After the gore-soaked horror films of the 1980s, which were more often interested in base entertainment above all else, Flatliners was an intelligent alternative to start off the 1990s. Rather than scenes focused on creative ways for characters to die, Flatliners asked questions about what happens after death. Directed by Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo's Fire, The Lost Boys), Flatliners is a psychological thriller that takes its time to build suspense and develop characters before attempting to frighten the audience with scenes of the supernatural. More than questions about death, Flatliners explores the choices we make in life and the consequences that they can have.
The film follows five medical students whose hubris leads them to experiment with death by conducting secret experiences in which they facilitate near-death experiences. What they are essentially doing is dying, but with their friends nearby to revive them before it is too late. Nelson Wright (Kiefer Sutherland) is the one to come up with the plan, and the first to experience what it feels like to die, only to find himself carrying guilt from memories of the past once revived. Without warning, Joe Hurley (William Baldwin) is the next to try, followed by David Labraccio (Kevin Bacon). When the friends finally share their unpleasant experience, it isn’t before Rachel Manus (Julia Roberts) has also participated. The one glaring plot hole of the film is the fact that they each allow their friends to be exposed to the same negative side effects, with the exception of Randy Steckle (Oliver Platt).
Given the realization that they must face the errors of their past before they can stop themselves from being haunted, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that Flatliners had an impact on The Sixth Sense. The element of danger is teased in Flatliners, though it never really develops into full-blown horror. What makes the film is the ensemble cast of talented and charismatic young actors, most of which went on to have impressive careers. As a horror film, however, Flatliners lacks the edge to be truly memorable, even for those who don’t need a high body count.
The 4K UHD release of Flatliners by Arrow Video has a beautiful presentation of the movie, restored from the original negative and approved by Director of Photography Jan de Bont. It may not be enough to win over new fans but will impress those who already appreciate the understated thriller. There is also lossless DTS-HD Master Audio in 5.1 and 2.0 surround sound, with optional English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
The package comes with a reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin, with the original theatrical poster artwork on the other side. Pullin’s new artwork is also on a cardboard cover. Inside the package is a booklet with the cast and crew info, info about the restoration, and two essays from film critics. This includes “Land of the Almost-Dead: Flatliners and a Historical Overview of the Near-Death Experience” by Amanda Reyes, and “‘See You Soon’: The Surprising Spirituality of Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners” by Peter Tonguette.
The additional special features on the disc include the following:
new audio commentary by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry
- The Conquest of our Generation, a brand new video interview with screenwriter Peter Filardi
- Visions of Light, a brand new video interview with director of photography Jan de Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer
- Hereafter, a brand new video interview with first assistant director John Kretchmer
- Restoration, a brand new video interview with production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy
- Atonement, a brand new video interview with composer James Newton Howard and orchestrator Chris Boardman
- Dressing for Character, a brand new interview with costume designer Susan Becker
- Theatrical trailer
- Image gallery
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 7.5/10
Special Features: 8/10