Review: The Dead Zone(1983)

Composer: Michael Kamen

Label: Milan Records

Catalogue Nr.: 35694 2

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Based on the Novel by Stephen King, The Dead Zone is telling the story of the high school teacher Johnny Smith who falls into a coma after a terrible car accident. When he wakes up 5 years later he suddenly suffers from strange and menacing premonitions of people's future. The film was directed by David Cronenberg before he did The Fly (1986) but it is not a typical film from the director especially due to the lack of gore and plot holes. The Dead Zone can be seen as one of the director's best films and the excellent performance of Christopher Walken as well as the unusual story make this film a unique experience which did fairly well with the audience.

The score:

The Dead Zone really is a unique Cronenberg film but not only for the reasons mentioned above: It is the only film from the director since Scanners (1981) which does not have a score by his all-time collaborator and Lord of the Rings-composer Howard Shore who also scored Cronenberg's newest film A History of Violence (2005). The studio executives from Paramount wanted someone more popular to score the film instead and that's why it became Michael Kamen's first big job in Hollywood. His special sensibility for film scoring as well as his strong musical style (especially in his writing for strings) is already evident in his score for The Dead Zone. The majority of the score consists of very intimate emotional passages that bare a heavy and depressive tone for Christopher Walken's tragic character while some parts feature a rather avant-garde sound.

"Opening Titles" is introducing the mighty and depressive tone which is playing against still images of a winter landscape during the opening credits. The piece is best described as a melancholic variation on Kamen's 80's (action) sound as heard in Die Hard (1988) or Highlander (1986) with a rather symphonic overall sound and an emphasis on strings. After the first few bars of music you will notice the late composer's strong musical voice. Even though this was only his first big score for a Hollywood production, his style was already evident in almost every note he wrote for The Dead Zone. The first half of "Coma" features more of the melancholic music with a hint of a love theme and a french horn solo performance of what seems to be some kind of theme for Chris' Walken's character Johnny Smith. More dramatic music with whirling strings playing on the edge is heard during the second half of the cue to emphasize Johnny's fateful car accident.

Slight hints of optimism are shining through in "Hospital Visit" before the avant-garde sound strikes in "1st Vision-2nd Sight". Johnny's premonitions are actually introduced by Kamen's music, usually by a staccato effect for strings which is highly effective in the film. The inner pain of the main character is perfectly expressed by Kamen in "Lost Love" which features crying strings and horns. "Drowning Vision-Through the Ice" starts with more dissonant sounds but is quickly becoming rather subtle underscore. A mysterious and beautiful harp performance can be heard in "School Days" before another english horn statement of Johnny's theme brings back the melancholic feeling. "In the Snow" creates an unsettling mood with a re-occuring string line while "Alone" features menacingly brooding and disturbing suspense music for a very nasty scissor-scene in the film.

Dramatic tones comparable to the car accident sequence can be heard in "Political Death" while the melancholic sound and another beautiful use of harps follows in "Rally-Meet Your Local Candidate". In this cue, Kamen is introducing a new, mysterious motif which is build around Johnny's theme and foreshadowing Johnny's tragic fate. "Realisation-Destiny" is a surprisingly subtle but highly effective musical approach to Johnny's most frightening vision. "Death of a Visionary", "Civic Duty-Sacrifice" and "The Dead Zone" are rather subtle moments of underscore but still effective especially in the film. "Coda to a Coma-The Balcony" starts quiet but menacing while the second half of the cue unleashes a dark and dissonant orchestral force for the tragic finale of the film.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 90%

Score as heard on CD: 86%

TOTAL: 88%

 

The presentation:

Milan Records released an excellent score album of Kamen's classy score with a very good running time of nearly 43 minutes, some very nice liner notes by Film Score Monthly owner Lukas Kendall, a comment by Michael Kamen about his work and some pictures from the film. Only the sound quality, which is rather mediocre at times, leaves something to be desired but it is still okay if you consider that this is a recording from the early 80's. The album is still a real gem but sadly, it is out of pring. You might still find cheap copies in mint. condition on Amazon.com marketplace or ebay at an affordable price. Note: The track times on the back of the CD inlay are slightly too short. The correct running times are listed below.

Presentation by the Label: 68%

 

Summary:

Who would have thought that a depressive score can be so addictive? Michael Kamen really was a composer who never failed to amaze me and his work for The Dead Zone really is deeply moving and classy emotional music. Sadly, many people seem to be unfamiliar with this score, mainly because it is an early work by Kamen which is unfair because this score is just as strong as his latter work and probably his best score of the 80's right after Highlander (1986). You just can't go wrong with this score!

 

Tracklisting:

01.  Opening Titles (04:29)
02.  Coma (04:26)
03.  Hospital Visit (01:14)
04.  1st Vision - 2nd Sight (01:36)
05.  Lost Love (01:26)
06.  Drowning Vision - Through The Ice (02:48)
07.  School Days (02:18)
08.  In The Snow - Hope (02:24)
09.  Alone (04:01)
10.  Political Death (02:32)
11.  Really - Meet Your Local Candidate (03:57)
12.  Realisation - Destiny (02:17)
13.  Death Of A Visionary (02:15)
14.  Civic Duty & Sacrifice (01:52)
15.  The Dead Zone (02:42)
16.  Coda To A Coma - The Balcony (02:25)