- Jun 13, 2002
The Dead Zone Special Collector’s Edition
Studio: Paramount Home Video
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English DD 5.1, 2.0, French 1.0
Time: 103 minutes
Disc Format: 1 DVD-9
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 1983
DVD Release Date: September 26, 2006
While driving home after an evening with his girlfriend, elementary school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is the victim of a serious accident that leaves him in a coma for five years. He awakens to find himself in a private hospital under the care of Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom), and as his parents tell him of his five year “trance” (as his mother puts it), he also learns his girl, Sarah (Brooke Adams), has moved on and remarried. As Johnny continues his convalescence, a nurse tends to him and he suddenly grabs her arm. When he does, he is shocked by visions of the nurse’s daughter trapped in a burning house. The nurse runs out to find Johnny’s startling vision was true. Once it’s discovered, Johnny’s psychic power becomes the talk of the town and he becomes the target of everyone wishing to find out their own destiny. Is he a prophet or a demon is a question that stays on the tongues of those he encounters. The local sheriff (Tom Skerrit) even calls on Johnny to help solve a grisly set of murders.
Johnny is eventually contacted by Roger Stuart (Anthony Zerbe) to tutor Stuart’s shy son. At this initial meeting, Johnny also meets senatorial candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), an ambitious man who may just step over anyone to eventually get to the White House. Johnny teaches the boy, Chris (Simon Craig), while still dealing with Sarah, who re-emerges with her son to settle her and Johnny’s old relationship. After a chance encounter with Stillson, Johnny must not only question his power, but the very nature of life and death. This forces him to make a decision that could have global ramifications.
I had not seen this picture prior to this viewing, nor did I know much about it. I was more interested in it when I saw director David Cronenberg’s name pop up in the credits as I have always found him to be a challenging and frustrating director. Challenging in that he always made me think about his pictures more so than most other directors, and frustrating that I couldn’t always figure him out. His unique style and views usually come through quite clear, but in this early picture, he has not gotten there yet. While his same sense of pacing is present, Cronenberg relies on very straight forward storytelling while bringing out excellent performances from Walker and Sheen. I would have loved to have seen this picture done by Cronenberg now! Speaking of Sheen, he plays one exceptional villain: would this have been Captain Williard had he made it to office? The best pictures based on Stephen King’s novels usually benefit from a strong director, and The Dead Zone is no exception.
The picture is presented at 1.85:1 aspect ratio and it is an anamorphic transfer. This is a beautiful transfer with sharp fore- and background detail. I was surprised to see such detail in the upholstery on the couches and the fabric in the clothes. Edge enhancement was minimal, and I noticed only one minor instance of some compression artifacts. Colors were somewhat drab and muted, but this is how the picture appears to have been shot, and this only enhances the uneasy feelings of the characters and their story. Flesh tones were nicely rendered and they blend in well to the surroundings. The picture itself has a smooth appearance that makes it look film like. Black levels were excellent and they showed good detail as there is plenty of opportunity for this type of evaluation in this picture. I do not have the previous version of this DVD to compare the two pictures.
I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track engaged. There is also a 2.0 track if you are interested in it. The soundtrack stays centered in the fronts, predominantly in the center channel. Panning and stereo effects are present, but infrequent. The soundtrack maintains a very balanced level set squarely in the mid ranges. There is very little surround activity except to when the sound mixer tries to add some openness to the outdoor scenes. LFE’s are so minimal that I don’t recall even noticing them. Dialogue was clear and free of chestiness and ADR was not noticed.
Bonus Material: The original edition of this DVD only had a theatrical trailer.
Memories from The Dead Zone (12:13): Cronenberg (who now bears a resemblance to Walken), Adams and the writers and producers spend some time talking about the genesis of the picture and they actually discuss the story and the actors.
The Look of The Dead Zone (9:23): Cronenberg and his director of photography Mark Irwin discusses the use of “Castle Rock” as well as some of the set decoration.
Visions from The Dead Zone (9:38): Cronenberg and Irwin discuss the nature of Johnny’s visions and how they were filmed.
The Politics of The Dead Zone (11:29): A discussion of Stillson and his similarities to Nixon as well as some of the over riding themes of the picture. There is a vintage interview with Sheen.
Theatrical trailer (2:10): A very old transfer that doesn’t appear to be anamorphic.
This new special edition of The Dead Zone benefits from a great transfer that makes the picture look as good as it probably did in 1983. It is also a chance to see a very interesting director looking for his own style and some new extras to round it out.