a critiQal film review Flatliners (1990)

Plot: Seeking answers about the afterlife, Chicago medical student Nelson (Sutherland) persuades his fellow pupils to help him end his life, and then resuscitate him in the nick of time. Atheist David (Bacon), playboy Joe (Baldwin) and troubled Rachel (Roberts) also journey into the unknown, looking for meaning in their own lives. As the experiments become more perilous, each is forced to contend with the paranormal consequences of trespassing on the other side.

707 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 32s)

After hearing bad things about the new film, Flatliners (2017), we just had to go back and take a look at the 90’s version, Flatliners. While the new film has Ellen Page, the earlier film had lots of memorable faces. Kiefer Sutherland. Julia Roberts. Kevin Bacon. Plus, Oliver Platt and William Baldwin were along too!

So, would Flatliners be worth seeing? Or were Kiefer, Julia and crew unable to save this film? In other words, is the earlier material really up to snuff? Or was the new remake doomed from the start?

Kiefer was riding the first big wave of his career back when Flatliners came out He’s still got a The Lost Boys (1987) vibe about him in this film, but he seems right on point as the egomaniacal Nelson. He struggles a bit thanks to a script defect or two, but on the whole, he’s the best fit for his role in this film.

Julia Roberts, coming off her huge role in Pretty Woman, seems a bit odd for her part in Flatliners, mostly thanks to the shallowness of the role. The viewers never really learn much about her, only glimpses into her past. She’s a cardboard cutout of a character, with the viewer really only learning one facet about her past as the film goes on.

Kevin Bacon, like Kiefer and Julia, plays another rather shallow character, but his character is the one with “heart”, and he excels in his scene confronting his past. He’s awkward and earnest at the same time – a quality that won him big fame in his starring roles in Footloose and the like.

And then there’s William Baldwin and Oliver Platt. William Baldwin is actually a bit of a surprise, as he seems to hang with Kiefer, Julia and Kevin with no problem. In fact, his character gets a little bit more attention in the film than the others, and he manages to make his time on-screen watchable without even seeming to break a sweat. Oliver Platt, on the other hand, is given very short shrift in Flatliners, with his character reduced to nothing more than a worrying agitation in the background.

While director Joel Schumacher does a solid job with what he has to work with (and his ease with Kiefer is easily seen), the story itself makes it hard to really dig deeper into these characters. As mentioned above, all of the character are seemingly nothing more than cardboard cutouts, without any real depth or substance to them. Since the whole film is focused solely on uncovering a dark secret about every character that goes “beyond the veil” (so to speak), there apparently wasn’t time to give any of them any real substance.

A better Flatliners would have been had if the focus had been more on just one or two of the characters, rather than trying to spread things around as much as they did. Since Ellen Page is the only easily recognizable name in the new version, maybe they’ve learned a thing or two since this one.

The special effects are decent, but, like Contact, the big reveal (in this case, the afterlife), is so mundane it’s difficult to tell if this was done on purpose or not. Is Flatliners trying to say these folks didn’t make it to the promised land as they thought, or that the afterlife just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Or was this depiction just a mistake? After all, the characters themselves seem to think they’ve transcended reality during their time “under”, and relay a awe-inspiring scene to the others – not exactly what the viewer saw when they went “under”. It’s a confusing point in the film, and hopefully will be corrected in the new version.

While Flatliners seems to under-utilize the star power it has available, the stars – and the director – seem to do the best with what they’ve been given. Unfortunately, the big reveal is a bit disappointing, but at least with Flatliners, they make the viewer aware of that pretty early on, rather than making them wait for the entire length of the film. While it’s not exactly an impressive film, it’s a decent way to while away an hour and a half.

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