Some of the best Stephen King book to screen adaptations has been television mini-series. That’s fascinating as “The Dead Zone” often feels exactly like a television mini-series. Despite David Cronenberg’s solid direction, “The Dead Zone” is often very episodic. It doesn’t have one streamlined narrative so much as it has vignettes that lead to what you could call the series finale. In retrospect after my first viewing, it’s not at all a surprise that the premise inevitably led to a television series.
Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), an average man and gifted school teacher, gets into a terrible car accident after a driving home from a date one night. Five years later he awakens from a coma and the world has moved on without him, including his girlfriend. Only Johhny didn’t wake up the same man. When he touches someone, he can see their past or their terrible future. This gift is a curse, that is until he shakes the hand of a charismatic campaigning senator Greg Stillson (Michael Sheen), and Johnny becomes the only man who can avert a possible future global catastrophe.
Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone” is considered a classic in its own right, but it’s not one of the best of King’s adaptations. Despite his approval of Cronenberg’s handling of his novel for the film, “The Dead Zone” isn’t nearly as cerebral as it initially promises in the first half. It spends much more time on character Johnny’s re-connection with his old life after he falls in to a coma for five years. There’s a lot more melodrama injected that makes the film feel much too overlong, and there’s not too much emphases on what it accomplishes in the way of his powers. Christopher Walken gives a strong turn as Johnny Smith, a young man with everything to lose who tries to rebuild much of his life after coming out of a coma.
This proves especially stressful when confronted with powers that provide extra trauma as he not only can see potential futures, but can also experience them in every way possible. Walken’s turn in “The Dead Zone” has proven to be one of his most iconic performances, and he manages to carry what is a pretty remarkable cast. Herbert Lom is very good here, as is Martin Sheen who plays a great villain. As Stillson, Sheen is the classic charismatic politician who is always planning something in the shadows. It’s a shame we don’t get much from the character throughout the narrative, even if the screenwriter does at least provide a hefty amount of foreshadowing.
I wish we’d gotten more of what Stillson was capable of, but the limited time that Sheen is on screen, he manages to make an undeniable mark. “The Dead Zone” is a strong genre mix that showcases Christopher Walken beautifully. It’s not by any means a masterpiece, but its pros outweigh its cons. And even sub-par Cronenberg is still worth checking out, when all is said and done.
The new edition from Scream Factory includes three audio commentaries. There’s one with director of photography Mark Irwin, one featuring Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, and one featuring Michael Gingold. There’s an isolated score track with an introduction by Daniel Schweiger. “Sara’s Story” is an interview with co-star Brooke Adams. There’s also the twenty minutes Producing The Dead Zone, Trailers From Hell: The Dead Zone with Mick Garris, the twelve minutes Memories From The Dead Zone, the nine minutes The Look of The Dead Zone, the nine minutes Visions From The Dead Zone, and the eleven minutes The Politics of The Dead Zone. Finally, there’s the original trailer, a gallery of TV Spots, and a Behind the Scenes Gallery.