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Adapted from the Stephen King bestseller, Cronenberg's first Hollywood feature stars Christopher Walken as a mild-mannered schoolteacher who awakens from a coma to discover that he can see the future of anyone with whom he makes physical contact.
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Marking two important milestones in Cronenberg's career — his first film for a Hollywood studio and, apart from the anomalous Fast Company, the first film whose story and screenplay he did not originate himself — this critically and commercially successful adaptation of the bestselling Stephen King novel remarkably saw Cronenberg retaining, and even further elaborating, his unique vision. Christopher Walken gives an excellent, brooding performance as Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who emerges from a five-year coma to discover that he has clairvoyant powers: he can see the future of anyone he makes physical contact with. Feeling socially and emotionally alienated by his "gift," Johnny becomes an introverted recluse — but when an encounter with a bellicose, right-wing US senator (Martin Sheen) gives him a vision of an apocalyptic future, Johnny realizes that he may be the one man in the world who can prevent Armageddon. Holding back on the visceral imagery of his preceding films in order to focus on Johnny's mental anguish over his unwanted powers, The Dead Zone sees Cronenberg balancing his cerebral/conceptual approach with a deeper and more empathetic interest in his characters, which would remain very much in evidence in The Fly and Dead Ringers.