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Flatliners (1990) (Limited Edition) (4K Ultra HD)
Joel Schumacher is an underrated director who, before his death in 2020, was unafraid to take chances on unique and risky projects. He got his start writing films like The Wiz and Sparkle before hopping into the director's chair on St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys. Most of his films offer flawed, relatable characters and each has a style and personality that is all Schumacher. Even his worst films (I am looking at you Batman & Robin) offer unique visuals and plenty of scenery for the actors to chew. His 1990 thriller Flatliners is not the best in his arsenal, as that honor probably goes to The Lost Boys, Falling Down, or A Time to Kill. Nevertheless, this film, which taught us, "It's a good day to die," is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Jan de Bont (Twister) and is stacked with young talent in Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon. Arrow Video, yet again, offers up a fantastic catalogue release for this entertaining film.
At a city medical school, brooding Nelson Wright (Sutherland) convinces classmates and friends Rachel Manus (Roberts), David Labraccio (Bacon), Joe Hurley (Baldwin) and Randy Steckle (Platt) to attempt a dangerous experiment: He will try to discover what lies beyond death by flatlining for a full minute before having the rest of the crew resuscitate him. Using the medical school's equipment, the group stops Nelson's heart and waits nervously as his body temperature drops. After a minute they begin lifesaving efforts but quickly hit a snag, as Nelson's body does not immediately respond. They manage to bring him back to the land of the living, and a dazed Nelson relays that there is certainly something after death. In the days that follow, Nelson begins having strange visions but is undeterred from helping the others engage in the experiment, too; with each successive member dying for a longer period of time.
The film is a thrilling drama that is shot like an action film by Schumacher and de Bont; the camera darts and dives around the actors as they kill and revive their friends. What Flatliners is decidedly not is a horror movie, despite a premise that could have led to such. Writer Peter Filardi discusses in an on-disc supplement that he got the idea for the film after hearing an accident survivor talk about their unconscious memories that occurred while flatlining. It is certainly an interesting concept, and I suspect every living person over the age of 10 has at many points in their life wondered what happens next. Although it is not always completely successful, I give Flatliners much credit for exploring existential themes in an intelligent and thoughtful way. Each friend that dives under comes back recalling a different experience. Each has memories and regrets from the past, and those return to haunt their owners in the present.
The cast, riding high before most of their defining projects, makes Flatliners memorable. These are fairly fleshed-out characters for a thriller, and each main cast member does strong work in their individual roles. Schumacher takes what is certainly B-movie material and gives it a respectable veneer, heightened by the gorgeous work with light, shadow and filters by de Bont. Is the science behind this experiment logical? Hell no, but under the guidance of these filmmakers Flatliners seems relatively plausible. Guilt, atonement and shattered idealism all are topics touched upon, and, while Flatliners feels a bit stagnant in its midsection, it offers plenty to ponder. A product of its time it may be, but Schumacher's ambitious thriller is certainly worth revisiting.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Restored from the original 35mm source under the supervision of Jan de Bont, Flatliners' 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with HDR10 and Dolby Vision looks fantastic. As I mentioned, this is a stylish, handsomely shot film with some interesting filters and plenty of shadow play. A lesser transfer might have bungled all the different elements, including dimly lit interior shots, smoke and haze, and heightened, surrealistic colors, but Arrow's presentation has no issues with these tasks. The image is crisp and clear, with gorgeous lines and textures. Facial features and fabrics offer abundant detail; wide shots are deep and clear. Several of the dream sequences are downright gorgeous, offering idealistic, sparkling flights through a character's childhood. Blacks are inky, shadow detail is abundant, and highlights are kept in check. The film grain appears natural and fluid in motion, and there are certainly no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement. The HDR pass offers what de Bont describes as the opportunity to finally see the film outside the theater as it was meant to look. Colors are bold and gorgeous; and this 4K image is leaps and bounds above the previous HD release.
Both English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes are included with optional English SDH subtitles. These are impressive mixes, and I largely stuck with the surround mix. James Newton Howard's bombastic score and the film's interesting aural effects are represented well. All elements are appropriately balanced, and dialogue is crystal clear. There are plenty of ambient and some action-related effects that make full use of the surrounds and subwoofer. Overall, this is very nice complement to the image.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a black 4K case with two-sided artwork; the original theatrical artwork and newly commissioned art from Gary Pullin. You also get a booklet with essay and film information. The case slides into an attractive slipcover with holofoil elements. Extras include a newly recorded Audio Commentary by Film Critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry; The Conquest of our Generation (19:11/HD), a new interview with screenwriter Filardi in which he discusses the entire project; Visions of Light (18:23/HD), a new, detailed interview with de Bont; Hereafter (14:22/HD), a new interview with first assistant director John Kretchmer; Restoration (10:47/HD), another new piece with interviews of production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy; Atonement (11:35/HD), a new interview with James Newton Howard; Dressing for Character (6:26/HD), a sit-down with costume designer Susan Becker; the Theatrical Trailer 1:27/HD); and an Image Gallery.
Arrow Video offers collectors another excellent catalogue release, this time for Joel Schumacher's 1990 thriller Flatliners, which sees medical students conducting risky experiments to discover what lies beyond death. The film offers a stacked cast, ambitious themes and interesting photography, and this new release is excellent across the board. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.