Of all the page-to-screen adaptations of the novels of Stephen King, The Dead Zone has to be the most successful. It is superior to the better-known film versions of The Stand and It, both made for TV miniseries. Zone is one of King’s more economical horror novels (and when was the last time the master of the genre was accused of being economical) and director David Cronenberg decided to basically follow the book and not indulge in his weird for weird’s sake screen moments.
Christopher Walken is the lead and, like Cronenberg, he made this movie before he got really, really freaky. The plot is very simple. School teacher Johnny Smith –and there’s a bland name on purpose, read every man in it—gets into an accident after a night out with his fiancée and wakes up a few years later. He soon discovers that by touching people he can see in their past, present, or future. Through a series of circumstances, he meets every man senate candidate and one day presidential hopeful Greg Stillson (played by Martin Sheen), sees into Stillson’s future, and comes to the conclusion he must change that future.
There are a lot of bizarre factoids around Martin Sheen’s performance and role in this movie. He went from filming this movie to doing a miniseries where he played JFK during which he had a heart attack and later on got to be President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing. Seems Johnny Smith’s power to change the future were somewhat limited.The Dead Zone works for many reasons. Everybody gives a great performance, Cronenberg basically follows the Stephen King book and allows the story to unfold while keeping everything going at rapid pace. The music, by Michael Kamen, is simply brilliant. 103 minutes for a King movie has got to be a record if you ignore the schlock movies like Cujo, Christine, and so on. This is, again, the best Stephen King book to screen adaptation so far.