Quick Hit: Never something I think could be called the best Stephen King movie, but a fun one that embraces its star and a bit of camp with it.
Stories of psychics just abound throughout the movies. It’s just an easy way to develop a story – “Oh, someone has the ability to see the future”, how novel. However, when handled correctly (as Mr. King tends to handle things – maybe not all the time, but an awful lot of them), you can see why. It’s an exciting and fun story to tell. And when you tie in the intrigue of a man who uses his gifts for good, what better story could you have?
The Dead Zone tells the story of Johnny, a young man who is so good he won’t come into his girlfriend’s house until they are married. After a run in with a runaway tanker, he ends up in a coma for five years. Upon waking, he discovers he has (you guessed it) psychic powers. Johnny is played by Christopher Walken, and man is his acting superb. Even his reactions, which were eventually spoofed by himself on SNL, are still pretty good. But Walken does his best acting in the quiet moments of the movie – when he shares scenes with his former girlfriend Sarah (played by Brooke Adams).
It’s because the script allows Johnny to focus on himself so much. We are frequently presented with Johnny alone or Johnny surrounded by children, and that’s no accident. When you consider the stunted maturation that would take place had you frozen someone’s time clock for five years, I think there is a solid comparison to be made there. Furthermore, Johnny is consistently weakened in this movie. Part of it is the residual effects of the coma, but other times he is just shown to be emotionally weak. It makes his characters arc that much more satisfying.
The bit actors are really good in this, but I can’t help but love Martin Sheen as a slimy politician. He is so good at all parts of it – first, he is extremely charismatic. In today’s political climate, there is an interesting parallel (one I’m not brave enough to write about in depth). Not only is he charismatic, he is dangerous and will do anything to win. The film has no problem painting Johnny’s reasoning for doing what he eventually does.
The direction, by Cronenberg, is very different than his previous film, Videodrome. While there are still some shots of extreme violence (like the terrifying death by scissors), the film on the whole shows a remarkable amount of restraint for a man that is known for his body horror. It allows him to focus on the character development, and the movie is better for it. I think that this film directly led to one of his most excellent: A History of Violence.
Overall, watch the movie, and watch the SNL spoof. They’re enjoyable movies with an easy plot to follow for being what they are. I’m giving The Dead Zone a “C+”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"