SOME LINES SHOULDN’T BE CROSSED.
Known for his impressively eclectic filmography and for helping to launch the careers of several young Hollywood stars of the 80s and 90s, Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, St. Elmo’s Fire) tackles the existential question that, at one time or another, haunts us all: what awaits us after we die?
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.
Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners receives a new 4K UHD Blu-ray edition from Arrow Video and is delivered in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on a triple-layer disc with a 2160p/24hz encode and Dolby Vision. Arrow is using an all-new 4K restoration performed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment that was sourced from the 35mm original camera negative.
I hadn’t seen the film in at least a couple of decades so I was having a hard time recalling the look of the film outside of foggy other-side scenes and the darkened “lab” where a lot of the film takes place, but I was very surprised in being reminded at how dynamic the film ends up looking. Yes, it’s dark and there are a lot of shadows, but in what is kind of a precursor to Schumacher’s Batman films there is a wide spectrum of colors on display and even during the film’s darkest moments those vivid colours effortlessly leap from the screen.
Director of photography Jan de Bont talks for a few minutes about the look of the film in an included interview, specifically on the colour design. He laments a little on how he felt that the photographic process couldn't even properly capture how he wanted the colours to look, leading him to praise this new restoration and its application of HDR, stating this is how the film should have always looked. The wider colour gamut is certainly the biggest plus, the reds and oranges looking especially good in the shadows, and those blue tinted scenes (thanks at times to awkwardly placed neon lights) have a wonderful intensity without blooming or coming off noisy. The contrast within individual shots can be shocking, ranging from deep, pure blacks to intense whites (or colours) and clean gradients in between. Shadow details are plentiful, never lost or eaten up by the blacks, and the image never looks murky or milky. Black and white shots have been inserted in a few places and even the range within the grays in these scenes are as wide and striking as what the colours deliver.
As to the restoration itself it’s clear a lot of work has gone into it. I don’t recall a single blemish or mark throughout the entirety of the film, outside of some intentionally altered scenes (footage from video and 8mm film are incorporated). The encode itself is also about as perfect as can be, no digital artifacts sticking out. Though the grain levels can vary (also by design thanks to the use of different film stocks) I was still surprised by how heavy the grain could be overall, yet most of the time it’s very fine and it’s always rendered perfectly. This leads to exceptional levels of detail and the image never goes soft or fuzzy, outside of some of those intentional stylistic choices.
This was a very pleasant surprise in the end. Arrow delivers a dynamic looking 4K presentation that clearly shows off the advantages of HDR, and I wasn’t expecting that at all with this film.
[SDR screen grabs have been taken from the source disc and converted to JPG files. They are presented in full resolution and may not properly fit some monitors. While the screen grabs should offer a general idea of quality, they should not be used for reference purposes.]
Arrow includes two soundtracks: what I assume is the original 2.0 DTS-HD MA stereo surround soundtrack along with a remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. I only listened to the 5.1 soundtrack.
Dialogue is sharp and clear and mixed appropriately through the sound field based on the position of the respective characters, though most of the dialogue is focused to the center front. Sound effects in the lab sequences can creep to the rears, as do the sounds that pop up during the film’s few jump scares. The film’s "near-death experiences" do take more advantage of the surrounds, delivering ethereal, other-worldly effects to envelope the viewer, and they move nicely through the speakers. The film’s score, primarily the choir, ends up making the most use of the surrounds and the lower frequency, and it’s all mixed loudly yet without drowning out anything important. Effective and clean.
