For more on the 1984-a-thon, visit their site at http://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/tag/1984-a-thon/
Dreamscape (PG-13) is a sci-fi horror cult thriller which stars Dennis Quaid (Innerspace, Footloose, Frequency, Any Given Sunday), Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Space Camp, The Quick and the Dead) and legendary actors Max von Sydow (Flash Gordon, Never Say Never Again, Dune, Minority Report, Star Wars Episode VII) and Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Insider, Inside Man, Beginners). It was directed by Joseph Ruben, who went on to direct Sleeping With the Enemy, The Good Son, Money Train and The Forgotten.
The premise of Dreamscape is very similar to later reality-bending movies like Disney’s TRON and The Matrix, however I found this movie to be a more direct inspiration for later dream-traversing thrillers such as The Cell and of course Inception.
Two government scientists working on an experiment recruit a gifted psychic to enter the subconscious minds of patients troubled by ominous dreams.
– Netlix summary
Dreamscape was one of the first movies to receive the newly created PG-13 rating and was released in theaters on August, 15 1984– just five days after the hit action thriller Red Dawn.
Capshaw and von Sydow play the government scientists Jane DeVries and Dr. Paul Novotny, respectively. Quaid plays Alex Gardner the gifted psychic whom the scientists recruit. He once worked with Dr. Novotny at age 19 and is begrudgingly blackmailed back in almost a decade later. Plummer gives a chilling performance as Bob Blair, the government official who provides funding for the experiments and is apparently very well connected.
This film also features other notable names like David Patrick Kelly, who some may know from is role as the long-haired bottle-clinking gang leader from The Warriors. In Dreamscape, Kelly plays Tommy Ray Glatman, another gifted psychic at the facility who sees Alex as a rival. Norm from Cheers, actor George Wendt, is also in this movie, playing horror fiction novelist Charlie Prince, who is secretly investigating the experiments from afar for his next book, yet knows a lot more than meets the eye.
Dreamscape opens with a nightmare scene that involves a running woman who is vaporized by a nuclear holocaust. It is revealed to be a nightmare of The President of the United States, an underlying plot that becomes the major endgame for the story. This movie has a mix of real world scenes and various dream sequences involving death and destruction, zombies, monstrous nightmares, infidelity, romance and murder.
What I liked
Dennis Quaid as Alex is a solid charismatic leading man who carries every scene well. He and Capshaw have surprisingly good chemistry on camera and seemed to enjoy the flirting and eventual romance that takes place. Veteran actors Plummer as Blair and von Sydow as bring their expected gravitas to the roles, making a plot that would otherwise seem silly appear serious in nature. The overarching purpose of the experiments is revealed– to use dreams to wage war on enemies and reveal key secrets– thus making clear the President’s role and increasing the stakes for the movie.
Equally as chilling is Kelly’s performance as Tommy. He is the apparent villain from the first scene and although the reveal of the true mastermind is no surprise, Tommy poses the true threat to Alex in this movie. Kelly carries over much of his patented psychopathic expressions and mannerisms from his other iconic roles as “Luther”, the same name of his characters in both The Warriors (1979) and 48 Hrs. (1982), coincidentally.
For the dream sequences, I liked the range of scenarios offered throughout the movie. In one case, Alex helps a boy overcome a nightmare against a snake-man monster who actually killed one of the previous dream psychics. Sure, the dreams look a bit cheesy and low budget, but I liked the use of effects like green screen and stop motion animation for some of the scenes. The strength of this movie is in the main cast, who do their best to make this story seem plausible. Finally, I liked the mix of tones throughout the movie. It ends up being equal parts suspense, action thriller, comedy, horror and romance. Dreamscape does its best to keep you interested in a premise that may otherwise seem dull to sit through for 99 minutes.
What I didn’t like
Honestly, even though this is a 1984 release, the special effects still came off as rather low budget. I give the FX people a lot of credit in making what they had look serviceable. Some of the pluses include the aforementioned green screen backgrounds, animatronics for the snake monster and wolves and the make-up work for the nuclear holocaust zombies, however there were certain parts and set pieces that did look overly cheesy. The snake monster, although menacing in some scenes, looked rather Play-Doh claymationish in some others.
In addition, I found some of the set pieces in the dream scenes and the subsequent chase scenes to resemble a high-budget haunted house attraction. I may be commenting from a 2014 lens here, but I can easily pick out certain scenes that I liked over ones I thought could have been re-shot. I also found a few of the attempted comedy scenes to be a bit overly cheesy. The obvious presence of the saxophone music in the background of the eventual Alex-Jane dream romance scene did nothing to set the tone and actually took some of the steam out of it. I had a similar reaction to the entire dream sequence where Alex helps a married couple discover why the husband is having issues with intimacy. Sure the punchline gave me a chuckle, but I just felt it could have been played better for the laugh. Obvious sight-gags like a toupee falling off and an Asian gardener and a Catholic priest (“No thanks, I’m Jewish!”) hiding behind a curtain seemed like they were conjured as a bar joke and then just written in to punch up the finished script.
Finally, for a movie that’s supposed to be part political thriller and scientifically chilling suspense, Dreamscape had a lot of plot inconsistencies and mistakes that were hard to ignore. What agency was Blair part of? How did it supersede the President’s Secret Service in terms of providing security? How did a psychic who worked on government-funded experiments at age 19 spend ten years on the run afterwards? How crappy was the security for The President’s visit and overnight stay at a university, of all places? There are more questions, but I’ll leave it for you to enjoy when you watch.
Final Review and Rating
Plot inconsistencies, spotty FX and groan-inducing moments of camp aside, the story and actors of Dreamscape make this a fun flick to enjoy. Between Quaid and Capshaw’s chemistry, von Sydow and Plummer’s presence and Kelly’s menacing, this movie was more fun than it would have appeared on the poster.
On the Classick Cinema scale, I’d give this film three out of five stars, meaning I’d watch it again, but only with friends so that we can MST3K it for certain scenes (“Watch out for that Snake Man!”). Catch Dreamscape on Netflix streaming today!
More about 84-a-thon
Forgotten Films believes and we happen to agree that 1984 is the greatest of all movie years. With this year being the 30th anniversary of ’84, they have set aside all this week celebrate these movies. Over 150 bloggers and podcasters enthusiastically signed up to review films from ’84, ranging from Ghostbusters to The Karate Kid to Red Dawn and everything in between.
For more on the 1984-a-thon and to see all the reviews posted, visit their site at http://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/tag/1984-a-thon/