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Dead Zone, The

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David Cronenberg
Christopher Walken
Brooke Adams
Martin Sheen
Tom Skerrit
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 This is my favourite film to be adapted from a Stephen King story and it's certainly the best of the Dino De Laurentiis (who I have a strong disliking for) controlled adaptions. The others being Cat's Eye, Firestarter, Silver Bullet and Maximum Overdrive. See my point? The film was directed by David Cronenberg and produced by Debra Hill which was an unusual but impressive one-off partnership.
Cronenberg seemed like a strange choice of director,even though the film does deal with the concept of mind powers as Scanners did. His earlier genre films were more clinical and relatively emotionless (bar shocking us) which is a very far cry from this picture. There's a lot of tear-jerking but non-cheesy moments in The Dead Zone, and quite often we see characters breaking down in tears. But those moments aren't over-dwelled on by Cronenberg and the tearful character normally turns their head away from the camera. This makes those scenes far more effective and youwould have expected another director to try to milk those scenes for all that they were worth.
The story is that of a school teacher called Johnny Smith who's in a coma for five years after a nasty car accident. When he awakes, he now has (or can now utilise) a psychic ability to watch people's past experiences, the occasional present time event, and most importantly of all, their futures. This is generated by Johnny making contact with the skin of various folks, quite often by use of a handshake. Then Johnny later discovers that he can alter those futures which leads up to the basic theme of the King novel.
King has said that the book arose from these questions that he asked himself:
- Can a political assassin ever be right?
- And if he is, could you make him the protaganist of a novel? The good guy?
I have never read the book. It's one of the few pre-90's King novels that I didn't read so I'm not the right person to judge whether the film is on a par with the book or superior. But I think that the book would have to be bloody amazing to be any better thanthis! From what I understand, Johnny had a brain tumour in the original text which was narrowed down to some bad headaches only for the film incarnation, and he would also age prematurely every time that hispowers were used in the book.
Several drafts of the script were written by different folks (one by King himself) and rejected. Once Cronenberg was on board, he wanted to use an earlier script written by Jeffrey Boam but that script was still altered again with serious input from both the director and Debra Hill. Bill Murray was recommended by Stephen King for the role of Johnny but luckily his stupid suggestions was completely ignored and the excellent Christopher Walken got the gig instead.
There isn't much violence in the film at all. In fact, it's only the suicide scene with the pair of scissors that really shocks us. There also aren't any bad performances in the picture, even the cast of supporting actors is very impressive. Herbert Lom. Tom Skerrit, Brooke Adams, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Campbell and many others whose names I can't recall right now. You also recogise a few actors from previous Cronenberg films such as Videodrome. The Dead Zone is one of those rare genre films which isn't just a good horror or fantasy film but an excellent picture in it's own right. In fact, it probably comes across as more of a psychological drama.
The film was shot in Canada (but set in America) foraround $7 million. Although the story takes place over years, and presumably in different seasons you would think,most of the scenes are filmed in the snow. Which I must admit,looks pretty damn good on screen so that doesn't bother me at all. The Dead Zone is probably the closest that David Cronenberg has come to making a "straight" movie but that doesn't mean that he sold out, and it certainly isn't a criticism of this wonderful film.
This reviewed UK dvd has been released by Sanctuary Visual Entertainment. After being very disappointed with the print quality of the same company's UK Halloween II and III releases, I had avoided this disc. Until I saw it at a bargain price in a sale. That was a shame because the quality of this Sanctuary release is a completely different story altogether. The anamorphic print does suffer from occasional white flecks but they're hardly noticeable at all. Especially in the snow scenes! Other than that, the picture quality is very good. Alas, the 5.1 sound is rather bland though, I only noticed the rear speakers being utilised for the score at certain points of the film.
The extras are pretty impressive. An excellent 24 page booklet is included which is full of trivia and information about making the film and it includes a lot of quotes from the involved participants. It alsocontains pictures of international Dead Zone posters, promotional film stills, cast and crew profiles, and a four page script excerpt of a deleted scene which would have been included at the start of the picture. A short article on the career of David Cronenberg also impresses. Looking at the Cronenberg filmography surprised me as it also lists his television work. I had no idea that he had directed an episode of the Friday The 13th television series back in 1987. In fact, I didn't even know that there had been a F13th tv series!
As well as an animated menu and a trailer, a very witty commentary track by two film buffs and writers is provided. These two guys also did commentaries on Sanctuary's two Halloween discs and as well as knowing lots about this film, Cronenberg and Stephen King, they are both really funny guys!!! Here's a couple of short examples to illustrate my point. They say that it's a real shame that Walken didn't just shake his own hand to find out what his future was gonna be. And they say that there's nothing more irritating than a fascist holding a rally right outside your own front door, which is probably why Johnny decides to shoot him.
To sum up, this is a recommended UK release of the very best (or at least one of the greatest) Stephen King adaptions. And it's damn cheap if you shop around.
BTW Castle Rock is a really bad place to live. Would you want to move there?!

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