Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Dead Zone

Viimeinen yhteys [Finnish title on screen] / Viimeinen yhteys: The Dead Zone / Död zon. US © 1983 Dino De Laurentiis Corporation. PC: Dino De Laurentiis Company  / Lorimar Film Entertainment. EX: Dino De Laurentiis. P: Debra Hill. Assoc. P: Jeffrey Chernov. D: David Cronenberg. SC: Jeffrey Boam - based on the novel (1979) by Stephen King, in Finnish: Kosketus translated by Heikki Karjalainen / Tammi 1979. "The Raven" (1845) by Edgar Allan Poe. DP: Mark Irwin - Panaflex Cameras and Lenses by Panavision - lab: Medallion Film Laboratories (Toronto) - Technicolor - 1,85:1. PC: Carol Spier. AD: Barbara Dunphy. Set dec: Tom Coulter. Cost: Olga Dimitrov. Makeup: Shonagh Jabour. Hair: Jenny Arbour. SFX: Jon G. Belyeu. VFX: Michael Lennick (video electronic effects). M comp+cond: Michael Kamen - perf. The National Philharmonic Orchestra at the Abbey Road Studios. S: David Lewis Yewdall. ED: Ronald Sanders. Casting: Deirdre Bowen, Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins. C: Christopher Walken (Johnny Smith), Brooke Adams (Sarah Bracknell), Tom Skerritt (Sheriff George Bannerman), Herbert Lom (Dr. Sam Weizak), Anthony Zerbe (Roger Stuart), Colleen Dewhurst (Henrietta Dodd), Martin Sheen (Greg Stillson), Nicholas Campbell (Deputy Frank Dodd), Simon Craig (Chris Stuart). Loc: Ontario (Canada): Niagara-on-the-Lake, Orono, Stouffville, Whitevale. Helsinki premiere: 16.3.1984 Savoy, released by Savoy Filmi Oy - telecasts: 24.8.1988 MTV1, 6.3.2003 MTV3 - vhs: 1985 R-Video - dvd: 2002 Finnkino - VET 91684 – K16 – 2865 m / 105 min. A vintage KAVA print deposited by Savoy Filmi with Finnish / Swedish subtitles n.c. viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (David Cronenberg), 28 May 2013
    A new adaptation: the tv series The Dead Zone (US 2002).

David Cronenberg switched smoothly from Canadian to U.S. American production with The Dead Zone, shot in Ontario. Cronenberg's only Stephen King adaptation became one of his best films. During his early U.S. American period the cool, sometimes even glacial Cronenberg made the films with the most touching romantic dimensions, the most sympathetic characters, and the most profound sympathy for humanity (The Dead Zone and The Fly).

The Dead Zone belonged to the current Stephen King cycle of film adaptations. It had been preceded by Carrie, The Shining, Creepshow, and Cujo. Many others were forthcoming, but The Dead Zone is still one of the best Stephen King film adaptations.

The concept is that the protagonist, Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), has psychic powers. By touching a person's hand he may get a vision of a secret or a traumatic event in the person's past or future. Finally he realizes that by intervening he can change that future. He also realizes that his power, which has mostly been a curse, can become a blessing, although he himself cannot survive.

The power of the fantasy concept is that it provides Johnny (and us with him) a special outlook on life. Everything is seen in an unusual perspective.

The Dead Zone is well written (Jeffrey Boam b.o. Stephen King), well photographed (a lot of winter footage by Mark Irwin), and it has a fine score (Michael Kamen, not Howard Shore this time) and good performances. The skill of David Cronenberg is in creating a believable atmosphere in which he can develop the incredible premise.

Christophen Walken was at his best in this period, in films as different as The Deer Hunter and Pennies from Heaven. The Dead Zone belongs to his greatest films. We get to know Johnny Smith as a relaxed teacher of literature, able to keep youngsters interested in Edgar Allan Poe; we get to know him as a young man deeply in love. After five years in coma he is but a shadow of his former self, but he is determined to rehabilitation under the guidance of the kind and firm doctor Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom, 1917-2012). Smith manages to achieve a position as a private tutor who has a delicate touch with difficult children. Johnny Smith is a psychologically credible character, and the creation of that character is the main strength of the movie, thanks to Walken, Cronenberg, and King.

Martin Sheen creates a juicy caricature of a ferociously ambitious politician, Greg Stillson, stopped by Johnny Smith, who saves the world from WWIII and a nuclear holocaust by doing so. In Smith's premonition Stillson orders his general to put his hand on the launching pad: "You put your god damn hand on that scanning screen, or I'll hack it off and put it on for you!"

The Dead Zone has some relevance for the Jewish connection in David Cronenberg's oeuvre. When Johnny touches Dr. Weizak's hand the traumatic event revealed is the German occupation of Poland. Sam's mother saves her little son at the last moment. Johnny discovers that Sam's mother is still alive, and Sam calls her but remains silent, refusing to announce himself to her. 

The visual quality of the vintage print: serviceable, perhaps one generation too far removed from the ideal, but the colours are still intact.

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