Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dreamscape (1984)

Title: Dreamscape (1984)

Director: Joseph Ruben

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Kate Capshaw, Max Von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, David Patrick Kelly

Dream movies are a special bunch of films; they offer things that no other kind of movie can offer us:   dream sequences that explore the surreal landscapes of the mind. In Dreamscape we meet Alex Gardner, a young man who can transport himself onto other people’s dreams. He is psychic, something we find out early on, when he wins a bunch of money at the horse track. His psychic abilities are what augment his dream traveling abilities. Once the government gets a whiff of Alex’s abilities, they kidnap him and convince him to help them with their new project; a project which consists of using a machine to enter other people’s minds. At first we are introduced to the benevolent side of the project, which is to help people confront their fears, but then we go into the negative applications of the technique, mainly, if you kill a person in the dream world, you can kill them in real life!

Dreamscape is a film that explores the fascinating world of dreams. I’ve always found dreams to be incredibly interesting and the idea that we can consciously control what happens in dreams? Mind blowing! These types of dreams are called ‘Lucid Dreams’ and in them you become aware that you are dreaming and attempt to control what happens in the dream. This is not fantasy, and it’s something you can look into and learn how to achieve. I read up on it and tried some of the techniques, and I gotta tell you guys, Lucid Dreaming actually works! I was personally successful in my attempt; I actually became aware that I was dreaming, while dreaming! The bitch of the thing is trying to stay asleep once you become conscious in the dream, because the minds natural reaction is to wake you up when you become conscious. But the few seconds that I managed to be conscious within my dream was actually kind of frightening and intense, but also strangely exhilarating. Dreams are something we can all identify with because it’s something we all experience; we all dream. We all confront our fears in those wee hours of the night, which is probably the reason why dream movies are big hits with audiences. I mean, look at the success of the  Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, or Tarsem’s The Cell (2000), two films that have a whole lot in common with Dreamscape, the film that explored these themes first.

I see Tarsem’s The Cell as an update on the ideas presented in Dreamscape, but done in a far more stylish manner because of Tarsem Singh’s involvement in directing the picture. The Cell is a superior film in many ways, but that’s due to the fact that it had a bigger budgetthan Dreamscape, which was made with a measly 6 million dollars, mere pocket change in Hollywood terms. The Cell on the other hand had 33 million dollars to play with. Still, even with its meager budget, Dreamscape is a film big on ideas. I love it when these films get made in spite of their small budgets. The filmmakers say:  “screw it, we’ll make do with what we got!” The amazing thing is that most of the time, something cool comes forth none the less, which was the case with Dreamscape. The ideas presented are pretty outlandish! The president of the United States is having nightmares because of the Cold War. He has nightmares of people dying in a nuclear blast! He can’t take the pressure of being the president and having to be responsible for pressing the proverbial button that can kill millions. Once again, same as many films from the 80’s fear of nuclear holocaust is present because this is what people were living through at the time. So the film not only explores the dream world and all the possibilities therein, it also deals with political and moral issues.

An interesting aspect of Dreamscape, and I mentioned a bit of this earlier, is how many similarities it shares with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. We got characters going in and out of dreams; we have an evil dream demon type of guy who even has claws, just like Freddy Krueger does! Plus, there’s the idea that if you die in your dreams, you can die in real life! Even more interesting is that both A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Dreamscape were being made at the same time, and released mere months apart. There’s a possibility that one studio was trying to copy the other studios dream film and so, we get two extremely similar films being released. But Dreamscape was released first in August 1984, while A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in November of the same year, so Dreamscape did it all first. Another connection that Dreamscape has with A Nightmare on Elm Street is that Dreamscape was partially written by Chuck Russell, the very same writer/director who ended up writing and directing A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), a film that shares many similarities with Dreamscape. On that particular Elm Street film we meet Kirsten and Nancy, two characters with the ability to enter other people’s dreams, they can even bring people into their own dreams. So I’m guessing that Chuck Russell’s experience with writing about dreams in Dreamscape landed him the gig to write and direct the third entry in the original Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

