Johnny (Christopher Walken) has everything going for him – a teaching job that he's passionate about and a blossoming relationship with a fellow teacher. But after a car accident puts him in a coma for 5 years, he awakens to a world radically different from the one he knew - a world in which his girlfriend has moved on with her life; now married with a child named Denny. (Stupid name for a stupid kid.) Before he can even begin to adjust to his new circumstances, he has a vivid premonition of a deadly fire after physical contact with his nurse. This premonition leads to saving her daughter's life. Johnny has been given the gift of not only being able to see the future, but also the ability to alter it!
After subsequent experiments and demonstrations, Johnny must now decide how this power should be used. The potential to save lives is not something to be taken lightly and this raises a slew of moral questions. Is it now his moral obligation to help others? Whose lives deserve to be saved? With so much at stake, should he even be the one to choose? If he chooses not to, would there be blood on his hands? (Rasputin and Spiderman also faced such a dilemma with varying results.) As Johnny is a noble man, he agrees to assist the police in apprehending a notorious serial killer.
His morality is then given the ultimate test after shaking hands with presidential candidate Greg Stillson (superbly played by Martin Sheen.) His ensuing premonition reveals that Stillson will one day be solely responsible for the death of millions. This opens up another old moral query: if you could go back in time with a chance to kill Hitler as a child, would/should you do so?
Overall I have mixed emotions about the Dead Zone because it seemed to jump from idea to idea a little too erratically. Three different quality movies could have been made from this King/Cronenberg/Walken collaboration. 1) Johnny trying to move on with his life after the world has forgotten him. This would still be a compelling story without any of the supernatural aspects. 2) Johnny using his powers to track the killer and 3) Johnny using his powers to prevent the apocalypse. Unfortunately the movie lacked fluidity and ultimately played out like an anthology. I *head lowered in shame* haven't yet read the book but I'm assuming that this was a case of Cronenberg trying to jam too much into a 2 hour film and being forced to sacrifice integral character development and plot buildup. Still, I loved this movie and my criticisms are nitpicky only because I'm comparing it to the Shining versus Salem's Lot (the movies).