PictureFlatliners hails from 1990 and, as such, cannot hope to compete with the latest titles offered up in high resolution. But, in spite of the fact that this release has been criticised in some areas for having a poor transfer, the truth of the matter is that this 2.35:1 image is actually not that bad. Now seventeen years old, the print used shows very little in the way of damage and is, on the whole, very clean and robust. Admittedly, there is a fair bit of grain floating about the picture and this is inconsistent - sometimes it is all too prevalent, whilst at others it has virtually disappeared. But there are no clumsy scene transitions, no flickers or fades and no dirt to mar what is, in actual fact, quite a colourful image.
Detail isn't the greatest you will have seen, but that is only to be expected. Certainly, close-up objects and faces exhibit some crisp delineation and some finer detail, as do the bricks in the wall during the sequence when Nelson leads the others to where his spectre is located, but the picture is noticeably soft in a lot of places. This isn't too detrimental to the film, though, as it possibly aids the spooky lighting which, by the way, comes over very well. Try to imagine the crazy visual aesthetic of Dario Argento during his golden period (Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae) diluted by Michael Mann's blue-filters and you'll arrive at the look and mood of Jan De Bont's sublime photography here. Lots of cool blues and vibrant reds deck the screen with that Schumacher neon-fizzing trademark. The graffiti in the alleyway where Nelson first gets a glimpse of something he has brought back from the other side is rich and bright. The red haze that fills the image whenever Rachel has a visitation is pervasive and uncluttered by banding. The lush greens of the fields from Nelson's memories are well-handled, as is the detail on the swaying grass that he is running through. Experimental antics in the makeshift, art-deco laboratory are colourful and interestingly manage to convey both sinuous shadow and bright stylings for machinery, read-outs and lighting all in the one frame. Blood, when we see it, is quite natural looking and there are some suitably grisly-hued cadavers on the students' slabs.
On the downside, the film looks a little too warm and this can often lead to the image seeming quite hazy. Now this may fit in with the dreamlike aspects of the story, but it doesn't cry out high-definition. Indeed, the movie lacks that essential pop of three-dimensionality that the new formats boast, with nothing particularly special revealed here with regards to depth of field. Although the sets may be spacious, the activity within them still seems quite flat and ordinary - Nelson, in a panic, running around his apartment, or Rachel heading off to investigate shuddery things in the red-lit bathroom, for instances. There is a nice moment when Labraccio is confronted by the spectre of his guilt whilst he is on the train and the camera isolates him standing in the carriage, flanked by fellow passengers until darkness homes in on him, that almost produces the kind of image that makes high-definition proud. But, overall, the transfer seems kind of unenthusiastic, though this is still probably the best the film has ever looked.
SoundPresented with both DD 5.1 and PCM Uncompressed 5.1 mixes, Flatliners, which I doubt was ever supposed to have much in the way of surround usage, doesn't exactly come alive with dynamic acoustics with either option. Flicking between the tracks reveals that the PCM is definitely the better of the two, combining more spatiality with smoother sonics to produce a track that is mainly frontal-based but more atmospheric. Voices are reproduced without any hiccups and also have some directionality. James Newton Howard's terrific score is warmly presented and his ever-present mood-cues carve out a nice foundation that anchors the events as they unfold. Musical and effects-based stingers have a great immediacy, although they don't possess anywhere near the power or sharpness of newer material.
The bass is solid, though not spectacular. There are a good few meaty impacts - usually Sutherland taking a beating - and the bone-lurching blasts of the defibrillator sound wonderfully deep and sizzling, but there is nothing that really leaps out from the mix. The rears have bits and bobs to contend with, but their input is really only of an ambience-boosting capacity. As such, Flatliners does have some degree of immersion, though once again, produces nothing of distinction.
Still, this is a good, solid track that doesn't sound bogus or overly enhanced.
ExtrasAny extras that there may have been seem to have shuffled off into the afterlife, I'm afraid, which is a surprise for what is quite a cult item.
VerdictMuch more entertaining than I remembered it being, Flatliners is a stylish and highly atmospheric supernatural romp for some Brat-pack sideliners. Schumacher maintains a creepy mood but manages to tinge it with some earnest emotion. Juggling the frights with the scientific mumbo-jumbo is less successful, though, and you can't help feeling that the intriguing concept of exploring life after death has only actually been paid lip-service. Good performances from Sutherland and Bacon elevate the movie and the score from James Newton Howard is provides a haunting sense of lingering dread. Part Frankenstein, part Breakfast Club, Flatliners keeps the attention and enjoys a bit of a cult status ... among med students, probably. Nice concept done with some panache.
Columbia's disc does a fair job with the material. Don't believe the flack that has come its way elsewhere. It can't compete with fresh titles, but it looks fine for a garish, neon-nightmare from 1990.
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