Thoughts on “The Dead Zone”

So after I pondered in my discussion of “Christine” how I’d feel about a Stephen King adaptation that followed the work but that I hadn’t read, the very next Stephen King adaptation is “The Dead Zone”, which seems to fit the bill.  And, yeah, I definitely felt like there was more to the elements in it than the movie was portraying, which led to an add experience while watching it.

The basic plot here is that someone who is about to marry a fellow teacher on a stormy night, but as he heads home he gets into a car accident and is in a coma for I think a few years.  When he awakens, it seems like he can at times see the future, mostly by touching people.  He also discovers that his girlfriend has gotten married to someone else and has a child.  Eventually, he has a vision about the leading candidate for the Presidency that says that if he is elected he will eventually start a nuclear war, and has to decide if he can change the future and prevent it from happening.

Now, when I talked about “Midway”, I noted that it felt like it was trying to reference war movie tropes but didn’t develop them properly.  “The Dead Zone”, it can be argued, is a movie that does the same thing.  After all, while it’s more of a drama trope than a horror trope, having his girlfriend marry someone else but having them rekindle their relationship — they make love once before she leaves to go back to her husband — and in fact the entire thread where that happens and then they meet again as her husband is a key worker on the Presidential candidate’s campaign that happens to come to the main character’s neighbourhood is indeed a standard drama trope (although there it usually ends with the girlfriend returning to him).  And how he ultimately averts the terrible future that he foresaw is not by killing the candidate, but is instead by having him hide behind the child of his girlfriend which exposes him as a coward, which is creative but again could follow from the relationship.  But why I don’t think that’s what’s happening is because the events seems to have, in-universe, far more significance than the movie presents.  The scene where the main character and his girlfriend get together is lengthy and and seems to be hinting at a number of elements both before it and after it, so it’s easy to imagine that it’s a scene that was lifted from the book but that was better developed.  Even the ending didn’t need to be her son but could have been any child, but it being her child specifically seems important in a way that the movie just doesn’t reference.  So the overall impression I had is exactly what I was wondering if I’d have while watching “Christine”:  a sense that these events were supposed to be more meaningful and had more weight to them even though what we saw in the movie didn’t support that weight.  Because the scenes aren’t simply scenes that ape common tropes but seem to be expanded from what might at first glance be common tropes, it’s easy to imagine that in the book the scenes did follow from a deeper examination that the movie didn’t have the time to explore.  And given that from the other works I actually know that that’s the case for Stephen King works, that impression seems confirmed with what I know of how these sorts of things actually work.

That, I think, really does explain why Stephen King adaptations are in general not as popular or well-regarded as you’d think they be given how many of them there are and how famous he is as an author.  My impression is that the best regarded ones are “The Stand” and “It”, which were not two hour movies but were instead miniseries.  But even they have some issues following through on what is best in Stephen King novels, which is the individual relationships and internal thoughts of the people involved.  That sort of thing is very difficult to do in a movie and take up time that even miniseries don’t have the room to do, which led to my being disappointed with the miniseries of “The Stand” when I watched it after having re-read the book first.  King’s works are just really, really hard to adapt to a movie or even TV miniseries.

As for “The Dead Zone”, I think the performances are good and the ending is clever and a bit unexpected, but as already noted much of the movie depends on emotions that were probably developed in the original work but that weren’t developed properly in the movie.  In general, these movies make me want to read the book instead of watch the movie, which end up being “Meh” at best, which is where this one comes in.  I could probably watch it again, but won’t do that any time soon.


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