Plot: What’s it about?
Let’s take a trip back to the summer of 1990, shall we? Not a whole lot was different back then, George Bush was president and we were at war with Iraq. At the movies we had now “classic” films like Ghost, Days of Thunder, Dick Tracy and Total Recall. However, Flatliners had a great cast of some fairly new, fresh faces. Yes, we’d seen Kiefer Sutherland in previous movies like Stand by Me and The Lost Boys but who was this other Baldwin brother? Little did we know there was yet another (Stephen). Julia Roberts was coming off her box office success of Pretty Woman earlier in the year. And wouldn’t you know it, she and Kiefer Sutherland were an item. Yep, before Brad and Angelina (and Brad and Gweyneth), Bennifer and TomKat, there was Kiefer and Julia. Naturally they didn’t last, but the on-screen chemistry is there, to be sure. Enough about the cast, though I have neglected to mention Kevin Bacon and this movie certainly helped his “Six Degrees” stature. The idea behind the film is this: “Can you cheat death to see what’s on the other side?”
The answer is yes…and no. Kiefer Sutherland plays Nelson, an ambitious young doctor (actually, come to think of it they’re all ambitious young doctors) who is obsessed with finding out the secrets that lay beyond the grave. The only thing is that he doesn’t want to wait for death to find out – he wants to medically kill himself only to have his cohorts bring him back. A novel idea in theory, but who’s crazy enough to kill themselves just to find out what lies beyond the light. His friends, who consist of Rachel (Julia Roberts), David (Kevin Bacon), Joe (William Baldwin) and Randy (Oliver Platt) begrudgingly help him achieve his goal. As fate would have it, the experiment works. Nelson sees a key memory from his childhood in which he and his friends mistakenly killed a young boy, Billy Mahoney (Joshua Rudoy). But Nelson’s experiment has caused Billy to cross over as well and he’s not making life easy for him. As it turns out, each member of the clan goes beyond the grave and each brings back their own personal demons that they must find a way to conquer. Are some questions better left unanswered? You be the judge.
I remember seeing Flatliners in the theater and really liked it. I think the movie has held up surprisingly well and considering it’d cost about $50 million alone just to get the cast back together, it’s somewhat of a rarity. The movie is good, but not great and if taken with a grain of salt then I think others will find it as interesting as I did. I’m a big fan of Joel Schumacher’s films (the Batman movies aside) and he’s in top form here. Regardless if you’re a fan of any one of the lead actors, you have to admit that they all deliver some strong performances here. And I’m impressed by the concept of the film as well. I’m not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV), but the concept does actually sound feasible. I’m sure somewhere and somehow, this film has probably influenced someone to ponder this scenario. Then again, it is only a movie and maybe I’m taking it all a little too seriously. At the very least, Flatliners is entertaining.
Video: How’s it look?
When you’ve been in this line of “work” as long as I have, certain trends start to develop. One of those trends involves a rather high-profile title moving from various studios. Such is the case with Flatliners which started out its life (pardon the pun) at Columbia/Tri-Star, then moved over to Mill Creek and now finds itself in the capable hands of Arrow. This is a good thing. Arrow consistently puts out high-quality product and gives most of their releases new transfers. And, thankfully, this TLC by Arrow has resulted in a much nicer and overall more pleasing image. Detail has been cleaned up, colors seem to have a bit more pop and the dark levels (lest we forget, this is a pretty dark film) seem a lot better balanced. The HDR does help with this as well, giving this picture an advantage over its Blu-ray counterpart.
Audio: How’s it sound?
I believe that this is the same audio mix found on the Mill Creek Blu-ray, but don’t quote me on that! There’s a nice fullness to the track that really shows good range. Vocals were fine mostly. Only here and there were they less than passable, but it was nothing too worrisome. James Newton Howard’s score seems to pack more of a punch as well, providing a much fuller-sounding atmosphere. It’s a good mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is where the disc shines and why Arrow is one of my favorite studios. Considering the only extra on the Mill Creek version was a trailer, these newly-produced segments are a real treat.
- Audio Commentary – This new commentary track by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry is a very welcome addition. It’s nice to hear some critics discuss a movie that’s a few decades old as they discuss things about the cast, the long-lasting impact of this film and much more.
- The Conquest of our Generation – Screenwriter Peter Filardi is interviewed about the film in this new segment.
- Visions of Light – Director of photography Jan de Bont (who went onto direct other 90’s films like Twister and Speed) is interviewed here along with chief lighting technician Edward Ayer.
- Hereafter – First assistant director John Kretchmer is also profiled and discusses some nuances of the movie.
- Restoration – Production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy give us some insight into the visual look and feel of Flatliners.
- Atonement – Composer James Newton Howard and orchestrator Chris Boardman give us some input on their collaboration as well as the music heard in the movie.
- Dressing for Character – Costume designer Susan Becker provides some input on the film’s wardrobe.
- Theatrical trailer
- Image gallery
The Bottom Line
I’m going on the assumption that anyone reading this has seen this movie. It’s not bad, but it didn’t win any awards either. Think of it as an early 90’s “brat pack” film and a successful follow-up for Julia Roberts. This was remade back in 2017, but please stay away from that one. True fans of this film should run, not walk, to pick this one up. The improved visuals and new supplements alone are worth the price of admission.