On the Campaign Trail

Waking up from a coma, Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) finds touching people is a curse. When shaking hands, Smith senses the future. He sees death. Eventuality. Truth.

To a small town, he’s an enigma, a media sensation. Smith tracks down a serial killer and prevents a child’s death. But he’s wrong, or some people think so. Not his predictions, rather, he’s a demon against God’s plan.

Social pressures push Smith toward a Hermit’s existence, yet religion follows him. A cross on a wall; a tutored student reads harsh Bible verses; his mother worries about faith; a woman directly accosts Smith as if he’s Satan. Think of Smith as a superhero, capable of saving lives, yet a social outcast because people cannot accept who – or what – he’s become.

In Dead Zone, each new vision feels structured like a TV episode

Dead Zone is an interesting cross-section of American social status. Smith helps the poor and the rich. Each sees him differently – the penniless lash out, the affluent accepting, if only for their own end. It’s a cruel film, depicting how people seen as outsiders to the norm get pushed out and isolated. He’s a gift; no one sees him as such though.

With its final chapter, Dead Zone enters politics, introducing Martin Sheen as a third-party Senate candidate (as to not upset those of either mainline parties) running on bluster and brash promises. There’s no questioning Smith’s actions before, from finding the killer to warning of a hockey game’s mishap. Now, he’s faced with a moral quagmire, posed as whether killing Hitler before his rise would be considered moral, or whether history plays as intended.

It’s a drastic escalation, souring Dead Zone’s comparatively minuscule scope prior. Since those story threads drop, they feel less pertinent, more like wasted time until a main event, dipped in early ‘80s Cold War paranoia. In Dead Zone, each new vision feels structured like a TV episode. It’s unfocused, slowly chaotic as Smith comes upon the next case. Admirable character development aside (and Walken is stellar), the film’s thesis only comes into view during the last act. That’s the success, wandering into complex issues where the rejected man cannot convince anyone the man loved by the people is the true threat.

Imagine Final Countdown as a Navy ship enters a time-bending wormhole, staring down the Pearl Harbor attack, knowing the outcome, and forced to consider whether to stop the Japanese. Dead Zone’s scale isn’t dissimilar. Shame it lumbers itself on the way there.

Video

Debuting on US Blu-ray inside a five-pack of Stephen King features, Paramount does little to this source. Murky detail struggles to break from analog-like mastering. Dismal resolution fits better in the DVD era, and occasionally heavy ringing furthers the master’s age.

Smearing grain shows during some smaller motion, trailing actors as they turn their heads or make other tiny moves. Processing lingers over this presentation, never outwardly notable, if still detectable. Grain swarms overall, imprecise and thick, likely elevated by sharpening.

Minor dirt and scratches stick around, if the lesser flaw compared to hefty black crush. An early scene between Walken and co-star Brooke Adams in a car basically melds the actors to the roof visually. Expect similar loss elsewhere as Dead Zone continues. Flattened color brings a few primaries out – a red sweater, blue robe – letting the rest fall out into a murky, faded brown-ish hue.

Audio

In 5.1, a little motion on a roller coaster lets the rears perk up. Front channels sway back-and-forth too. A war scene and house fire utilize discrete effects too, naturally mixed. The rest dives into the center since it’s all dialog based.

Other than puffy bass, fidelity remains firm. Sharp dialog renders well, exhibiting no defects. It’s all in balance too. Unremarkable, if acceptable.

Extras

Absolutely nothing.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Dead Zone
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Christopher Walken gives a performance worth watching in Dead Zone, even if the movie takes too long getting to the story’s heart.

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