While popular culture tends to focus on releases like Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997) when director Joel Schumacher’s name arises in conversation, his work extended to strong thrillers like Falling Down (1993), A Time to Kill (1996), and Phone Booth (2002). This doesn’t even touch on horror classics like The Lost Boys (1987) and Flatliners (1990), each of which are receiving 4K UHD remasters in 2022. First up is the psychological horror thriller Flatliners from Arrow Video, a film which features a who’s who of talent (Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, and William Baldwin) in a story of life and death, gods and monsters, regret and atonement. With six brand-new featurettes, a new feature-length audio commentary, and a restoration overseen by cinematographer Jan de Bont, today might just be a great day to die.
At the behest of Nelson Wright (Sutherland), four of medical school classmates — David Labraccio (Bacon), Rachel Mannus (Roberts), Joe Hurley (Baldwin), and Randy Steckle (Platt) — gather in secret one night to help him stop his heart long enough to see if he can cross over to whatever lie beyond the mortal plane of existence. Driven by hubris-fueled curiosity, Wright is successful and, in-so-doing, his classmates decide to attempt the same in search of their own truth. What they don’t realize is that by crossing over, something returns with them. If they can’t make peace with it, it just may be their end.
Plenty has been written about Flatliners in its 32 years of wide release, but one thing stands out that I’d like to address first: it’s not as scary as one might expect. To my memory, Flatliners was on heavy rotation in my house for a while, whether by rental, cable, or HBO I can’t recall, but I vividly remember the different scenes of torment that Nelson, David, and Rachel specifically endured, de Bont’s cinematography creatively amplifying the drama of each exchange. For clarity, horror movies terrified me as a child and I’ve only recently started going back to the horror classics of my youth as a means of better understanding the horror releases of today. Watching Flatliners as an adult, there’s incredible beauty in the lighting, the technical approach by which Flatliners creates its unique look, and the ideas within Peter Filardi’s (The Craft) script are quite profound when given any thought. Yet, Flatliners itself doesn’t chill or thrill in the ways one may expect when looking backward compared to how it may have been received at release. In the featurette “The Conquest of Our Generation,” Filardi discusses how his and Schumacher’s ideas for what the film is about differ — Schumacher’s being an exploration of gods and monsters, while Filardi examined atonement — and, in the watching, you can see both ideas billow to the surface and mix wonderfully. Nelson is clearly a Dr. Frankenstein type, believing that he’s always right, unable to tell his friends about his hallucinations out of fear for what it would do to his research, and ultimately pushing toward violence than confront things with compassion. Nelson is the god who made corporeal (to some degree) the internal trauma that none of the four allowed themselves to face for one reason or another. It’s here that the idea of atonement comes in.
The interesting thing is that Flatliners is so clearly based in Christianity that, at least in the case of David, the mere asking for forgiveness is enough for his personal trauma to be healed and his haunting to end. For Rachel, her atonement is not from herself, rather it takes the form of realizing that it wasn’t actually her fault that her father killed himself. I find this fascinating as, in Judaism (in which I was raised), it’s not enough to ask for atonement from your mistakes, but to do the work to create change through repentance. It’s not enough to ask for forgiveness, forgiveness must be earned. Perhaps the weakest moment in all of Flatliners, aside from not really dealing with Joe’s horrific misogyny, is that Nelson never really atones for his sin. He is merely put through the same torment he doled out to the young boy he killed, accident or not. He yells “I’m sorry” in panic, but never when calm. Audiences can sense David’s remorse and we see him do the work to start his and Winnie Hicks’s (Kimberly Scott) path of healing. This is all lacking for Nelson, making his arc feel entirely unearned. That said, I love the notion that these four aren’t really haunted by anything at all beyond their own subconscious unaddressed traumas, making Flatliners never concretely deal with the supernatural, but lean hard on the philosophical.
