The Dead Zone (film)

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The Dead Zone
The Dead Zone.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by Debra Hill
Uncredited:
Dino De Laurentiis
Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam
Based on The Dead Zone 
by Stephen King
Starring Christopher Walken
Brooke Adams
Tom Skerritt
Herbert Lom
Anthony Zerbe
Colleen Dewhurst
Martin Sheen
Music by Michael Kamen
Cinematography Mark Irwin
Edited by Ronald Sanders
Production
company
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
(USA & Canada)
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
(International)
Release dates
  • October 21, 1983 (1983-10-21)
Running time 103 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10,000,000 (estimated)
Box office $20,766,616 (Domestic)

The Dead Zone is a 1983 American horror thriller film directed by David Cronenberg. The screenplay by Jeffrey Boam was based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The film stars Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst and Martin Sheen.

The plot revolves around a schoolteacher, Johnny Smith (Walken), who awakens from a coma to find he has psychic powers. It became the basis for a television series of the same name in the early 2000s, starring Anthony Michael Hall.

Plot[edit]

In the town of Castle Rock, Maine, Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), a young schoolteacher, is in love with his colleague Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams). After having a headache following a ride on a roller-coaster, Johnny politely declines when Sarah asks if he wants to spend the night with her.

As he drives home through stormy weather, Johnny has a car accident that leaves him in a coma. He awakens under the care of neurologist Dr. Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom) and finds that five years have passed and that Sarah has married and had a child.

Johnny also discovers that he now has the psychic ability to learn a person's secrets (past, present, future) through physical contact with them. As he touches a nurse's hand, he has a vision of her daughter trapped in a fire. He also sees that Weizak's mother, long thought to have died during World War II, is still alive.

As news of his "gift" spreads, Johnny is asked by a sheriff (Tom Skerritt) for help with a series of murders, but he wants to be left alone and therefore declines. Sarah visits with her infant son and the two make love. Having a change of heart, Johnny agrees to help the sheriff and through a vision at the crime scene, he discovers that the sheriff's own deputy is committing the murders. Before they can arrest him, the deputy commits suicide. Johnny is then shot by the man's mother, who in turn is killed by the sheriff.

A disillusioned Johnny, now barely able to walk, moves away and attempts to live a more isolated life. He takes on tutoring jobs for school children, working from home until a wealthy man named Roger Stuart (Anthony Zerbe) implores him to come visit his son. Johnny and the boy, Chris, quickly form a friendship but, after seeing a vision of a boy falling through a pond's ice during a hockey game, Johnny warns Stuart not to let the boy go. Stuart ignores him, but Chris believes him and stays home. Two boys die during the trip, proving Johnny right. Johnny then realizes he has a "dead zone" in his visions, where he can actually change the future.

Johnny attends a rally for Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), a US Senatorial candidate whom Sarah is volunteering for. Johnny shakes Stillson's hand and has a vision of him becoming President of the United States and ordering a nuclear strike against Russia that brings on a nuclear holocaust. He seeks Weizak's advice, asking, by way of example, if he would have killed Adolf Hitler when he had the chance, knowing in advance the atrocities Hitler would commit. Weizak replies that he would have no choice but to kill him. Johnny leaves Sarah a letter, telling her that what he is about to do will cost him his life, but it would be a sacrifice he is willing to make.

Johnny loads a rifle and takes aim at Stillson at a rally held in a church. His shot misses the target, but Stillson grabs Sarah's baby and holds him as a human shield. A photographer snaps a picture just as Johnny is gunned down by a security guard. Confronted by an angered Stillson, a fatally wounded Johnny grabs his hand. He now foresees Stillson's reputation being ruined after his cowardly act is revealed in the photograph for all to see, and committing suicide. Johnny says to Stillson: "It's over. You're finished." He dies peacefully with Sarah by his side.