Despite its success at the time of release Flatliners has oddly never received anything remotely close to a “special edition” on DVD or Blu-ray, with Arrow not stepping in to fill the gap. Part of the reason for that could be related to the film being a “forgotbuster,” a term coined by Nathan Rabin for The Dissolve and mentioned here in the included audio commentary featuring critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry, the term meaning that despite the film being a success it has largely been forgotten and is rarely, if ever, brought up in film circles. The commentary ends up being at its best when the two touch on subjects like this and the period it comes from, the Hollywood of the ‘90’s where bidding wars for high concept spec scripts like Flatliners broke out all too often and high concept films were simply the norm. Unfortunately, when they do get into period topics like that the conversations end up being more along the lines of summaries and not as in-depth as they probably could be. For example, Joe Eszterhas and the insane amounts of money he received for scripts that are mostly forgotten today never comes up. A lot of the commentary ends up offering some background on actors as they appear onscreen (thankfully not just an IMDB rundown), from the stars to the minor performers, which is fine but not especially engaging. A short conversation about the Brat Pack borders on interesting but seems to be only here to give some context to possible younger viewers who would not know what a Brat Pack—or a Rat Pack for that matter—was. They also point out interesting aspects of the film’s look or how the look was achieved but it never seems to get past just simple observations. The film's themes of karma and atonement get a slight focus here and there, but it still feels like an area that can be developed further. They do offer an excellent defense for director Schumacher, who is accused of being a “journeyman” by many, and they explain how they feel he hasn’t received the credit he is due. The track also has several amusing personal side bits, like details around Evry’s Blu-ray collection that is organized by label (with a sub- section for Stephen King adaptations). Yet unfortunately it’s not as engaging a track as I would have hoped, and it could just come down to the film not being one that requires a lot of discussion. They make some interesting comments about another Schumacher film, Falling Down, and if a label ever decides to do a new edition for that one it may well be worth pulling in these two for it.
The rest of the material consists of new interviews, all recorded exclusively by Arrow in 2021. The best of them is probably the 18-minute one featuring director of photography Jan de Bont and Chief Lighting Technician Edward Ayer talking about how the film’s dynamic look was achieved through bold colours, intense lighting for shadows, neon lights and then varying types of film stocks, lenses and more. The organic nature for a lot of the effects proves especially interesting, including how the lighting effects in Kevin Bacon’s subway scene were achieved. It’s also here where de Bont talks about this 4K presentation specifically, saying that HDR delivers the film as he intended, possibly even better than how it would have shown in theaters.
Writer Peter Filardi also appears to recall his early days as a screenwriter and his eventual success with this script. The inspiration for the story, touched on in the commentary, comes from the term “accountability” being thrown around during the Iran-Contra scandal, and his friend dying for 15-seconds (in the commentary Reesman and Eyer mention his friends was actually dead for a minute-and-fifteen seconds and that it was from an allergic reaction to anesthesia). Continuing from there he then explains what Schumacher and the cast brought to the film, Filardi attributing a lot of the humour within the film to Oliver Platt, and he then talks about how he never took full advantage of the film’s success to push his own career. Running 19-minutes it ends up turning into an introspective discussion about his work.
The rest of the interviews focus on the technical aspects of the film. Assistant director John Kretchmer (14-minutes) explains what an assistant director does (the ship’s first mate to the ship’s captain) before getting into some of the technical challenges around the film’s photography. Production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy then go over the film’s locations and making the film look more interesting than the subject matter suggested (trying to avoid sterile white labs), all of this alongside footage from the locations now. There’s also discussion around the lights created to tie scenes together, referred to as “penis lights” here. Susan Becker’s 6-minute audio-only interview goes over how the costumes build off of the characters and then composer James Newton Howards and Orchestrator Chris Boardman go over their respective duties in creating the film’s score, which called for a choir (interestingly, I learned here that choirs are expensive for American films because choir members get residuals from the film). The interviews all cover the details you expect but do so in an engaging manner. Also, it’s worth noting, everyone has high praise for Jan de Bont.
The disc then closes off with a small 12-image gallery featuring only production photos and then the film’s original trailer that looks to have been lifted from a VHS. First printings also feature an o-sleeve and a 35-page booklet. The booklet features two excellent essays, one by Amanda Reyes, which provides background for Near-Death Experiences with references to documentation, and another by Peter Tonguette, his essay briefly examining the spiritual aspects of the film. To be honest, these two may have been an interesting duo to do a commentary for the film.
As it is, the features cover the film’s production in a thorough manner but they don't go much beyond that.
Supplements are fine for what they are but it’s the incredible presentation that make this one a must for fans. The new restoration looks incredible here.