Johnny Smith has been leading an idyllic small-town life. Employed as a science teacher, Johnny takes great pleasure in showing his young students the wonders of the natural world. He is ... See full summary »
Anthony Michael Hall,
Nicole de Boer,
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Johnny Smith is a high school teacher in love with Sarah Bracknell, a music teacher at the same school. But Johnny is smashed up in a horrendous car accident and slips into a coma that lasts for six years. When he awakens, Sarah has married another man, while his once-latent psychic powers come to flower. He now has visions that reveal things from both the past and the future. And this puts him in the path of a serial killer.Written by
This made-for-video movie is actually the first two episodes of the TV series stitched together. They cover roughly the first half of the 1983 David Cronenberg film "The Dead Zone," based on Stephen King's novel. I've never read the book, but I love the movie. And I was looking forward to an updated version with fresh ideas. All this did was poison my memory of the original, which I watched immediately afterwards as an antidote.
Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) is a high school teacher in love with Sarah Bracknell (Nicole de Boer), a music teacher at the same school. But Johnny is smashed up in a horrendous car accident and slips into a coma that lasts for six years. When he awakens, Sarah has married another man, while his once-latent psychic powers come to flower. He now has visions that reveal things from both the past and the future. And this puts him in the path of a serial killer.
This version's bumbling efforts show you how difficult it is to make this essentially silly material credible and affecting. Cronenberg made it look easy, while these filmmakers make it seem like an insurmountable feat. What did the writers think when they watched the original? That all the deft, subtle touches needed to be replaced with sledgehammer blows?
Take the way these two versions handle Johnny's latent psychic abilities. In the movie Johnny has a weird headache on a roller coaster, which may or may not be a premonition of the car accident he's about to have. In this video-movie we know Johnny is latently psychic because he repeatedly anticipates an old carnival huckster's game of chance. And because he always knows where his mother left her glasses. And because he gets a bad vibe from his mother's new sweetheart. And because of a prologue where Johnny as a little boy correctly predicts that a hockey teammate is about to fall through the ice. So you're saying he has psychic abilities, right?
Did they think the story needed less suspense? The movie generates a lot of tension because we never know when the touch of a hand will trigger a new vision. This video-movie kills it by making it a matter of course. Johnny touches someone, he has a vision. It comes off like a comic book superpower, rather than an unmanageable affliction.
Did they think the story needed a lot of trick work? It's bad enough anyone would want to lard this story with unnecessary special effects. But when it doesn't even have the budget to pull it off? Johnny now has the ability to freeze-frame a vision and walk around in it. Yet we see the extras blinking and shifting. And the visions are accompanied by flashing lights and sudden camera moves and strange sound effects; the sounds in particular reminded me of the robots changing into cars on "The Transformers."
Did they think the story needed less emotion? Both versions have only a brief time to convince us Johnny and Sarah are in love before they are torn apart. The movie does this with a few skillful brush strokes. The video-movie adds some lustful groping, but convinces us only that these two are really attracted to each other.
The triumph of the movie is that even with flourishes like psychic powers, a serial killer and an evil lunatic capable of blowing up the world, it's still the story of two star-crossed lovers, still the story of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary events. It's still human and down-to-earth. This show tries to capture that, but they fail badly.
One problem is Anthony Michael Hall. I haven't seen him in anything since his days of playing high school nerds. I was surprised to see that he's aged into a creepy-looking guy with an icy stare. That also describes Christopher Walken, who played Johnny in the movie. But Walken commands enormous sympathy in his role while Hall comes off as shallow and self-satisfied. Nicole de Boer manages to imbue a bit more humanity into Sarah – and bears a striking resemblance to her forerunner, Brooke Adams. But it's not enough to make the love triangle affecting.
Chris Bruno plays Sarah's husband (an amalgam of two characters in the original movie) with bland semi-competence. Johnny's physical therapist, who has a few lines in one scene of the movie, now becomes a full-blown character – a wise-ass, dreadlocked sidekick played by John L. Adams, whose every quip is more tedious than the last. And the less said about the eye-candy (Kristen Dalton) playing a snooping reporter, the better. The only intriguing character is the Reverend Eugene Purdy, played by the always-wonderful Donald Ogden Stiers. Johnny doesn't like the reverend, yet the character is neither written nor performed as a standard villain. In fact, he seems sincere and likable and may prove not to be a villain at all.
Stiers would be the only reason to continue watching this series. But he's not enough.
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