Cast[edit]

Development[edit]

Lorimar Film Entertainment began developing The Dead Zone film adaptation. Producer Carol Baum gave the book to screenwriter Jeffrey Boam and asked him to write a screenplay. "I saw it had great possibilities and agreed to do it," Boam said.[1] He developed a script with director Stanley Donen, who left the project before the film reached production at Lorimar.[2] Lorimar eventually closed its film division after a series of box-office failures, and soon after producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the rights to The Dead Zone. He initially disliked Boam's screenplay and asked King to adapt his own novel.[1][3] De Laurentiis reportedly rejected King's script as "involved and convoluted.",[4] however David Cronenberg, who ultimately directed the film, said that he was the one who decided not to the use script, finding it "needlessly brutal".[1] De Laurentiis rejected a second script by Andrei Konchalovsky, eventually returning to Boam.[3] The film was finally on track to be made when De Laurentiis hired producer Debra Hill to work with Cronenberg and Boam.[1]

Boam abandoned King's parallel story structure for The Dead Zone's screenplay, turning the plot into separate episodes. Boam told writer Tim Lucas in 1983, "King's book is longer than it needed to be. The novel sprawls and it's episodic. What I did was use that episodic quality, because I saw The Dead Zone as a triptych."[1] His script was revised and condensed four times by Cronenberg, who eliminated large portions of the novel's story,[5] including plot points about Johnny Smith having a brain tumor.[1] Cronenberg, Boam, and Hill had script meetings to revise the screenplay page by page. Boam's "triptych" in the screenplay surrounds three acts: the introduction of Johnny Smith before his car accident and after he awakes from a coma, a story about Smith assisting a sheriff track down the Castle Rock Killer, and finally Johnny deciding to confront the politician Stillson. Boam said that he enjoyed writing the character development for Smith, having him struggle with the responsibility of his psychic abilities, and ultimately give up his life for the greater good. "It was this theme that made me like the book, and I particularly enjoyed discovering it in what was essentially a genre piece, a work of exploitation," he said. In Boam's first draft of the screenplay, Johnny doesn't die at the end, but rather has a vision about the Castle Rock Killer, who is still alive and escaped from prison. Cronenberg insisted that this "trick ending" be revised. Boam submitted the final draft of the screenplay on November 8, 1982.[1]

King is reported to have told Cronenberg that changes the director and Boam made to the story "improved and intensified the power of the narrative."[4]

Production[edit]

The film was shot in the Greater Toronto Area and Regional Municipality of Niagara of Cronenberg's native Ontario, Canada where some of its temporary props and structures are still in place, such as the gazebo which still stands in the small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, where most of the in-town shots were filmed. The so-called Screaming Tunnel, located in nearby Niagara Falls, Ontario, was also used as the backdrop for one scene. The school where Johnny teaches in the beginning of the film is Summitview P.S., located in Stouffville, Ontario.

According to a David Cronenberg interview on the DVD, The Dead Zone was filmed during a relentless deep freeze in Southern Ontario which lasted for weeks, creating an authentic atmosphere of subzero temperatures and icy snow-packed terrain, which made for great natural shooting locations in spite of its being almost too cold for cast and crew to tolerate at times. Canada's Wonderland (Canada's premier amusement park, formerly owned by Taft Broadcasting, and Dead Zone film distributor Paramount), which is 30 km north of Toronto's city limits, was also used as a filming location.

In an interview on the Dirty Harry DVD set, director John Badham said that he was attached to direct the film at one stage, but pulled out as he felt the subject matter was irresponsible to show on screen.

The music soundtrack, composed by Michael Kamen, was recorded by The National Philharmonic Orchestra, London at the famous EMI Abbey Road Studios. Michael Kamen conducted the recording sessions; the orchestra was contracted and led by Sidney Sax. This is the only Cronenberg film since The Brood (1979) for which Howard Shore did not serve as composer.

Reception[edit]

The Dead Zone was granted favorable reviews, holding a 90% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lucas, Tim (Dec 1983 – Jan 1984). "The Dead Zone". Cinefantastique 14 (2): 24–35. 
  2. ^ Ferrante, A.C. (May 1, 2013). "Exclusive Interview: The Last Crusade of Screenwriter Jeffrey Boam". Assignment X/EON Magazine. Midnight Productions, Inc. 
  3. ^ a b Collings, Michael R. (2008-08-30). The Films of Stephen King. Borgo Press. p. 91. ISBN 0893709840. 
  4. ^ a b Wiater, Stanley; Golden, Christopher; Wagner, Iank (May 2001). The Stephen King Universe: The Guide to the Worlds of the King of Horror. Renaissance Books. p. 139. ISBN 1580631606. 
  5. ^ Magistrate, Tony (2003). "Defining Heroic Codes of Survival". Hollywood's Stephen King. New York City: Palgrave MacMillan. p. 120. ISBN 0312293216. 
  6. ^ "The Dead Zone". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 

External links[edit]