When Death Keeps Coming

To the early ‘90s, Flatliners’ characters served as counter-culture icons. An era of grunge and skate culture, here were medical students, the elite intellectuals, willing to defy not just social order, but god himself.

Experiments concerning the afterlife happen in an abandoned church. People ignored god, and five students moved in to prove their superiority over a higher being though science. Reversing the previous century’s terror over science bringing forth Frankenstein, Flatliners’ unmerciful concept cheats an accepted inevitability, philosophically questioning death’s purpose.

Flatliners chooses to study characters over the theories

It’s a fascinating idea, both in delivery and possibilities. In Flatliners world, those who defy death are punished. These aren’t people who recovered from an accident, rather those who choose to kill themselves, their brazen ego enough to sustain them afterward.

Each character has purpose in exploring death; they relive their mistakes, cruelly imprisoned by memories discovered as their hearts stopped. Yet, they argue among each other about doing it again, daring to go longer despite the lessened chance of recovery. For the ‘90s generation who brought extreme games to fruition, Flatliners represented the ultimate thrill – relying on medical science rather than a bungee cord to save lives.

Rachel (Julia Roberts) serves as an empathetic anchor. Visiting death and experiencing trauma in her childhood, her choice to go under is to understand or seek relief. She can relay and join those who perished, looking for solace that there is a truly better place when people die. What she finds is tragic.

Flatliners is stuck repeating itself; Nelson (Keifer Sutherland), David (Kevin Bacon), Joe (William Baldwin), and Rachel all commit to this project, the same panicked resuscitation playing out each time. Eventually, the compelling drama wears out, yet Flatliners can sustain itself on backstory snippets alone. How these college kids approach their pasts proves alluring, and if there’s a fault, it’s Flatliners ending before anyone unearths this “research,” or reads the results. Flatliners chooses to study characters over the theories (successfully so) but it’s anti-climatic not to have these ideas probed.

Video

Arrow’s Dolby Vision presentation features a heavy amber push early, then intense blues at nightfall. That’s not different from previous Flatliners discs, although this warmth looks and feels decidedly digital, certainly modern. Given the often darker cinematography, faces turn absolute red in places. The blue tints fare better in comparison, nearly monochromatic or not. It’s a lot, surrealist intent or otherwise.

Other than the saturation, Flatliners looks superlative and suitably glossy. Grain replication doesn’t waver, keeping the imagery crisp, natural, and film-like. High-end sharpness brings substantial detail, especially in close. Exteriors show stellar definition, whether brick or concrete. There’s little doubt this is a true 4K scan.

Against the pure black shadows inside the lab, spotlights shine. Dolby Vision adds that spark, vivid and intense. Peak brightness doesn’t enjoy subtlety, bringing the same generous pop to medical equipment screens or any other such objects. There’s no loss to the darkest parts of the frame either.

Audio

Splendidly using the rears to enhance the score, music bounces between the speakers wildly during the death visions. Sounds swirl around, sweeping the soundstage aggressively. Jolts from various electrical shocks hit each channel.

Deep (if unspectacular) bass adds weight to the music and the visions. Consistent range commits to every opportunity. Arrow also offers a DTS-HD stereo track without the same power. Stick with the 5.1.

Extras

Arrow brings in critics Bryan Reesman and Max Avery for a newly recorded commentary track. Then, six also new interview segments, with writer Peter Firaldi, Jan de Bont & lighting tech Edward Ayer, assistant director John Kretchmer, production designer Eugenio Zanetti & art director Larry Lundy, composer and orchestrator (respectively) James Newton Howard & Chris Boardman, and finally costume designer Susan Becker. Trailers and an image gallery lock this one down.

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.

Flatliners
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Movie

Flatliners’ creative concept transplants ’90s counter-culture into the medical world with evocative results.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 40 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: