The Dead Zone (1983) - Directed by: David Cronenberg
If you could go back in time to pre-WWII Berlin, knowing what we know now, would you kill Hitler? He brought about one of history's bleakest and blackest moments by starting the second world war and ordering the genocide of over 11 million Jews, Gypsies, and undesirables. His "Final Solution To The Jewish Question" was to snuff the lives of any Jewish man, woman, or child in Europe. His evil (and I use that word to its full extent and meaning) reign is still the most hideous and disturbing stain on the face of history. Your chances of getting away are not very good, and you are likely to never live to see the world that you've changed by his death, but if you had the chance, just this one chance to save millions upon millions of lives, would you take it? This type of question is the main plot point in this week's film, "The Dead Zone". If you knew that someone was going to do terrible things later in their life, would you take the steps to stop them no matter the cost?
The film's main character is Johnny Smith, a junior high teacher as ordinary as his name, until one night on his way home from a date with his girlfriend Sarah he is in a horrible car crash that puts him into a coma for 5 years. When he finally awakes he finds that life has continued on and passed him by. Sarah has married a politician and now has a child with him. But something has happened to Johnny while he was "asleep"...he soon finds out that when touching certain people he can see events in their past, present, or future. While trying to make his recovery he is continually hounded by the media because of his "Psychic Powers." He finally consents to give a press conference and while his mother and father watch at home he proceeds to scare the pants off of a local TV reporter by digging up dark secrets from his past with just a touch. Seeing this, his mother is convinced that he is blessed with a gift from God and has a sudden stroke that takes her life. Johnny is grief stricken and returns home to live with his father after recovering. He receives an unexpected call from the sheriff of Castle Rock who would like his assistance in a string of murders that have gone unsolved in his town. Johnny declines, feeling his "gift" a curse and just wants to be left alone. After a surprise visit from Sarah he finally decides to help the sheriff and solves the murder, but is wounded in the act.
After another stay in the hospital and more hounding by the media he moves to a different town and has taken up private tutoring. In choosing to shut himself away from the outside world he feels he is safe and secure, but out in the park across from his house, a politician's billboard and stage is being constructed. The politician's name is Greg Stillson, and just like his towering billboard image, he will soon loom over Johnny in ways he couldn't imagine. After a chance meeting, where upon shaking Greg's hand, Johnny sees him as the President of the U.S. as starting a global nuclear war. Johnny is suddenly faced with the reality that if he does nothing to stop Stillson, he is condemning millions to death. The next choice he makes is the most important of his, and possibly, the entire human race's lives.
Based on a novel written by Stephen King, "The Dead Zone" is most definitely one of the finest adaptions of his work. Christopher Walken delivers a fantastic and subdued performance as Johnny, with Martin Sheen playing the yin to his yang in the charismatic and conniving Gregg Stillson. I found Brooke Adams as Sarah a bit wooden[,]but it doesn't hurt the film too badly. The biggest flaws I found in the film were that it seemed a bit rushed at the end and is sadly dated, with fashions and styles of the 70's, but I still highly recommend seeing it. With the always delightful direction of David Cronenberg, a great source novel as a base, and a haunting score, this is a great thriller that makes watching an easy decision to make.
Fun Facts for "The Dead Zone"-
Cronenberg fired a .357 Magnum loaded with blanks just off camera to make Smith's flinches seem more involuntary; this was Christopher Walken's own idea.
During the time Michael Kamen was composing the music for the film in London, he would play the score on the piano in his home. He received several complaints by his neighbors who asked, "Can you please stop playing that music? I can't sleep and it's giving my family nightmares."
The Dead Zone was the first of several Stephen King novels and short stories that took place in the small town of Castle Rock. Others include Stand by Me (1986), Cujo (1983), The Dark Half (1993), and Needful Things (1993).
David Cronenberg wanted to change the name of Christopher Walken's character: "I'd never name someone "Johnny Smith", he quipped, but in the end it was left as is.