• The Dead Zone (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 27th, 2021.
    Director: David Cronenberg
    Cast: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Martin Sheen
    Year: 1983
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    The Dead Zone – Movie Review:

    Directed by David Cronenberg and released in 1983, The Dead Zone tells the story of a man named Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), a high school English teacher who leads a good life. He’s happily dating his girlfriend, a fellow teacher named Sally Bracknell (Brooke Adams) and their relationship is starting to get pretty serious. This makes it all the more tragic when, on a drive home one night, Johnny’s car is hit by an eighteen-wheeler. He wakes up in a hospital five years later, having come out of a coma, unsure of what’s happened. When he touches the hand of one of the nurses, he sees the horrific image of a young girl in a bedroom, fire coming at her pretty quickly. Johnny realizes that this is the nurse’s daughter and he urges her to rush home. It turns out that his vision was accurate. Johnny seems to have developed the ability to see into the future.

    After some therapy, Johnny is released into the care of his parents. When word gets out about his abilities, he’s brought on the news where he gets into it with a reporter on live TV, causing his aged mother to have a heart attack. He also gets a visit from Sally, now married with a kid, though it’s clear that she still has feelings for him. Johnny’s under the care of Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom), who is quite curious about his abilities, and also agrees to help Sheriff Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) catch a serial killer that’s been operating in the area, but eventually he walks back from public life and works as a private tutor. Shortly after this career movie, however, Johnny is introduced to Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), a man running for a seat in the United States Senate. When Johnny shakes his hand, he doesn’t like what he sees…

    There’s a line in the film that sums things up pretty succinctly: “Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you do it?” That’s pretty much the idea behind this one, a movie that’s more of a psychological thriller with supernatural elements than an out and out horror movie, and it’s enough to hold our attention. Cronenberg, a talented filmmaker by anyone’s standards, has a good understanding of King’s material and does a fine job bringing the story, scripted by Jeffrey Boam, to the silver screen. The movie is paced nicely, it’s well shot and it features a good score.

    The performances are great. Walken is in top shape here, playing his confused but determined character really well. He’s sympathetic when he needs to be, but also intimidating when the script calls for it. We feel for him. Brooke Adams is just plain likeable in her supporting role, clearly conflicted about her relationship with Johnny. Herbert Lom does a great job as the quirky doctor, Tom Skerritt plays a sheriff like he was born to play a sheriff (because he was) and Martin Sheen is excellent as the heavy.

    The Dead Zone – Blu-ray Review:

    The Dead Zone is presented on a 50GB disc with the transfer given 32.6GBs of space. Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and taken from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative, this presentation looks much better than the one that was included on Paramount’s Stephen King 5-Movie Collection set from a couple of year ago (that transfer was soft and had clearly had some DNR applied to it). There’s really nothing to complain about here. Detail is really strong from start to finish and the picture always looks nice and filmic. There’s the expected amount of natural grain, as there should be, but virtually no print damage. Colors look nice and natural, never too cool or artificially boosted at all, and black levels are nice and deep. Skin tones look good and there are no issues with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts of note. Shout! Factory has done an excellent job here.

    Audio options are provided in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio tracks in both 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 options in the film’s original English language, with optional subtitles provided in English only. Both tracks sound very good, but purists will understandably opt for the 2.0 mix, which sounds quite authentic. The surround sound mix obviously spreads things out to the rear channels – mostly the score and effects – while keeping the majority of the dialogue up front. It adds some atmosphere to a few of the more active scenes in the film for this reason. Either way, both tracks are clean, clear and nicely balanced and free of any hiss, distortion or sibilance.

    Shout! Factory has loaded this disc up with four new audio commentary tracks, the first of which features director of photography Mark Irwin. Lots of talk here about working with Cronenberg, some of the challenges that arose on set, the difficulty if filming in the tunnel seen in the movie, his thoughts on the cast and crew that he worked with and more. From there, we get a commentary with film historian Michael Gingold that goes over the history of the movie, covering how the book made it to the screen, changes that were made to the source material, details on the different cast and crew members, thoughts on the score and the locations and plenty of other details. The third audio commentary is with film historian/author Dr. Steve Haberman and filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr and they do a nice job of dissecting the film’s history and also exploring some of the themes and concepts that it covers in addition to going over yet more trivia and facts pertaining to its history. The fourth and final audio commentary is with film music historian Daniel Schweiger and, as you’d expect, it covers primarily Michael Kamen’s work scoring the film. This track also features some isolated score selections in addition to Schweiger’s insight into Kamen’s work and thoughts on its effectiveness. There’s a lot of ground covered in these tracks.

