Christopher Walken in 1983's "The Dead Zone."

The Dead Zone November 10, 2018  


David Cronenberg



Christopher Walken

Brooke Adams

Herbert Lom

Martin Sheen









1 Hr., 43 Mins.

arly on in The Dead Zone (1983), a schoolteacher named Johnny (Christopher Walken) is involved in a freakish car accident. While driving home one night, after a date with his colleague and girlfriend, Sarah (Brooke Adams), a semi-truck flips just ahead of Johnny’s comparatively measly Volkswagen bug on a country road. Thanks to a vision-obscuring thunderstorm, he cannot swerve in time; the side of his car hits the rig, and


he flips over.


Miraculously, he doesn’t die. Johnny, though, will come to learn that death might have been preferable to post-accident life. Upon waking from a coma, which has lasted approximately five years, Johnny discovers that Sarah has gotten married, and recently gave birth. He has lost precious time with his parents, who are elderly. These are common, if distressing, developments after a forced, long-winded slumber.


But there is a ganache of surprise slathered on top of this cake of disappointment: Johnny also finds out that, if he touches someone’s hand, he can catch a glimpse of their future, or discover the truth about an uncertainty that’s been gnawing at the back of their mind. Shortly into the movie, Johnny informs his doctor (Herbert Lom) that his mother, whom the latter thought was long dead, is alive, for instance. Later, he will tell a young boy to avoid hockey practice: if he attends, he will fall through the ice and drown.


The Dead Zone, an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1979 novel of the same name, unrolls episodically. It is comparable to a television procedural: there is one overarching storyline, but undergirding it are several smaller ones. In the film, Johnny will help a small-town police department unearth the culprit behind a series of murders; act as a tutor, then savior, to a foredoomed, angsty rich boy; then help bring down a corrupted third-party senatorial candidate (a scenery-chewing Martin Sheen) whom Johnny discovers will become a totalitarian president if he does not interfere.


The movie was competently written for the screen by Jeffrey Boam, who penned The Lost Boys (1987) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and helmed by the Canadian oddball David Cronenberg. In line with the other pictures comprising his oeuvre, Cronenberg directs in his usual uncanny, sometimes-ghastly, but mostly muted style — which, per usual, makes it difficult to get engrossed. (Though he does a good job of combining the supernatural with the quotidian.) The film also features an efficient leading performance from the always-beguiling Walken, who simulates Johnny’s ever-present despondence with winning unflashiness.


But The Dead Zone, while working as an at-least-intelligent adaptation of a work written by a notoriously hard-to-adapt author, is mostly as dramatically flatlined as its macabre title. Its plot works better on the page — literal breaking-up via chapters make a spasmodic storytelling style flow. On the screen the material is rendered patchily and without much by way of urgency: just when a given subplot, or section, making up at least part of the ultimate storyline begins to spellbind, The Dead Zone moves onward.


Eventually, and unsurprisingly, the novel and 1983 movie would act as jumping-off points for a television series, which premiered in 2002, starred the quondam teen-movie star Anthony Michael Hall, and lasted for six seasons. I haven’t seen it, but I’m wont to believe it works better than the movie. This time-jumping story is too telegenic for the silver screen. C