If you are one of the many fans of Flatliners, snagging the Arrow Video edition comes down to a few factors: do you already own it, what are the bonus features, and is the 4K UHD edition worth it. The first one can only be addressed by you. If you don’t own it and you’re a fan, picking up either the Blu-ray or 4K UHD edition is likely a choice you made once you learned of this remaster’s existence. The bonus features included with the release are identical in either format, matching in everything from audio and on-disc materials to booklet and cover art (per the press notes). The main difference between the two formats is that the 4K UHD edition includes a 4K presentation with Dolby Vision, whereas the Blu-ray is just standard high-definition. The 4K UHD edition does not include a HD Blu-ray, so making the selection between these really depends on what your home tech is like and your personal preference. The review copy sent to EoM is not the retail edition, so there’s no way to speak on the booklet or art with any kind of authority. However, as the review copy is the 4K UHD edition, allow me to describe my conflicting experience.
The equipment used to screen the review copy is an Xbox X on a 4K UHD LG television. Initially, specifically during the opening sequence of early dawn approaching Loyola University where the film was shot and which zooms in on Nelson proclaiming, “It’s a good day to die,” there’s some obvious grain that’s persistent through much of the first half of the film that only begins to settle toward the end of the movie. Grain in film is fine as it’s native to movies shot on film stock, but it does come to distract from the image overall. There were also a few sequences early on in which the dialogue was briefly out of sync with the action. Strangely, it was only dialogue that was impacted, not any other ambient noise and I was not able to replicate it, implying a technical issue on the player side and not on the disc itself. However, once settled into the groove of the film and when the “ghosts” were starting to make their play for the Flatliners, the grain grew less distracting and de Bont’s work was more able to take hold. The audio is similar in that the dialogue is difficult to understand due to the low levels coming from the center channel, but once things really kick off, there was little need to touch the volume control on the 5.1 Dolby Stereo Yamaha, which it made full use of via the 5.1 lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track. For those interested in a more traditional audio experience, there is a 2.0 surround audio track available.
On the very positive side, if you want an in-depth look at the movie, the six featurettes plus feature-length commentary track will provide exactly that. Each of the featurettes follows a similar pattern of discussing the subject’s personal involvement with the film, offering anecdotes on either the cast or smaller details of production (sometimes both), and providing recognition of appreciation toward Schumacher. As someone who loves clever practical effects, “Visions of Light” with de Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer (Die Hard) is particularly fascinating as they discuss little things, like how they achieved the shadow affect when Nelson is sitting alone in his apartment holding his screwdriver defensively or the use of a projector to get the splintered light just so on David’s face before being confronted by younger Winnie. Of course, they also discuss why each character has their own color and the reasoning behind the less realistic lighting of the entire film. None of these featurettes are brief and each provide a distinct educational experience for any Flatliners or general film fan.
Flatliners joins the many films of my youth which I perceived as terrifying that are, in fact, not as chilling as once believed. Instead, it joins others, like The Thing (1982), which are far more thoughtful and complex in their ideas, even if the execution doesn’t crawl under my skin as expected. This does not reduce or diminish the film, it merely helps it be explored from a different perspective.
Flatliners 4K Special Features:
- 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
- Brand new audio commentary by critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry
- The Conquest of Our Generation, a brand new video interview with screenwriter Peter Filardi (19:12)
- Visions of Light, a brand new video interview with director of photography Jan de Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer (18:24)
- Hereafter, a brand new video interview with first assistant director John Kretchmer (14:23)
- Restoration, a brand new video interview with production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy (10:47)
- Atonement, a brand new video interview with composer James Newton Howard and orchestrator Chris Boardman (11:35)
- Dressing for Character, a brand new interview with costume designer Susan Becker (6:27)
- Theatrical trailer
- Image gallery
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 surround soundtracks
- Brand new 4K restoration from the original negative, approved by director of photography Jan de Bont
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Amanda Reyes and Peter Tonguette
Available on 4K UHD and Blu-ray from Arrow Video August 2nd, 2022.
For more information, head to Arrow Video.
To purchase a copy, head to MVD Entertainment.