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DEAD AGAIN ($30) is a superb Hitchcockian thriller with a decidedly supernatural flavor. This underrated gem comes from director/star Kenneth Branagh, who made his name in the cinema with his marvelous adaptations of Shakespearean plays. Branagh shows equal aplomb here, working in the contemporary settings of Scott Frankís ingenious screenplay. In DEAD AGAIN, Kenneth Branagh portrays Mike Church, a Los Angeles private investigator, who is summoned to the orphanage where he grew up to help with a small mystery. It seems that a young woman (Emma Thompson) showed up on the doorstep of the orphanage, without a clue as to who she is or where she is from. Reluctantly, Mike agrees to help the amnesiac woman he has dubbed "Grace" discover her identity. After having Graceís photograph published in the newspaper, an antiques dealer named Franklyn Madson (Derek Jacobi) shows up on Mikeís doorstep with an offer of help. In addition to being an antiquarian, it seems that Madson is also a hypnotist, who is convinced that he can unlock the secrets of Graceís past by regressing her in her mind to a time before she lost her memory. Madson succeeds in taking Grace into the past, although the regression proves to be too successful for everyone concerned. 

Under hypnosis, Grace is able to recall a past life, describing in vivid detail the romance of German conductor Roman Strauss (Branagh again) and his pianist wife Margaret (Thompson). During her trance, Grace is able to remember Roman and Margaretís happy courtship, marriage and life in Los Angeles. However, Madsonís familiarity with local history allows him to fill in the missing details in Graceís story, revealing that Roman and Margaretís marriage ended tragically. In fact, it turns out that Margaret was murdered and Roman ended up being executed for the crime in 1949. While the story of Roman and Margaret is genuine, Mike initially finds the notion of reincarnation preposterous. However, as Mike digs into the past, looking to find a clue that will restore Graceís memory, he discovers that there is some force is driving history to repeat itself. The plot of DEAD AGAIN is filled with enough twists and turns to keep the audience on the edges of their seats for the entire last third of the film, so saying anymore about the plot would certainly spoil all the surprises. Both Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson give great performances in their dual roles, with each managing to pull off very convincing American accents in the modern section of the film. Derek Jacobi, as always, is in fine form and manages to steal quite a few scenes for himself. DEAD AGAIN also features excellent work from a talented supporting cast that includes Andy Garcia, Robin Williams, Wayne Knight, Hanna Schygulla, Campbell Scott and Christine Ebersole. By the way, DEAD AGAIN includes one of the best anti-smoking messages that I have ever seen worked into the plot of a movie. So, watch this flick with a smoker that you want to quit, hopefully it will make an impression.

The folks at Paramount Home Entertainment have done a really first rate job with their DVD release of DEAD AGAIN. DEAD AGAIN is presented in its proper 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. The transfer is quite nice, displaying a sharp and detailed image. The present day sequences in DEAD AGAIN are presented in color, while the flashback sequences in black and white. Colors reproduce with a natural level of saturation and healthy looking flesh tones. As for the black and white sequences, they are surprisingly good, especially when you consider that the entire movie was shot on color film stock and the that black and white sequences were created off a color negative. Blacks are a deep inky black and there is a good deal of subtlety in the shades of gray. Contrast is pretty even in both the color and the black and white sections of the film. Film grain was occasionally noticeable during the film, more so during the black and white sequences. Shadow detail is good on this 1991 release, although the definition is below the level one sees in a brand new movie. The film element utilized for the transfer has a few blemishes, but none are distracting in nature. Digital compression artifacts do not affect the image in any adverse way. 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack seems to be a port of the original Dolby Surround, although with cleaner channel separation. There isnít an abundance of directional sound effects, but what there are seem to gravitate towards the forward soundstage. The surrounds kick in on occasion for effects, but primarily add ambience and musical fill. Dialogue reproduction is crisp and fully intelligible. Bass reproduction is solid, without being excessive. Patrick Doyleís thrilling score definitely gets a musical boost from the Dolby Digital encoding. Like the movie, I think the Doyleís score is underrated, so having it available on DVD in full Dolby Digital will allow audiences to really appreciate this great music. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.

DEAD AGAIN includes stylish looking, but basic interactive menus that provide one with access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some nice supplements. Paramount shows that they are really starting to get on the supplement bandwagon by presenting DEAD AGAIN with not one, but two separate running audio commentaries. Director/star Kenneth Branagh has plenty to say about the production of DEAD AGAIN and his outgoing personality makes his talk quite an enjoyable listening experience. Producer Lindsay Doran and screenwriter Scott Frank chime in on the second commentary track, with equally pleasant and informative results. A theatrical trailer fills out the supplemental section of the DVD.

DEAD AGAIN is a great movie and an enjoyable ride for anyone who likes a good thriller. This is one film that I though wouldnít arrive on DVD for years; I am delighted that Paramount had the foresight to release it sooner, rather than later. The DVD presentation is very good and the supplements make the disc a "must have" for Kenneth Branagh fans. Highly recommended.


Dead Again


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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