Sony // 1990 // 114 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // July 26th, 2007
Some lines shouldn't be crossed.
Within the historical tapestry of American cinema, the 1990 film Flatliners might be more known for the romantic chemistry that began between two of its stars, rather than the interesting story it tells. So is this interesting little production the proverbial bee's knees on Blu-ray and high definition?
Written by Peter Filardi (The Craft) and directed by Joel Schumacher (Falling Down), the story revolves around a group of young doctors, some still in medical school. You've got Nelson (Kiefer Sutherland 24), arguably the most talented of the bunch. If it's not him, it's definitely David (Kevin Bacon, Wild Things). The rest are in medical school, and they are Rachel (Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich), Joe (William Baldwin, Backdraft) and Randy (Oliver Platt, Pieces of April). Nelson discovers a way to revive one's self from being clinically dead, and in the initial process of the test, something goes wrong within Nelson's psyche, something that the rest of the group subsequently feels after their trips. So, naturally, a quest begins to find out what happened and to fix it, if possible.
I've never been one to appreciate, like, or even watch the work of Kiefer Sutherland, either in movie or TV form. Honestly, I think the only film I've consciously seen him in was Stand By Me. My reason, while presumably crazy to a lot of people, makes sense in my mind. You see, I share my last name with Sutherland's first, not in spelling, but in pronunciation. So every so often when I pick up a pizza and use my last name, I get some joke about Jack Bauer or something like that. Mind you, I've never jumped on a Christmas tree like Master Sutherland, so why should I have to be subjected to the comparison? Sorry, I had to get that gripe out of the way.
The point is, not watching the work of my last name, I really didn't know what to expect, but in Flatliners, I was surprised with how challenging the overall theme about cheating death was to the actors and the story. It's something medical shows tackle every so often, but the way they do it here is rather brave, and the actors' collective vanity doesn't get in the way of things. It also helps to show you that at the end of the day, don't mess around with tempting fate or playing God, because it will surely bite you in your medically educated backside if you do. The doctors who are "killed" and revived are haunted by images in their pasts that have remained indelible in their minds. Their pasts come back to invade their minds, proving that what was personally scary then still is now. Dave has an interesting character arc where he travels miles out of town to meet a woman whom he used to torment at a school, all with the intent of making things right, which the others seem to take to heart rather well, especially Nelson, whose images of a childhood bully victim named Billy Mahoney occupy every waking moment. The story does prove to be compelling in the way that it's executed.
But what of the main players in this film, many of whom have gone onto successes that have included critical praise and awards? Well, pretty good, actually, they all work well and share decent chemistry amongst themselves. Nobody is really Earth-shattering; it presumably was one of those safe choices for some of them, including Bacon and Roberts (who was rumored to have fraternized with Sutherland during the production). Schumacher and Director of Photography Jan de Bont (who would later helm the action film Speed) create an effective look for the film that is a mix of Gotham and gothic, without going overboard on a creepy score or silly visual effects.
In a mild surprise, Sony releases Flatliners using the MPEG-2 codec, a slight departure from most of their other catalog titles, which are MPEG-4 encoded. The picture isn't too bad for the most part, though there are times where it doesn't retain the sharpness expected of a high definition disc. The PCM soundtrack is also a pleasant surprise, possessing a lot of low end fidelity, not to mention its dialogue remains clear and audible when watching the film, I really enjoyed listening to the film. Unfortunately though, the film has always lacked any decent extras (or any extras, for that matter), so this film continues to mildly suffer as a result.
Is there a bit of cheesiness to the film? Sure, without a doubt. You've got everyone lying down on a table, with a blanket that is a neon tube and bubble wrap sort of hybrid, all in the name of science and medicine I guess. The other part was designed to be scary, but to see Sutherland being tormented by a pre-teen with a hockey stick came off as a bit silly in my mind. But it didn't detract too much from my overall impressions of the film, which even included a tacked on ending that I saw coming and still didn't like.
Flatliners is a surprisingly decent movie on an almost always hot topic. The performances are all pretty good, and the moments of silliness don't sink the film. It's something that could have been a little bit better, but could very easily have been a whole lot worse. I'd probably wait until some sort of retrospective supplement is done to appease the masses, but if you don't want to, it's a decent Blu-ray disc.
That's 250 joules of not guilty and...clear!
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
* Arabic (10)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R