DEAD ZONE, THE
Reviewed November 8th, 2001 by David Nusair
Starring Christopher Walken, The Dead Zone is easily the best of the Stephen King stories turned into movies (narrowly edging out Carrie and Misery).
Walken stars as Johnny Smith, a small-town teacher dating fellow teacher Sarah (Brooke Smith), and who seemingly has it all. But one day, everything changes when he crashes into a milk truck and goes into a five-year coma. When he wakes, he finds that Sarah has since married and even has a kid, but - most disturbing - he discovers if he makes physical contact with someone, he'll see something in their future, usually of a threatening nature. Johnny now has to decide what to do with this power and attempt to get on with his life.
The Dead Zone is one of those near perfect movies that just works on every level. Primarily, it's given us a central character that we really care for and hope to see succeed. This is due in no small part to Walken. Not relying on his usual “I hate grammar” ticks, Walken turns in a superb and understated performance. He only goes nutso once (“the ice...is gonna break!”) and even then, it fits in with the rest of the scene. Walken turns Johnny into such a sad and almost heartbreaking figure, that it's impossible not to feel sorry for him by the time the credits have rolled.
But what really stuns me about The Dead Zone is the fact that it's directed by someone I ordinarily can't stand, David Cronenberg. Cronenberg generally makes movies that you either have to be on drugs or extremely pretentious to enjoy (and with the case of Naked Lunch, I suspect both would have to come into play). But with The Dead Zone, he completely abandons his artsy tendencies and just presents the story. It's superbly paced and I think that's due to Cronenberg. He allows us to get to know Johnny before all this stuff starts happening to him, and that's certainly appreciated. Too many movies jump the gun and move right into exposition, without a thought for character. Not here.
And since it's based on a King novel, creepiness is expected (and it's received). There are many good scenes here, particularly the first time Johnny experiences a psychic episode (he sees a nurse's daughter trapped in a burning house). And other sequences are just as effective.
My one complaint about the film would be the Sarah character. Once Walken gets into his accident, she doesn't really serve any useful purpose. Yeah, Johnny gets to see that his life will never be the same, but an appearance by Sarah (and her son) into Johnny's life midway through is completely unnecessary and even a little confusing. See, she sleeps with him. Just like that. This doesn’t make sense. She doesn't want to get back with Johnny, but yet teases him with a roll in the hay? And what about her poor husband? Would he not mind this disturbing turn of events? Weird.
The Dead Zone is effective on every level it attempts, from horror to drama. And Walken turns in one of his finest performances. Don't let the King stigma dissuade you from watching it.
Audio: The Dead Zone has been remastered in DD 5.1 surround sound and it’s good. Though it’s not the most active-sounding track, it’s nonetheless very impressive.
Video: Despite the age of this film, Paramount has come up with a really nice transfer. This anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 is completely free of DVD related artifacts, though there are a few instances of film blemishes. However, given the age of the source, this is a really impressive transfer.
Extras: An anamorphically enhanced trailer. That’s it.
Conclusion: Despite the sad lack of extras, this is nonetheless an excellent movie well worth owning (or watching, if you’ve not seen it).
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