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THE DEAD ZONE ($30) is my favorite movie adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel. Christopher Walken gives one of the best performances of his career as teacher Johnny Smith. One evening, after a date with his girlfriend Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams), Johnny is involved in a terrible automobile accident, which leaves him comatose. Five years pass before Johnny reenters the waking world, and when he does, he finds that the life he knew is now gone. Not only does Johnny have to deal with the loss of his job and painful physical rehabilitation, he discovers that after his five-year absence, Sarah moved on with her life and has married another man. 

While he recuperates in a private clinic, Johnny discovers that he has been blessed/cursed with the ability of second sight. When he touches the hand of one of the nurses, Johnny sees a vision of the woman’s daughter trapped inside a burning house. The vision comes true and the nurse is able to save her daughter in the nick of time. As Johnny’s abilities become stronger, Sheriff Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) approaches him with a request that he use his "gift" to find the serial killer, who has plagued the town of Castle Rock. Of course, Johnny gains him notoriety by assisting the authorities and is forced into seclusion. Outside his new home, Johnny has a chance encounter with senatorial candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), which shows him why he has been given his powers and sets Johnny down the path with his ultimate destiny.

As I said above, THE DEAD ZONE gives Christopher Walken the opportunity to deliver one of the best performances of his career. As Johnny Smith, Walken is a truly sympathetic figure, who quietly suffers every blow that fate throws at him, yet we see everything registering just behind his eyes. Martin Sheen is particularly creepy as the politician, who seeks ultimate power because he feels that it is his destiny. THE DEAD ZONE also features a fine supporting performance from Herbert Lom as Johnny’s physician, Dr. Sam Weizak. Lom’s work usually goes unrecognized because he has appeared in too many PINK PANTHER movies, however he brings a lot of subtlety to an underwritten role. Director David Cronenberg’s approach to THE DEAD ZONE is subtle and understated, which allows the character’s to carry the story, instead of letting the more horrific aspects of the plot rise to the top. The solid cast of THE DEAD ZONE also includes Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Nicholas Campbell, Sean Sullivan, Jackie Burroughs, Géza Kovács, Roberta Weiss and Simon Craig.

Paramount Home Entertainment has done a truly impressive job transcribing THE DEAD ZONE to DVD. This is the first time that THE DEAD ZONE has been available in wide screen and the presentation is truly excellent. The 16:9 enhanced presentation restores the film’s 1.85:1 theatrical framing, with the compositions finally appearing properly balanced. The image appears sharp and finely detailed, with only a few stray shots having slightly less definition. Colors tend to have a somewhat subdued saturation, which is quite appropriate for the bleak wintry period during which the story takes place. Some of the interiors offer better saturation, but these scenes don’t differentiate themselves from the film’s overall color balance. Flesh tones appear fairly natural throughout the presentation, although interiors do have a slight edge. Blacks are accurately reproduced and the image does have a decent level of shadow detail- remember this is a 1983 film release. The film element used for the transfer is in very good shape, displaying very little appreciable film grain. However, there are a few speckles on the print, which will remind one that this movie is approaching the twenty-year mark. Digital compression artifacts never called attention to themselves on this cleanly authored DVD. 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has a simple, but effective mix. Surround use is limited, although I noticed a couple of sound effects that were decidedly split in nature. Like the rear channels, the forward soundstage is somewhat subdued as well. This makes sense, since THE DEAD ZONE is very much a dialogue driven film. The actors’ voices are well recorded and the sound mix maintains a very good level of intelligibility throughout. Michael Kamen’s somber musical score is nicely integrated into the mix, sounding better than it did on the Laserdisc version of the film. Other than one or two spots, there is little for the bass for the bass channels to do, other than keeping the rest of the track from sounding anemic. An English Dolby Surround and French monaural soundtrack have also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English subtitles. The very basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

THE DEAD ZONE is one of the very best motion picture adaptations of a Stephen King horror work. Paramount’s fine film only edition DVD looks and sounds great, making this disc a worthwhile acquisition for King, Walken and Cronenberg fans


The Dead Zone (1983)



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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