It is been said that a film is only as great as it’s villain. This can be true in many cases. It certainly is the truth in many of the works of author, Stephen King. In most of the films that have been adapted from his work, we have various and very memorable villains. It could be very easy to forget heroes which he has also written in his books. People forget, especially in the world of movies, that is the human elements which give the story it’s true strength, and not necessarily the supernatural parts. Stephen King’s human heroes are really where the power of his stories comes from. But in all fairness the scares are a pivotal part as well.
Enter Johnny Smith. From King’s story, and David Cronenberg’s film adaptation in 1983, of “The Dead Zone.”
In the story , Johnny Smith is a simple schoolteacher who is the result of going into a coma five years, awakens with psychic powers. One touch, and he can see someone’s past, present, and future. In the story, it has Johnny uncovering cases and going through certain events in his new life discovering both who he is now in the world, and what his powers can accomplish. This includes solving murder cases, and political conspiracy.
There are many layers to Johnny as the story goes farther and farther. It’s worth mentioning first and foremost that he is a reluctant hero . He did not ask for these powers, and there are probably parts of the story where he regrets having to use them. But in using them and in accomplishing the deeds that he does , he discovers a little bit more more about himself.
The very name Johnny Smith implies that he is the everyman. Therefore as a representation of the average person, it’s fair to say that he in fact is a representation of every individual audience member who either watches the movie, reads the book, or even watches the TV series that is loosely based off of both.
As the story continues, Johnny Smith becomes less of the average, everyman and more more of an outsider.
What else is very fascinating about the character of Smith, is that he follows a sort of character arc not too dissimilar from Brandon Lee’s portrayal of the undead hero Eric Draven, in “The Crow”. Smith is a man who was awoken from a coma after five long years. It really begs the question, how exactly does somebody reintroduce themselves into a world, and into a life, that is essentially already learned how to live without them? So Johnny’s mission in life is not only finding out how to use his powers, but also how to find a new meaning in his life . This quality makes him one of the most sympathetic heroes ever created by Stephen King . As stated before, it is the human elements and not necessarily the supernatural ones that make, not just Stephen King stories, but also horror, mysteries, thrillers, etc. into good movies and good stories altogether.