythm of the show never seems to recover. Perhaps the biggest issue facing this season is simply the accumulative effects of so many changes. It does not quite feel like the same show. New faces, good character’s lost (though the lost character does guest through the season) and the major threat of the show switched up and not replaced with as grand a peril as before leaves the show a little unfamiliar.
That may paint a pretty bleak outlook for this final season, but that is not the case. The Dead Zone continues to explore Johnny Smith’s abilities with ingenious ways, not brand new, but confident and clever. The effect as Johnny Smith transitions from the moment he is in to the experience of the past or the future, (whichever the dead zone part of his brain shows him), is a great hook for the show and dramatically, allows for great stories and characters to be explored. And the cast is uniformly strong. Returning this season is the beautiful Nicole deBoer (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as Sarah Bannerman, Johnny Smith’s fate entwined friend and romantically estranged partner, David Ogden Stiers as the ambiguously “good” reverend Purdy and John L Adams, once again providing support and some comic relief as Bruce, Smith’s once partner in helping save people, towns and the world. The Bruce character was always extremely solid and welcome and the less seen of him, the more the show seemed without balance. Lastly for the cast is Chris Bruno as Sherriff Walt Bannerman and Cara Buono who joins the show as the new Sherriff Anna Turner when Walt meets an unfortunate end. Both deliver solid performances. Though he would appear in scenes throughout the season, Bruno’s sure-footed small town sheriff was relatable and very likeable. His departing the show as a series regular was felt quite deeply for both the onscreen characters and us, the audience. Cara Buono joining the cast provided welcome dramatic tension and more back story to cover. Her skeptical position and the additional plotting that her character and personal struggles provided remain high points of the season.
The Dead Zone will forever be remembered as a great cable sci-fi show. Effective writing, well defined and likeable characters along with truly wonderful production values and talented directors have provided the 80+ episodes over the six seasons with a legacy of quality. The culmination of the series may not have been the peak of the show, but it did remain inventive and dedicated to being dramatic on both the science fiction and the family level. It is a show that will be missed as it leaves a vacuum on television. The series ends on a satisfying note but caps a season that did not manage to equal the heights of the series. Stand-out episodes are ‘Outcome’, the exciting and tense bomb hunt at the bus station, ‘Switch’, a nice little bottle show on a train and the busy but decisive series finale, ‘Denouement’.
4: Big Top
The Dead Zone is presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1. The shows grey, brownish color palette is pretty well represented here, but a pervasive softness to the image dampens the overall quality. Fine detail is wanting and the lack of sharpness really doesn’t match the quality of other TV on DVD releases, such as Eureka or the superb image quality of Kyle XY. What we do have is a good capture of the often cold look of the show, particularly when Smith is observing his visions.
The final season of The Dead Zone comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround sound. This season perhaps more than any other is filled with much dialogue, much of it borne of familial issues both deep and profound, and as such most of the audio comes from the center and front channels. The sound effects as Smith enters into his vision and the heartbeat sounds as he moves freely within them, give the surrounds something to do, but it is never really all that active or ambitious. It does what it needs to but doesn’t quite find time to stand out.
A Home for The Dead Zone - (8:39) – Since seasons four and five were shot back to back, but aired with a year separating them, the shows producers, actors and crew found themselves with a nearly two year hiatus. Once they were called by the studio to come back for another 13 episode order the decision was made for financial reasons to move the shoot from Vancouver to Montreal. Perhaps the most interesting result of the location switch was recreating the Smith mansion from screenshots from the previous season’s episodes since no blueprints were made available.
All Aboard: Filming The Dead Zone on a Train - (5:39) – This featurette takes a look at the making of one of the seasons most popular episodes, the Narrow Margin inspired train based episode ‘Switch’. The challenge of matching multiple train car locations, from a train museum, that were from different periods is very interesting. The use of costume and color timing manipulation to create a monochromatic look, bringing out certain colors in scene is quite intriguing.
Audio Commentaries by Cast & Crew – Audio commentaries by various members of the cast and crew are available on ‘Heritage’, ‘Re-Entry’, ‘Numb’ and ‘Denouement’. These commentaries, a little unfocused at times, are enjoyable for the sense of enjoyment and pleasure at making the show each member of the commentary team had. Scene specific comments are quite rare, but they do discuss the back story to some episodes and share anecdotes from the writing and filming of the show.
The Dead Zone was a great show, ultimately not served to full strength by the final thirteen episodes, but no-less an exciting and dramatic accomplishment. Anthony Michael Hall was a great protagonist, both troubled and heroic; he delivered much of his emotional power through mere expressions and was terrifically entertaining as the Johnny Smith character. The premise of Stephen King’s original haunting tale found a great way to be fully explored in the episodic world of television and became the best adaptation for the small screen of any of King’s works.
This original series comes to a close, ending by jogging past the finish line rather than sprinting. Fans of the series will enjoy this season and get much more from these episodes than merely a sense of completion. All others are encouraged to go back to the beginning and get caught up in the lives and creative excellence from season one. By the time you get to season five, you will be like the rest of us and thirsty to see what season six has to offer. We all now wait to see if The Dead Zone will once again find life in some way.