Directed by Joel Schumacher.
Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon.
Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners, which never quite hits the highs of films like The Lost Boys and Falling Down but is mercifully better than Batman & Robin, arrives on 4K Ultra HD courtesy of Arrow Video. The film was restored, and Arrow commissioned a nice batch of bonus features, along with a booklet that sports two essays. If you’re a fan, this is highly recommended.
If you’re going to make a high-concept movie, you need to deliver the goods. In the case of 1990’s Flatliners, directed by Joel Schumacher from a script by Peter Filardi, the final product unfortunately doesn’t live up to the premise set forth in the first act of the story.
Starring three actors who were flying high at the time — Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, and Kevin Bacon — with two others who were dependable ensemble members — William Baldwin and Oliver Platt — Flatliners tells the story of a group of medical school students who want to solve the mysteries of death by flatlining and being brought back to life by their colleagues.
Nelson Wright (Sutherland) is the ringleader, the one who convinces the others to help him become the first person to attempt the feat. He promises that if they can understand what happens after death, they will become famous, but it’s not clear that he has any plan beyond a bunch of handwaving. Considering there are many people who have told stories of being clinically dead and coming back to life, what will make these medical students more believable than them?
The film doesn’t answer that question, nor does it really explain why the four who successfully attempt flatlining — Randy Steckle (Platt) is the most reluctant and ends up never trying — have multiple paranormal experiences afterward. The idea is that they’re being haunted by those who they wronged in some way when they were younger, but the story evades the question of whether those incidents are real in some way, especially considering the fact that Nelson is left literally scarred by his hauntings.
In the end, Flatliners is a film with a solid cast and a great premise, but it never fully delivers on the promise of its high concept. However, it has become somewhat of a cult film, so if you’re one of those folks who enjoy it, you’ll likely want this new 4K Ultra HD release from Arrow Video, which continues to do for minor classics what Criterion has done for major ones.
Arrow commissioned a new 4K restoration of the film that was approved by director of photography Jan de Bont. (Schumacher passed away in 2020, unfortunately.) This isn’t a film that really benefits a lot from 4K, since it isn’t special effects heavy, but Arrow has released Flatliners on Blu-ray too, which I’m sure is suitable for most people’s setups. The film looked very nice on my 4K TV.
Arrow also created a nice big batch of extras for the film. I’ve never owned Flatliners on home video before, but my understanding is that it hasn’t received a nice Special Edition treatment until now. Here’s what you’ll find on the disc:
• Audio Commentary: Film critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry discuss the film in a wide-ranging conversation that shows they did their homework and came prepared to impart plenty of good information about the movie. At one point the term “forgotbuster” comes up, which was coined to refer to a film that was a success during its theatrical run but is largely forgotten now. I’m not sure that Flatliners belongs in that category — it didn’t even reach $100 million in box office revenue during its run — but, as always, your mileage may vary.
• The Conquest of Our Generation (19 minutes): Screenwriter Peter Filardi discusses where the idea for the film came from and how he ended up writing and selling the script, which he sold during a time when every Hollywood studio seemed to be throwing big bucks at every high-concept script they could find. One interesting takeaway is that the word “accountability” was on his mind when he came up with Flatliners, which shows you that a high-concept idea is one thing, but grounding it with a very human element can take a film to the next level. (Consider how Zemeckis and Gale came up with Back to the Future on the premise of “What if you could meet your parents when they were in high school?”)
• Visions of Light (18.5 minutes): Cinematographer Jan de Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer discuss their work on the film. It’s interesting that J.J. Abrams gets so much grief for lens flares these days when Schumacher filled this movie with them. (Side note: I know they shot Flatliners at a real university, but none of the environments say “Here’s a typical medical school experience” to me. I suppose, though, that the mix of urban squalor and gothic decay on display here fits the tone of the film quite well.)
• Hereafter (14.5) First assistant director John Kretchmer weighs in on the film. If you’re wondering what a First AD, as the shorthand for the job title usually goes, does on a film set, Kretchmer will answer your questions here.
• Restoration (10.75 minutes): Production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy get a chance to say a few things about those aforementioned environments, complete with modern day footage of those places. (Yeah, nothing is said about the actual restoration of the film for this release, but it’s clear that the names of these bonus features are supposed to comprise a theme connected to the film.)
• Atonement (11.5 minutes): And if you were wondering about fun bonus feature titles, here’s one that fits the film’s religious overtones and is a nice pun for the subject, which is an interview with composer James Newton Howard and orchestrator Chris Boardman.
• Dressing for Character (6.5 minutes): Costume designer Susan Becker’s audio-only interview caps off the featurettes found here.
A theatrical trailer and an image gallery round out the platter. Arrow also included a booklet with two essays and notes about the restoration, which is a nice touch in an era when only they and Criterion are doing that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★