Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Five? Years? The DEAD ZONE

I really like The Dead Zone - it's one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations and one of my favorite Canadian films. I know - I know - it's American but it was shot in Canada by a Canadian director - just enough to stake my claim and enjoy some o' that good ol' down home pride. We have less great films than the good ol' US of A and I like it when US/Can bone and make a baby like The X-Files ...or The Dead Zone.
Cool opening titles and a sad fitting score suggest that some talented people are invested in this movie - good. I was young when I saw Dead Zone for the first time but I knew David Cronenberg from Videodrome so I expected something weird. What I got was a chilly tale of a man who went into a coma and came out with amazing abilities - I think I wanted those abilities ...It's a different story watching it as an adult ...classic and tragic, anchored by great character performances, and a stylishly subdued Cronenberg.
It's fun to watch a young Christopher Walken reference Poe then Ichobod Crane and The Headless Horseman ...He'd have played a memorable Ichobod Crane back then - bit of a shame about The Headless Horseman(Sleepy Hollow) but I digress. He plays a cool John Smith - Walken works for the character - for Johnny Smith's experience, and Brooke Adams provides perfect balance. I had a big crush on her going in(Invasion of the Body Snatchers - my favorite version)...but she looks fantastic, and the cut to her crying shot after the "spilled milk" - awesome.

The "awakening scene" is very impressive ...genuine suspense to get to that number, boy - "Five? Years?" ...well done. We have a slightly more serious Herbert Lom as JS's doctor and his interesting thread is just another that's changed for me since my younger self soaked it up. The "not talking to his Mom" - I get it now - like the film - sad and cool. Every subplot in the film ends the same way - Jeffrey Boam's strong & consistent screenplay at work throughout.
Tom Skerritt is always cool, and a young Nicholas Campbell plays a subtle and creepy Frank Dodd - I could have watched a whole film focus on that subplot. Dynamo Colleen Dewhurst rounds out a good US/Can actors circle with nary a lousy performance in the film.

After their afternoon together Sarah and Johnny are having dinner with his father - Johnny jokes about his day - very cool look from his pop says plenty, and Walken's response - perfecto. Just a great acting scene.

I'm a Cronenberg fan so I admire his restraint with The Dead Zone. Now take David Lynch who can be pretty wild ...but like Lynch with The Straight Story, Cronenberg focuses on character and atmosphere. These are the movies that remind me these guys are substance over style despite their abundance of the latter. It's a nice looking film that leaves you feeling a bit chilly ...like Johnny Smith's Castle Rock in winter.
I like the subplot with the boy quite a bit - in fact, this was a section that scared me as a kid. The ice and the thought of falling through = Scary. I'd learned to skate on a lake that made those big cracking sounds while everything else was winter silent - great days though. Watching the film now I think the subplots could've been woven a little better but hey, that's just me.

Having read the book I missed seeing Greg Stillson's rise to power, but Martin Sheen has the energy of the character for sure. Stephen King is just so good at giving us human villains where the truly horrific resides - in the evils all around us - in politics and religion - in dark human places.

I remember thinking "I could kill him and get away", but that aint the point is it?
It's interesting to learn that Mr.King created the story out of a "what-if?"...What if one of the crazy crackpots claiming to know the end of the world was right? What if a man had a good reason to sacrifice his life? Fantastic storytelling that entertains but begs moral questions - what would you do?

I think we all say we'd go back and kill Hitler, but would we give up our name?...our life for what's right?
I think I'll make my charitable contributions to the world under the name "Johnny Smith" from now on.

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