Lionsgate // 2007 // 546 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // June 18th, 2008
"If it comes down to looking like a freak to try to save someone's life or trying to act normal like the rest of the world and letting someone get hurt, I'll take freak every time." -- Johnny Smith
That's a lecture that Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) gives his son J.J. in The Dead Zone: The Final Season. It'll come in handy for J.J., who may have inherited Smith's strange powers. However, it poses a problem: Who's left in Maine who doesn't know that Johnny's strange visions usually come true -- or pretty darn close?
Enter a skeptical new sheriff, Anna Turner (Cara Buono, Third Watch). Dead Zone also broadens its scope in a few cases, sending Johnny on a train ride to Montreal and Indiana and bringing in new Vice President Greg Stillson's staff so that the hero can demonstrate his powers before new audiences.
Since this is The Final Season, viewers might be anticipating a grim ending, because Stephen King's book ended with Johnny's death. Don't forget, though, that The Dead Zone was originally seen on USA, where "grim" is a four-letter word, so there is hope for Johnny.
While I try to avoid spoilers, there's one big change in The Dead Zone that's hard to ignore -- and it's not the fact that Montreal replaced Vancouver as the show's stand-in for the Maine towns of Bangor and Cleaves Mills.
The Dead Zone: The Final Season contains 13 episodes on three discs:
* "Heritage": Johnny has a vision of Walt (Chris Bruno) dying. Meanwhile, the Rev. Gene Purdy (David Ogden Stiers, M*A*S*H) is trying to regain control of Faith Heritage.
* "Ego": New sheriff Anna Turner is a stickler, and "the book doesn't include a psychic civilian." It doesn't include Anna shooting a woman by mistake, but Johnny's vision does.
* "Re-Entry": VP Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery, Young Indiana Jones) seeks Johnny's help to make contact when a space shuttle carrying plutonium loses communications.
* "Big Top": Johnny's getting visions of murder under the big top after following J.J. to a circus. Will he figure out in time that J.J. has foreseen an accident under the big top?
* "Interred": Johnny doesn't know where to find the man he saw buried alive, but he manages to talk Sheriff Turner into a trip to the cemetery to check it out.
* "Switch": Johnny's sticking like glue to a stranger on a train to make sure his vision of her falling off doesn't come true. Things could get sticky.
* "Numb": After Johnny falls into a coma following an appendectomy, Sarah realizes that the psychic was having a vision during his fever.
* "Outcome": Johnny foresees an explosion at a bus station, but his visions see calamity with each possible action. Can a crossword creator help him puzzle out the right course?
* "Transgressions": As Sarah's daughter Hope is being baptized, Johnny has a vision that leads him to a possibly possessed priest and a dead woman.
* "Drift": Johnny and Bruce hold a vigil to guard a racehorse when Johnny gets a vision of an abduction, but it's not the horse the kidnappers are after. It's the jockey, who's also the love of Bruce's life.
* "Exile": A postcard puts a painful picture in Johnny's mind: the death of Alex (Jennifer Finnegan, Close to Home), his psychic friend. It leads him to a small Indiana town, where he's framed for murder.
* "Ambush": Johnny sees himself and Sheriff Turner gunned down in a vision. The ambush has something to do with Walt's last case -- and Johnny's father.
* "Denouement": A vision of Walt leads Johnny to the Rev. Purdy -- and to the answers he's been seeking.
"It's -- it's complicated," Sarah Bannerman says at one point as she tries to explain her relationship with Johnny Smith. Let's see. Sarah was Johnny's sweetheart, she gave birth to Johnny's son but married Sheriff Walt Bannerman while Johnny was in a coma, Johnny awoke after six years, and Sarah, pregnant with Walt's daughter, has moved in with Johnny after Walt's death. She's being courted by both Johnny and VP Greg Stillson. Got it? Then you can fast forward through the "Previously on The Dead Zone" openers that are frequent this season.
As always, Johnny's struggle with the consequences of his visions is a major part of the storyline, from his guilt over failing to stop Walt's death to his constant concern over causing death or misfortune through a wrong interpretation. One episode, "Outcome," stands out because it deals with the outcomes of each possible move he could make. In "Transgressions," Johnny seeks religious help to cope with his guilt.
Often, The Dead Zone's plots are standard issue (notice how many times Johnny gets conked on the head, like a hero in a Lippert B-movie), but there's still a surprising touch here and there, as when a mute man touches Johnny so the psychic can "hear" him or when psychic Alex figures out how to cheat Johnny's vision of her demise. Generally, it's the character moments -- seeing a bond growing between Johnny and Anna Turner in "Interred" or watching Stillson cope with a moral dilemma (and, yes, he has some morals) in "Re-Entry" -- that make the episodes work. It certainly wasn't the cheesy shot of Johnny riding a spaceship in a vision in "Re-Entry" that did it.
The series has a new look this season -- usually darker and more foreboding -- with its move from Vancouver to Montreal, with one episode, "Switch," getting the full noir treatment. The change of location is a mixed bag; while Montreal seems to have a more varied look, it seems like the production crew is trying to hide the city's more varied weather.
Obviously, Chris Bruno as Walt is out of the picture. Audiences will also see less of Bruce and the Rev. Purdy this season as well, and a new actor takes the role of J.J. That's probably the biggest surprise this season, since J.J.'s seedling psychic powers give new actor Connor Price more screen time, which he handles well.
This is the final season, and there is a resolution. It is alternately cheesy, chilling, and hopeful, with a twist straight out of the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series. One of the people on the commentary track called it "very The Prisoner." Still, trouble seems to be over for Johnny, Sarah, and J.J. as the credits roll.
Commentaries on four episodes -- "Heritage," "Re-Entry," "Numb," and "Denouement" -- talk about the move to Montreal, cast changes, and bringing in a show in on a very limited budget (did it reach four digits?), mainly by using found locations.
If you read my front-page blurb, "PBMN" is the fictional news network on TVs in The Dead Zone. In the last episode's commentary, the assembled Zoners puzzled over that one.
Frankly, Johnny does seem like a scary freak at times. You'd think he'd be a little more tactful than telling someone straight out that he saw them die in a vision. No wonder Sarah's making eyes at Stillson.
Visa's product placement this season is glaring, to say the least. It even draws mockery in the commentary track.
Stephen King probably wouldn't recognize TV's version of his book, but I've been getting attached to The Dead Zone while watching these DVD sets. It draws its strength not from plots, but from strong acting and interesting, flawed characters.
While the setup has become predictable after a few years, it's nice to see the writers and actors working overtime to make it as fresh as they can.
The ending didn't do that much for me, but at least it tied up enough loose ends. Overall, the final season's not guilty.
For a special report on the high murder rate in Bangor, Maine, watch
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 546 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentaries on Four Episodes
* "A New Home For The Dead Zone"
* "All Aboard: Filming The Dead Zone on a Train"
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 1
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 2
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 3
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 4
* DVD Verdict Review - Season 5