In Dreams

In Dreams (1999)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Annette Bening, Katie Sagona
Extras: Trailer, Production Notes, Biographies

The subject of dreams is nothing new to movies. Actually, thanks to the prolific – or inexhaustible, depending on your outlook – "Nightmare On Elm Street" movies, using dreams in films has also become passe. However, since some films actually resemble nothing more than dreams that are directly projected on a wall, the subject still intrigues us and keeps filmmakers coming back over again. Now, journeyman director Neil Jordan, creator of memorable films like "The Crying Game" and "Interview With A Vampire" tries his hand at the subject on this release from Dreamworks Home Video.

"In Dreams" focuses on Claire Cooper (Annette Bening), a children’s book author who lives with her husband Paul (Aidan Quinn) and daughter Rebecca (Katie Sagona). It would appear that Claire has the perfect life, but she begins to have recurring dreams about a person who kidnaps little girls. The visions become stronger and more detailed every time, and slowly begin to intrude on Claire’s waking life. Eventually she discovers that she isn’t merely dreaming, but that she has some kind of a telepathic link with a real serial killer that the local police are attempting to apprehend. After Claire (get it? Clairvoyant.), suffers a personal tragedy (which I won’t give away), the visions become even stronger, almost overpowering her, and Claire launches her own search for the mysterious person in her dreams who appears to be sending Claire clues to his identity. As Claire’s search becomes more desperate, the dream world becomes more intense and the real world begins to slip from Claire’s grasp.

Without a doubt, the best part of "In Dreams" is the direction of Neil Jordan. While he has gotten a bit artsy in his other films, most notably "A Company Of Wolves" and the beautiful "Interview With A Vampire", Jordan lets his vision run wild in this film, as there are no boundaries on reality here. A subplot in the film deals with a town being flooded to create a reservoir. "In Dreams" opens with some amazing shots of the town being flooded, shot in the same tank that was used for "Titanic", with one of the most poetic moments when a huge figure of Christ floating out of a church. All of the underwater photography in the film is very murky and claustrophobic. The original name for the film was "Blue Vision", but that was obvious chunked because of Jordan’s decision to shoot his dream sequences primarily in red. Not with red gels per se, but by having many brilliant red objects in the frame. The dreams themselves are well-shot, and Jordan makes them seem somewhat different from the dream sequences we’ve seen in other films. Even something as trivial as a car crash is shot in a truly original manner.

Adding to Jordan’s vision is the production design of Nigel Phelps and art direction of Martin Laing. The best example of this is an elaborate outdoor production of Snow White that the child Rebecca is in. The stage is beside a forest that is decorated with hundreds of Chinese lanterns. (How come when we see an elementary school play in a movie it’s more elaborate than some off-Broadway productions? Who’s funding these things?) They also do a good job with the set where the final confrontation takes place, giving it a very other-worldly feel.

While "In Dreams" is a great looking film, it does suffer somewhat in the story department. The movie’s script is based on a novel by Bari Woods, who also wrote the source-novel used for David Cronenberg’s "Dead Ringers". One thing that is hampering the film is that the storyline isn’t really that original, having been tackled before in the Dean Koontz novel "The Vision" and the Ally Sheedy telefilm "Fear" to name but a few. Still, the first two acts of the film are extremely well done and create an intrigue that is hard to escape. We empathize with Claire and we want to see her and her family stable again. It is during the final third of the film where things fall apart, especially when the killer is revealed at last. Some of the clues that we were given suddenly become meaningless, and the character of the killer is severely underwritten. There is a final coda that is somewhat satisfying, but it rings hollow after the promising beginning of the film.

The performances of the actors does help to elevate the film above its mediocre storyline. Bening is quite believable as she portrays a woman who goes through many emotional changes. Bening conveys this mostly by changing her appearance throughout the film. However during some of the most personal moments she doesn’t live up to the character and appears a bit wooden. Quinn is good as her supportive, yet confused husband. Unfortunately, Stephen Rea, a top notch actor, is clearly wasted as Claire’s psychiatrist, who has little to say and even less to do. It almost seems as if he has been cast in the movie simply to underscore and further the long lasting working relationship with director Jordan.

While "In Dreams" the movie has its pros and cons, the DVD is almost flawless. The film is presented in a <$PS,letterboxed> format at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The film is properly formatted with no visible compression artifacts.
The film is crystal clear, but the most important part is the on-target color balancing and looming blacks, which allows the brilliant reds of the dreams and the somber blues of the flooded town to be fully appreciated. The source material is in excellent condition and there is no graininess or signs of artifacting. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack is very impressive, and is active throughout the film, although bass extension seems somewhat limited. The surround soundtrack is especially effective during the dream sequences, where may strange sound effects and ethereal voices swarm the viewer from every possible direction.

Dreamworks’ release of "In Dreams" contains three bonus features. There is a fascinating trailer in a full-frame presentation, biographies of the cast and two members of the crew, namely the director and the cinematographer. The disc also contains fairly detailed production notes describing the evolution of the story, and how some of the more effective sequences were shot. I would have enjoyed an <$commentary,audio commentary> by director Jordan to learn more about some of his interesting stylistic choices. "In Dreams" is not the nightmare that some critics made it out to be during its theatrical run. The film is beautifully shot and has an intriguing, if ultimately flawed story. Still, this is one of those films that will play much better on DVD due to the dazzling visuals, seductive color-scheme, and unsettling audio. "In Dreams" may not be my dream movie, but it was well worth staying awake for.