Arrowheads #104: FLATLINERS

The 80s thriller gets new life, thanks to a 4K remaster from Arrow Video

Synopsis: At the University Hospital School of Medicine, five ambitious students subject themselves to a daring experiment: to temporarily induce their own deaths, hoping to glimpse the afterlife before being brought back to life. But as competition within the group intensifies and their visions of the world beyond increasingly bleed into their waking lives, they’re about to learn that the greatest threat comes not from the spirit world but from the long-suppressed secrets of their own pasts… Stylishly photographed by Jan de Bont (Basic Instinct) and featuring a cast of Hollywood’s hottest talent — including Kiefer Sutherland (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me), Julia Roberts (Secret in their Eyes) and Kevin Bacon (Wild Things) — Flatliners is the ultimate life-and-death thrill ride.

The premise is simple, med-students stop each other’s hearts and revive themselves after a period of being deceased, with the hope of seeing what lies beyond. It’s a question that intrigues us all, more-so those who are facing and fending off death on a daily basis. It’s a great hook, but rather than a deep existential dive, Flatliners showcases it’s roots in the early 90s, where star power is used to drive a concept, rather then fully fleshing it out. For the most part it works. A spooky, psychological thriller, flowing over with (at the time) hot acting talent, oh and William Baldwin. The sheer charisma of Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, and Kevin Bacon is palpable, but as it their commitment. Approaching the story with a seriousness that adds much to the occasional emotional emotional impact of it’s disparate narrative elements

But the script never shakes those B-movie tropes and tone. Furthermore, there is no real effort to dive into something more profound or spiritual. Despite posing some existential questions, the focus is on entertainment not enlightenment. Which will be fine for some, and frustrate others. Flatliners content serving as a fableistic story, about facing up to the wrongs in our past, and taking accountability for them. Here prompted by the dive into the nightmares of those who lie on the slab for this fateful series of experiments. So light on substance, but where the film does standout is in terms of style. Beyond the cast, there is an impressive visual flourish from cinematographer Jan de Bont, an effort that aligns perfectly with the playful approach of Joel Schumacher‘s direction. These elements combine to elevate the film, not to the levels of some classic piece, but enough to entertain, and ensure a place for Flatliners in cult circles.

The Package

Arrow delivers an all new 4K scan and restoration, derived from an original 35mm negative, with color corrections approved by cinematographer Jan De Bont. There is a sumptuousness about the presentation, with inky blacks and bold amber hues showcasing some of the Gothic vibes. The more nightmarish sequences tilt into starker blue palettes and showcase an impressive amount of detail to the image. The grain does feel a little heavier, and occasionally tinted in color, but this is likely from the source stock. The film is housed in an attractive hard card slipcover that shows off newly commissioned artwork from Gary Pullin, including some reflective touches added to the title treatment. Also inside, is a booklet featuring essay contributions from Amanda Reyes and Peter Tonguette, cast and crew information, information on the 4K transfer, and some stills. Extra features are:

  • Brand new audio commentary by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry: An exhaustive dive into various aspects of the film comes from this pair of critics. From conception, to production details, set design, run downs on the cast and crew, studio involvement, details on an unmade sequel, references to the recent remake, and more
  • The Conquest of our Generation, a brand new video interview with screenwriter Peter Filardi: The writer discusses the circumstances that led to him prepping the script for the film, the inspirations channeled into it, how it was sold, developed, and the collaboration with Schumacher. A great look at the process, and a chance to catch a glimpse of some of the original script ideas
  • Visions of Light, a brand new video interview with director of photography Jan de Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer: There’s a distinct Gothic aesthetic to the film, so it’s great to see a featurette dedicated to exploring the contributions of the two chief architects behind it. From coming on board, to planning stages, crediting other crew members involved in the process, technical breakdowns of specific scenes, and moe. de Bont is particularly entertaining
  • Hereafter, a brand new video interview with first assistant director John Kretchmer: A breakdown of what his role was on the film, scenes handled, his relationship with de Bont, and other crew members
  • Restoration, a brand new video interview with production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy: Another featurette that leans heavily into the technical aspects of the film. The intent, the process of building the look, problems and solutions found, and a return to some of the locations used for the film
  • Atonement, a brand new video interview with composer James Newton Howard and orchestrator Chris Boardman: A fun insight into how the pair were brought onto the project, their contributions to the film/score, and a solid breakdown of how creating a score is achieved on a technical level.
  • Dressing for Character, a brand new interview with costume designer Susan Becker: Becker breaks down her ties to Schumacher (via St Elmo’s Fire) and her approach to the various characters and specific scenes of the film
  • Theatrical trailer and Image gallery

The Bottom Line

Flatliners has a great hook , but it fails to really build anything deeply affecting or of note from it. Instead, the film is more reliant on the stylish work of it’s notable cast, and the brilliant pairing of de Bont and Schumacher behind the camera. Arrow’s 4K treatment impresses, showcasing the Gothic splendor of the film, while the extra features and attention to packaging also mark this release as a standout.

Arrow Video’s 4K UHD release of Flatliners is available via MVD Entertainment now

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