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Sony Pictures // R // July 3, 2007
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted July 18, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

1990's Flatliners is one of those films that feature a lot of top actors before they peaked.  With Julia Roberts (released right after Pretty Woman), Kiefer Sutherland before he started losing sleep on TV, and Kevin Bacon back when a "Bacon Number" meant how much pork you wanted with your eggs, this ensemble cast does a good job with a fairly good script.  An interesting take on being haunted, the film could have been great, but misses that mark somehow.  Even so it is an entertaining film that's worth watching just to see all of its stars on screen together.  Sony has put out a solid Blu-ray disc too, which makes this movie look better than it ever has on home video.

Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland) is a medical student who comes up with an extraordinary idea.  While philosophy and religion have failed to prove what happens when you die, modern medicine could succeed.  Technology has advanced to the point where someone can die and then be brought back to life seconds or even minutes later.  What if a scientist purposefully allowed himself to be killed and then brought back to life.  He could return with answers to age-old questions.  Not only that, but he would become instantly famous too.

Nelson manages to convince some of his medical school friends to help him with his hair-brained scheme.  Rachel (Julia Roberts) has a secret in her past that makes her want to discover what's on the other side, while brilliant student David (Kevin Bacon) is arrogant enough to think that the others couldn't do it without his assistant.  Womanizer Joe Hurley (William Baldwin) is just going along for the ride while Steckle (Oliver Platt) can't stand to think of his friends making a breakthrough without his assistance.  Together they manage to stop Nelson's heart and brain waves and then bring him back to life a minute later.  Next Joe takes the trip, and then the skeptic David, each one staying dead longer than the previous one.  What Nelson has failed to tell his friends is that something has followed him back from the other side; a child from his past who takes to attacking the doctor when no one else is around.  Joe soon has to confront all of the women that he has wronged, and David starts seeing a girl he used to torment in school.  With the attacks on Nelson getting more and more sever, the students start to worry that they won't be able to quiet the ghosts from their pasts.

This film has a unique take on the traditional ghost story, and it works pretty well for the most part.  There's tension every time someone volunteers to be 'killed', and the things they see afterward are pretty eerie and unsettling.  There are several mysteries that are woven through the plot (who is haunting the characters, what is Rachel's secret, and why is Nelson the only one who is attacked?) that keep viewer's interest and the plot moves at a pretty good clip.

Unfortunately the movie isn't able to leap that chasm that separates a good, solid movie from a great one.  Part of the reason is that the film ultimately doesn't give answers to many of the questions that it is asking.  Though the plot lines are wrapped up, there are a lot of things that go unanswered which leaves viewers with an unsatisfied feeling.

The movie also tries to become deep and mysterious in the last reel, playing the "there are some things Man shouldn't tamper with' card.  Does God influence the final events?  Is there some sort of cosmic justice that is being handed out?  The film would have been stronger if it didn't raise though sophomoric questions so late in the game.

The direction, while generally good, comes across as heavy handed at times.  The fact that the students are carrying out their experiments in a church that is being renovated (Holy symbolism Batman!) is bad enough, but whenever something from 'the other side' makes an appearance in our world blue or red gels are slapped on all the lights so that the audience knows that something mysterious is going on.  Director Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, St. Elmo's Fire) should give his audience some credit; when we see a 10-year-old boy wielding a pick axe, we know it's spooky.

The ending also feels like it was changed at some point.  Without giving anything away, it really seems like one of those endings that were tacked on after test audiences didn't like the original.  There's a section right at the end where you'll find yourself saying "Oh come on!" and that's too bad.

On the positive side, the ensemble cast does a great job.  They all manage to make their characters real, live, three-dimensional people, even those who don't have much screen time.  Sutherland steals the picture as the ambitious yet tormented Nelson however.  Even before the problems from his past are mentioned, viewers can feel an undercurrent of anger and desperation that really makes the character interesting.

The Blu-ray Disc:


Sony presents this film with its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it looks pretty good for a film that's 17 years old.  It doesn't look like the original elements were mastered in HD, the disc isn't quite that good, but the print that was used was fairly clean and free from spots and damage.  The level of detail varies throughout the movie, with some scenes coming across as sharp and crystal clear while others are softer.  Overall the level of detail is very good, the stubble on Kiefer Sutherland's chin is clearly visible and the individual strands of Julia Roberts' large hairdo are easy to discern.  The skin tones look really good and not enhanced or flat and the colors in general were strong.  Blacks are solid and not crushed.

There is just a bit of noise in a few scenes, nothing major though, and the level of grain was what you would expect from a film like this that has more than a few dark scenes.  Posterization and aliasing, common digital defects that sometimes plague discs, were absent.  While the sharpness could have been a little more consistent, the disc looks nice overall.


Viewers have the choice between a 5.1 PCM uncompressed audio track and a DD 5.1 mix.  (There's also a DD 5.1 French dub.)  Made in 1990 before multi-track films were commonplace, the film does make good use of the surrounds, especially during some the death sequences.  Though the dialog is mainly centered on the screen, there are some nice pans and directional imaging.  The bass doesn't have quite the punch it should, but this is a minor matter.  Audio defects are not a problem making this a solid sounding disc.


Unfortunately there are no extras on this disc at all.

Final Thoughts:

This is a good solid movie with an outstanding cast.  Though there are a couple of things wrong with the script and the direction is a bit heavy handed at times, Flatliners is still and entertaining horror film that is worth checking out.  The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds fine, and while it isn't reference material, this disc will be a fine addition to any collection.  Recommended.

Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.

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