Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Dead Zone

(1983) ****

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).


Summerisle said...

Re: That Hitler hypothetical always bothered me because it seemed to be a moral trap set by self-righteous jackasses designed to get you to admit that you would take innocent life. The "correct" response is supposedly "No, I wouldn't kill him, I'd love him and teach him to respect others and blah blah."

What I would do? I'd go back and kidnap adult Hitler, take him back in time to child Hitler and force the adult to watch me kill his youthful version by hanging him by the testicles from a ceiling fan set to super-fast until they both die simultaneously.

Octopunk said...

With that logic problem I always favor the "T-Rex in Vienna" scenario. You have to maintain some random factors.

I remember reading this book at my cousin's house in New Hampshire and I just couldn't put it down. I liked the movie, too. There's a great bit where the father of one of Johnny's students isn't listening to him and he smashes some furniture with his cane. Also, the Martin Sheen vision is way more clear in the movie. I was fairly young when I read it and didn't get the metaphoric visions the way I understood the movie's straightforward approach.

And Brooke Adams (who plays Johnny's would-be girlfriend) was in the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Groovy.

Jordan said...

A lot of talent in this movie, including a score by Michael Kamen (Pink Floyd The Wall, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) and a title sequence by my favorites of all time, R/Greenberg associates (Ghostbusters, Superman, Alien, Untouchables, countless others) who basically invented the style of "We'll slowly build the logo -- the same logo as the poster, because we know what we're doing -- as a piece of precise animation, using the screen as our canvas, while really good typography will give you everything else, and, when the typography is complete, the logo will have finished constructing itself." I'm sure you guys know what I'm talking about; especially you, Summerisle, because you just watched The Dead Zone.

What the hell are we all doing up at this hour?

Jordan said...

This was the first Stephen King I read. In 1978 I saw the poster for the paperback of "The Stand" on the subway (while going somewhere with my Dad, who, at that time, would lean in and say, "The next stop is ours") and I was fascinated by the Bosch-style image of the two figures with swords. I asked my friend Marc Sedaka for that book for my birthday; he couldn't find it, so he bought me "The Dead Zone," which had just come out. It's actually my least-favorite 70s King novel, which doesn't mean it's bad at all: just not as good as those other stunners from that decade. The movie reminds me of when Cronenberg knew what he was doing, before he started making overrated crap like "History of Violence."

JPX said...

The first King book I ever read was Cujo and I never looked back.