Cast: Max Von Sydow, Dennis Quaid, Kate Capshaw, Christopher Plummer
Extras: Audio Commentary, Special Effects Test Reel
Thanks to films such as the "Nightmare on Elm Sreet" series and "An American Werewolf in London", today’s audiences are accustomed to the seamless incorporation of dream sequences into movies. While movies have always featured dreams in some context, the eighties ushered in a period where dreams became the main focus of the movie. While Freddy Krueger went on to get franchised to death, another important dream-film got lost in the shuffle. "Dreamscape" focuses more on the science of dreams, than on the supernatural, but it still manages to create some good scares. This fun, science-fiction thriller has become a mainstay of cable television and is now finally available in a <$PS,widescreen> special edition.
"Dreamscape" introduces the idea that individuals with psychic powers can enter the dreams of other individuals and become part of the dream, interacting with the dreamer. Dr. Paul Novotny (Max Von Sydow) and his assistant Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw) are working with this technology to help those who suffer from chronic nightmares. They recruit Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid), a psychic who would rather use his powers to win at gambling to than to advance science. But, when Alex sees the serious nature of the work being done (as well as when he sees Jane), he decides to help. Alex enters the dreams of a man who fears heights and of a terrified little boy, and begins to become accustomed to entering the dreams of others.
Meanwhile, there is another psychic being utilized at the institute. His name is Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly), and he seems to have some sort of evil hidden agenda. When mysterious White House Advisor Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) contacts Dr. Novotny concerning the nightmares that the President (Eddie Albert) has been having, a series of events begin which lead to a showdown between Alex and Tommy Ray.
"Dreamscape" does an excellent job of blending genres, and therefore becomes a scary, funny, exciting thrill-ride. Director Joseph Ruben (who would soon perfect his craft with "The Stepfather" — and where is that DVD?) keeps things moving along at a nice pace and never lets the film get bogged down in its pseudo-science or its many subplots (one invovling "Cheers"-regular George Wendt as a paranoid informant). The screenplay by David Loughery ("Passenger 57"), Ruben, and Chuck Russell (who would later direct "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors"), gives us characters, that while being somewhat stereotypical, are very accessible. The film’s mixture of science, politics, and scares makes it somewhat unusual in the genre. While some of the story may come across as a bit silly, the subplot concerning the President and the finale of the film are played very straight and work quite well.
While the dream-related plot may seem somewhat stale today (remember, "Dreamscape" came out the same year as "A Nightmare on Elm Street"), "Dreamscape" offers many visuals that still work today. The dream sequence involving the little boy works quite well, and the long stairway into nowhere (which we learn was done partly through cel-animation) still packs a wallop. The finale contains many memorable images and (for once) is truly a worthy pay-off for all of the plot points that have been introduced throughout the film.
Something else that makes "Dreamscape" unique is its treatment of its psychic characters. Alex is portrayed as a fairly normal person who just happens to be able to read minds and see the future (and sense people through walls…he’s sort of a a "Psychic Superman"). While Tommy Ray is definitely an evil villain, there is no indication that he’s evil because he’s psychic. The packaging for "Dreamscape" states that the film is "in the tradition of ’Scanners’ and ’Carrie’". I feel that this comparison may be a little off-base, as "Dreamscape" features at least one psychic who is well-adjusted and working to help others and not burning down proms or exhausting Dick Smith.
The Image Entertainment DVD of "Dreamscape" presents a nice transfer of the film, and some extras as well. The film itself is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.78:1. The image is very crisp and clear for the most part. Unfortunately, the digital transfer has revealed some flaws in the source print, most notably the grain during the "skyscraper" dream. Also, the image seems a little too dark at times. However, the color balancing has been handled nicely, creating naturally looking fleshtones and the whole gamut of hues, and the dream sequences (which feature extravagant lighting) visibly benefit from this. The letterboxing appears to have been done correctly, as there is no squeezing of the image.
The audio on the DVD features both a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 selection, as well as <$DTS,DTS> 5.1. Both of these mixes sound good, offering a nice dynamic range where the dialogue is never taken over by the sound effects. However, the audio from the rear speakers is very subtle and at times, non-existent. The Dolby 2-Channel Surround mix is adequate, but doesn’t offer the "oomph!" that comes with the Dolby Digital or the DTS mix.
The DVD features a scene-specific <$commentary,audio commentary> from producer Bruce Cohn Curtis, writer David Loughery, and special effects make-up artist Craig Reardon. The trio talk consistently throughout the film and offer several good anecdotes about the making of the film (such as the fact that John Schneider had been considered for the lead or that Kate Capshaw originally turned down her role due to all of the nudity!). I think that it should be a requirement that the writer always be on the set, as they always seem to remember every minute detail, and Loughery is no exception, as he points out specific locations and other minutia. (And every time that he does this, Curtis exclaims "That’s right!") Reardon saves most of his comments for the effects-laden finale. The commentary is a bit dry at times, but it is informative and entertaining.
The DVD also offers us a 2-minutes test reel for the "Snakeman" monster makeup. This was shot without sound, so you can add you own monster sounds or funny "Snakeman" quotes to it. There is also a slide-show featuring production stills, most of which feature the "Snakeman". There is a button on each menu marked "Monster!" and when pressed, the "Snakeman" jumps out. I’m not sure why that was included, but it is fun the first time. (For you dream-movie completist, check out the one-sheet poster from "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and see if you notice the "Dreamscape" "Snakeman" in the art.) Unfortunately, there are no trailers or talent files included on the disc.
"Dreamscape" was one of my favorites when I was growing up and the film still satisfies. It offers action, scary imagery and a great premise (face it, you’d love to break into someone else’s dreams). The "Dreamscape" DVD may fall a little short when it comes to special features, but the first-class video and audio offered by the disc make up for this. Image Entertainment has done us a great service by releasing this under-appreciated masterpiece on DVD. Now quit hitting the "snooze" button and check out "Dreamscape".