The only problem for me with Dreamscape is that sometimes the special effects look pretty outdated. There’s this one scene where we meet a half man, half snake creature, and the stop motion animation leaves a lot to be desired, I mean, not only is it stop motion animation, it’s bad stop motion animation. But aside from that, we get some trippy visuals every time we go into dream world, I sometimes got the feeling that the film was made for 3-D but never got around to getting converted. On the plus side of things, the film has an excellent cast, we get Dennis Quaid in the prime of his youth, actually, it might take you some time to get over how young he looks.  Christopher Plummer plays a political douche bag and Max Von Sydow his counterpart, the good natured scientist. Kate Capshaw (aka Spielberg’s wife) plays one of the heads of the dream project. And finally we get David “Warriors, come out and play” Patrick Kelly, playing the Freddy Krueger like villain of the piece. Final words on Dreamscape is that it’s a film with an interesting premise that did a lot with very little. Its budgetary limitations didn’t stop it from exploring its themes thoroughly; recommended to those who love movies that explore the fascinating world of dreams.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5  



Unknown said...

Excellent review! Another one of my faves. If you think about it, DREAMSCAPE also anticipates INCEPTION by several decades. I've never come across Christopher Nolan citing it as an influence, but you have to wonder.

I like the mix of political thriller with fantastical elements. And yeah, the effects are a tad on the cheesy side, but that is part of their charm if you think about it. I remember that snake creature scaring the crap out of me as a kid!

Richard of DM said...

Dreamscape scarred me as a kid. So terrifying.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey, you're right about Inception, you have to wonder in deed, both films are about getting into the mind of an important person to change things...

Yeah, I don't mind the cheesy effects, it's just that they do look out dated, but whatever, I like them anyways.

That scene where Dennis Quaid rips his face open and bites the bad guy on the neck, pretty cool, now that I think about it, the film does have some pretty scary images for what was marketed as an "adventure film" I mean that poster makes it look like Indiana Jones film!

The frightning images are part of the reason why PG-13 was created, this was I believe the second or first film to get the PG-13 rating, so Dreamscape is were it all started. Then Gremlins and Temple of Doom followed...and now PG-13 is king of the cinemas.

llj said...

Yeah, I think the cheesiness adds to its appeal. The snake creature may be a bit awkward now, but the actors really sell how frightening it is to them. I thought Quaid's drawing of the snake creature was scarier looking than the actual thing, though

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Kate Capshaw (as the bird was in 1971 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

Unknown said...

Yeah, DREAMSCAPE really danced a fine line with the PG-13 thing. I mean, there was even that love scene between Quaid and Kate Capshaw... wow, which I've read they shortened for the DVD release.

Franco Macabro said...

I think that scene is unedited on Netflix streaming! I was watching it and kept thinking they were going a bit too far for a PG-13!

Anonymous said...

I agree that there's an "off-ness" to the effects (like the rear-projection backgrounds in some scenes), but films weren't converted to 3-D back then -- they had to be shot that way.

venoms5 said...

Great write up on a superlative film, Fran. The first PG-13 film was RED DAWN, I believe. TEMPLE and GREMLINS were just PG, but were two of the movies that caused the creation of the new rating. I remember there were a lot of angry parents that seemed more pissed about Phoebe Cates revealing there's no Santa Claus than any of the violence in GREMLINS, lol. RAIDERS was right gruesome, too, but TEMPLE was really pushing it.

The snake man in DREAMSCAPE scared me too when I was a kid. The few "boo" moments were really effective. The Image DVD has some nice extras on it as well.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree, while Gremlins and Red Dawn earned their PG-13 badges for violence and horror elements, Temple of Doom and Dreamscape pushed it.

I mean, in both films hearts get ripped out while they are still beating!


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