Welcome to my column dedicated to the appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Flatliners from Arrow Video.
As a disclaimer of transparency, I was provided a review copy of Flatliners for this episode of Feature Presentations. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Certain films of your childhood resonate with you in a fanciful manner. All children are impressionable, and if something strikes your fancy during childhood, it holds a special place in your cerebellum through adulthood. For me, Flatliners is one of those films. I don’t recall the specific moment I first saw Flatliners, but the first memories I have of it are on Halloween—an appropriate time if you’ve seen the film. I remember celebrating Halloween with a festive party, and Flatliners was in the background. The memories are faint, but the feeling I get when watching the film brings me back to the early ’90s and the celebration of Halloween.
Even with deep-rooted feelings about the film, I’m not blinded by those when reviewing Flatliners. The story is intriguing, but the results are shallow. A bunch of hip medical school students experiment to see what lies beyond after your purposefully flatline sounds great—yet finding out the end result is atoning for your sins seems predictable and hollow.
What does work in favor of Flatliners is everything else. While the cast is minimal, it’s brimming with talent. Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon? Hell, yes! And behind the camera, there’s just as much talent with director Joel Schumacher, composer James Newton Howard, and director of photography Jan de Bont, to name a few. And there might be some that feel with all that talent that the film should be better; I find Flatliners works best as a mood piece. Sometimes, it’s ok to have style over substance.
Until now, Flatliners always got the shaft when it came to physical media, getting no love with bare-bones releases. Arrow Video stepped up to the plate to take a swing. Is the release a home run? Not quite, but there’s a lot packed onto this 4K disc. And if you’re not 4K ready, Arrow Video released a separate Blu-ray edition identical to their 4K UHD.
Starting with the packaging, Flatliners features a slipcover with newly-commissioned artwork and a textured, almost-matte feel. The 4K case features the slipcover design with a reversible artwork wrap that features the theatrical one-sheet. If I have the slipcover with the new design, I flip the case artwork around to showcase the original art on the case.
Inside, you get a collector’s booklet that features two essays: “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.
Reyes’s article, “Land of the Almost Dead: Flatliners and a Historical Overview of the Near-Death Experience,” follows the history and study of near-death experiences (NDEs). Reyes talks about other films attempting to conquer the themes of life and death before Flatliners and what makes the film stand out from the pack.
Peter Tonguette’s inclusion, “‘See You Soon’: The Surprising Spirituality of Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners,” is a bit more in-depth about the overall themes within the film. From the title, I thought this article would be wall-to-wall spirituality. Tonguette discusses Schumacher as a person and traces his career as a director of “general shamelessness.” Not in a derogatory way, Tonguette talks about how Schumacher’s career is filled with movies that audiences wanted to see and how Flatliners is an outlier in the director’s output. While there is cheese within the film, Tonguette also discusses the serious aspects and the religious overtones haunting every inch of the movie.
On the disc, Arrow Video provides multiple new features for fans of the film to savor. The first, “The Conquest of our Generation,” is an interview with screenwriter Peter Filardi. Filardi discusses the genesis of Flatliners, born during the Iran-Contra conflict, and how accountability formulated the foundation for the script. There’s a joy that Filardi produces as he recounts watching his story grow throughout pre-production to his thoughts on the final product. “The Conquest of our Generation” is a quick, 20-or-so-minute chat that hits all the bases one would expect.
The following interview, “Visions of Light,” is a sit-down with director of photography Jan de Bont and chief lighting technician Edward Ayer. I’ll be upfront: “Visions of Light” is the feature that struck my fancy due to Flatliners’ beautiful visual style. And this interview didn’t disappoint. Both men talk about how they came to work on Flatliners, each discussing how they achieved the lighting and camera work within the film. Ayer and de Bont discuss the film’s color palette, working with director Joel Schumacher and de Bont’s working of the camera. “Visions of Light” is a welcome listen, and I appreciated the men stating they were only part of a collective to make Flatliners the film it is.
First assistant director John Kretchmer jumps on the feature, “Hereafter,” to discuss his work on the film. Kretchmer starts by tracing his history through college and theater before making his way to Hollywood, having a choice of going through the mail room or crafts. For those unfamiliar with what a first assistant director does on set, Kretchmer explains his role on set before moving to working with Joel Schumacher, working in his hometown of Chicago, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. He mentions the challenges of working on the film’s production, but Kretchmer has nothing but kind words to say about the cast and crew. Personally, this interview surprised me with how entertaining and informative Kertchmer’s words were.
“Restoration” is an interview with production designer Eugenio Zanetti and art director Larry Lundy. Zanetti briefly touches upon his beginnings before getting into his “playful” relationship with Joel Schumacher. A funny tale comes from Zanetti’s ideas and thoughts on the script that got chuckles from Schumacher. Lundy discusses his concerns with shooting in Chicago in January and features Lundy visiting the film’s locations. While shorter than the previous interviews, both men are engaging and recount a pleasant filming experience.
Composer James Newton Howard and orchestrator Chris Boardman discuss their work on Flatliners with “Atonement.” Another one of my favorite aspects of Flatliners comes from the original score. Howard talks highly about Joel Schumacher and discusses how his score for the 1988 film Some Girls got him the job with Flatliners. Howard speaks highly about Boardman, with the orchestrator talking about how he came to work with the composer and his role within the production.
The last interview, “Dressing for Character,” is a discussion with costume designer Susan Becker. Becker talks about working with Joel Schumacher in St. Elmo’s Fire and offers nothing but high praise for the director. She then gets into how each character had a designed outfit meant to express identity and have them stand apart from each other. As a side note, this interview is audio-only, with clips of the film overlayed with Becker’s comments.
The last feature on the disc is a feature-length audio commentary with critics Bryan Reesman and Max Evry. Reesman makes a good one-two punch as they bounce production information and behind-the-scenes detail back and forth during the feature’s runtime. Some of the material is located elsewhere on the disc, though plenty of fascinating tidbits only on this track. From Nicole Kidman almost being cast to Kiefer Sutherland’s character resembling the graphic novel character John Constantine, it’s an entertaining commentary.
Rounding out the disc is the film’s theatrical trailer and a small image gallery.
I need to address the elephant in the room that I assume you have noticed over the course of this review: the lack of contributions from the film’s stars. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, no one was available to offer their thoughts on the film 30-plus years later. And Joel Schumacher, a reliable source for an audio commentary, passed away in 2020. It happens, and while disappointing, I assume Arrow Video did what they could.
And there you have it! Flatliners is a movie that resonates with me, and I am ecstatic to donate my DVD to the Goodwill. The lack of star power on the features side is a detriment, no question. Arrow Video appears to have done their best and brought together plenty of those associated with the film to craft the best edition of Flatliners out there.