THE DEAD ZONE (1983) is a true rarity -- a movie based on the writings of Stephen King that is actually good! While several of King's "non-horror" novels (The Shawshank Redemption, Dolores Claiborne, Stand By Me) resulted in excellent films, his horror output has usually received lackluster treatment on the big screen. Often, compacting his horror novels into a feature film yields mediocre results at best, with a few notable exceptions (such as Misery). Television movies of his material have fared a little better and allow more time to explore his characters and themes, but many of them unfortunately have a hokey, made-for-TV feel to them. Thankfully, when talented director David Cronenberg decided to try his hand at a King movie in the early 1980s, he gave us a film that lives up to the source novel.
Christoper Walken (in a wonderful, restrained performance) plays Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who suffers a near-fatal car accident. After emerging from an extended coma, he finds that he has been blessed (or cursed?) with amazing psychic powers -- he can tell a person's future simply by touching their hand. While trying to deal with his new abilities and put his life back together, he shakes hands with an up-and-coming politician (Martin Sheen) and sees a terrible vision of the future. Smith now finds himself asking a question that is no longer theoretical: "If you could go back in time before Hitler came to power, would you kill him?"
The picture quality of this DVD is very good. I noticed no scratches or other flaws in the source material and only rare, occasional graininess. The image is always clean and stable. Colors are consistent throughout, with no bleeding.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically-enhanced. Cronenberg often films his movies full-frame and crops to various aspect ratios for theatrical presentation, and the framing on this DVD seems fine.
I thought that the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on this DVD was wonderful. I had never thought of The Dead Zone as being a particularly great-sounding film during my previous viewings, but this time I really noticed how vivid the sound was.
This isn't a modern mix with sound flying at you from all directions, but it is a subtle, spacious soundtrack that is very appropriate for the story. Most of the action is anchored to the front of the soundstage, although there is some occasional action in the surrounds. Dialog is always understandable and other sounds (like footsteps on snow) are always crisp and clean. Michael Kamen's wonderful music also has a strong presence on this disc.
In addition to the 5.1 track, there is also a 2.0 surround track and a French mono track provided.
Unfortunately, the DVD includes the widescreen theatrical trailer as the only extra. A commentary track (with participants like Cronenberg, Walken, or even Stephen King) would have made this release nearly perfect. English subtitles are also available.
The Dead Zone is definitely one of the better Stephen King adaptations to hit film and is also one of David Cronenberg's most accessible, mainstream movies (along with The Fly). It's a very tightly-constructed movie with great performances and a neat storyline. The DVD itself, while sadly lacking in any significant extras like a commentary track, is very well-done and satisfying, with excellent picture and sound quality. I can highly recommend this DVD to everyone.