Directed by Joel Schumacher in 1990, Flatliners follows five students enrolled in medical school: Nelson (Keifer Sutherland), Doctor Rachel McMannus (Julia Roberts), David Labraccio (Kevin Bacon), Doctor Joe Hurley (William Baldwin), and Randy Steckle (Oliver Platt). They're involved in some unorthodox experiments spearheaded by Nelson in which they will work together to find out what is out there after we die. To do this, Nelson convinces the other four to kill him but then to bring him back immediately after via resuscitation. Surprisingly enough, it works, and after Nelson proves that it can be done, the other four start wondering if they shouldn't take the trip themselves.
And so they do. Each member of the group has their own motivation for this death tripping, be it to further expand their medical research or simply to gratify their own fragile ego. As these experiments continue they evolve in that those who are quite literally put to death are allowing themselves to stay dead for longer and longer periods of time before having their colleagues resuscitate them. What they soon realize, however, is that by pushing the envelope in this way they're going to have to come face to face with their own issues and that there may be more coming back with them than any of them could have possibly imagined.
Written by Peter Filardi, the man who would write The Craft a few years later, Flatliners does a decent enough job of telling its story. It's a very dark looking picture that has a strange visual style to it but at the same time, the look is both appropriate for and complimentary to the story being told (and in a lot of ways it is very reminiscent of the director's work on The Lost Boys). As our students, all almost falling victim to Nelson's charismatic encouraging of this ‘flatlining' experiment they're all now a part of, go further and further with this they confront demons internal and otherwise. They learn about themselves, how their past has shaped them, but so too do they get a rush from the experience. Are they scientists or adrenaline junkies? This builds quite well and as it does, there's a decent amount of suspense to enjoy. As the movie comes closer to its climax, however, it begins to feel more and more like all of this was created simply to offer up a gimmicky twist ending, one that is not only easy to see coming but which definitely caters to the lowest common denominator. For a movie about voyaging between life and death and which tackles the uneasy subject of the afterlife, it proves to be fairly gutless in how it delivers its take on all of this (and yeah, that might be vague, but we're avoiding unnecessary spoilers here).
The cast of A-list stars do well enough with the material, but no one here is cast against type. Sutherland is the ringleader here and he plays the part well. It's easy to see how the others would be coaxed into going along with him on what is, in all reality, a pretty reckless endeavor. Roberts is the pretty smart girl, no stretch for her there, though there are some scenes where she rises above and creates some decent character here. Platt is Platt, he's the goofy one of the bunch but so too is he quite smart while Kevin Bacon and William Baldwin play slightly more generic characters, though they too do fine with the material given them. The cast all deliver fine work in this film.
Flatliners isn't a bad movie, in fact it's a pretty entertaining one that features some interesting production design and a strong soundtrack. It's paced well and it will easily hold most viewers' attention throughout. There's a lot of style here and it's a fun watch, it's just a shame that the finale lacks teeth. As such, it never quite reaches the potential shown in its first half.
Flatliners arrives on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and the transfer seems to be identical to the one used by Sony on their 2007 Blu-ray release. This is a pretty dark movie all around, so you can't realistically expect the colors to pop the way that they might on a brighter, more colorful film. As such, the grim looking color palette is reproduced pretty faithfully but by doing so, detail tends to get muddied up. Skin leans towards reddish in a lot of scenes, though again, this seems to be part of the stylistic choices made by the filmmakers. Detail is definitely better than DVD can offer but not as impressive as some might hope for. This is a bit of a tricky film to really properly evaluate because it's always been dark and murky looking, but you are left with the impression, after watching this Blu-ray, that a newer remastering could bring out better detail and texture than we see here. This isn't a complete disaster and it's all perfectly watchable, but it does leave some room for improvement as visible banding and some print damage is fairly easy to spot at times.
The sole audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and understandably, plenty will take issue with that (as the past release from Sony did include an LPCM mix). As far as lossy stereo tracks go, this mix is fine. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow and the levels are properly balanced. The track is free of any hiss or distortion and the effects and score sound fine BUT this never takes full advantage of the format. There could and should be more depth and better range than there is here.
There are no extras on this disc, just a main menu screen (there isn't even any chapter selection option, though the disc is divided into chapters you can skip to).
Flatliners is far from a classic but it's entertaining enough if you keep your expectations in check. Though its flaws can sometimes be obvious, the storyline is decent enough to keep us involved and there is some suspense here. The Blu-ray from Mill Creek is definitely priced right but it's got a lackluster outdated mix and is devoid of any extras. The transfer could also look better. Fans who don't have the older Sony Blu-ray could be tempted, everyone else should consider this a solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.