    If commentary tracks aren’t your thing, there are a few new featurettes here, starting with Sarah’s Story, an interview with actress Brooke Adams. Here, over eleven-minutes, she talks about her upbringing and her father's involvement in live theater, how she started getting professional work in her teens, never going to college and just getting into acting by being around actors. She then talks about her thoughts on King's novel, thoughts on her character and working with Walken (who she knew before working on The Dead Zone as they went to school together), working with Sheen and how supportive and encouraging Cronenberg was as a director.

    Also new to this release if Cold Visions: Producing The Dead Zone, which is made up of interviews with production manager John M. Eckert and associate producer Jeffrey Chernov. In this twenty-one-minute piece we cover the love story angle of the film, how important it is for a director to be supportive of his/her cast and crew, how each interviewee got into the film business, how and why they came to work together on The Dead Zone, casting the film, how and why the movie wound up being short mostly in and around Niagara-On-The-Lake, building the gazebo used in the film intending to leave it for the town when the production was done, how Cronenberg orchestrated pretty much the entire production while it was being shot, Sheen's philanthropic endeavors during the making of the movie, the use of effects and pyrotechnics during the movie and the importance of keeping everyone safe and quite a bit more.

    Memories From The Dead Zone is a twelve-minutes archival featurette with Cronenberg, Adams and biographer/author Douglas E. Winter. They talk about following up Videodrome with this picture and not wanting to write the script for this project, the way that people react to King's work, where King was at in the seventies when he wrote the novel, thoughts on Jeffrey Boam's script, the sadness inherent in Walken's character and how he parallels King himself, the locations used for the shoot, Brooke and Walken's friendship and more.

    The Look Of The Dead Zone is another archival featurette with Winter, Cronenberg and director of photography Mark Irwin. This covers a bit of history of the fictional Castle Rock town from so many of King's books, why Canada stood in for America, the positive effects that the weather had on the shoot, building the gazebo with permission from the town, the Rockwell-esque style of some of the decor used in the movie, the importance and difficulty of using 'Screaming Tunnels' for the tunnel scene (and the legends of its haunting) and more over its nine-minute running time.

    Visions And Horror From The Dead Zone is yet another archival featurette that runs ten-minutes and features input from Irwin, Cronenberg, editor Ronald Sanders and Winter. This one covers Cronenberg's unique vision brought to the movie, the way in which the 'dead zone' from the story is portrayed in the film, what Walken brought to these specific moments, how Walken wanted Cronenberg to shoot off a .44 Magnum handgun without any advance warning to keep him on edge, making the visions featured in the story appropriately compelling, having to reshoot one of the pyro scenes when an E.T. doll was spotted in the background, Herbert Lom's character and acting style, the importance of a key death scene in the movie and more.

    The last archival featurette is The Politics Of The Dead Zone. This piece runs just under twelve-minutes and features input from Winter, Sanders and Sheen. Here they cover the significance of the name of Sheen's character, thoughts on Sheen's character and his overt corruption, the subversive elements of the film and how in a way it justifies political assassination, differences between the film and the original novel and why some of these changes were made, differences in the ending between the book and the film and more.

    Also included here is a two-minute Trailers From Hell entry with Mick Garris (who notes that this is one of the best King adaptations ever made), a theatrical trailer for the feature, two TV spots and a behind the scenes still gallery

    As to the packaging, this release comes with a slipcover and some reversible cover sleeve art, which features the same art as is on the slipcover on one side and the film’s original one sheet art on the reverse.

    The Dead Zone - The Final Word:

    The Dead Zone has been long overdue for a proper, special edition Blu-ray release and Shout! Factory has stepped up to the plate and delivered. The presentation quality is excellent and the supplements extensive. The movie itself holds up well as one of the best adaptations of Stephen King’s work. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Dead Zone Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I saw this when I was 10 years old. That scissor scene left an impression, to say the least.
    1. Andrew Monroe's Avatar
      Andrew Monroe -
      Any commentaries on this? Haha, they really loaded up on 'em. I saw this in the theater when it opened...for some reason I always forget Cronenberg directed it (even though I was already familiar with him).
    1. Newt Cox's Avatar
      Newt Cox -
      I knew right after I finally bought this on DVD a nice Blu ray would come out.