“For once in your life try to use your gift for something positive.”
Dreams can prove to be a delight or a nightmare, depending on whether they take the form of a romantic embrace, the prospect of self-provoked apocalypse or a bloodthirsty encounter with a monstrous creature. So a reissue of 1980’s action horror science fiction romance Dreamscape with its great cast and organic non-digital effects is most welcome. Carefully scripted, this is entertainment packed with politics, car chases and scary monsters. Not to mention a potential apocalypse.
Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) is a wanted man and not always for the best reasons as far as he is concerned. His income seems to be mostly derived from an uncanny knack to predict the winners at horse races, something that makes him decidedly unpopular with the track officials and their heavies. Added to this, government officials are after him for his known psychic abilities, so they pick him up and take him to Bates Hall for psychiatric experiments. There he meets the attractive Dr. Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw) who tells him about research they are undertaking into dreams and she believes that the investigation requires his particular skills. Alex is not impressed nor surprised when he discovers that the project’s lead is former mentor Dr. Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) who is keen to show him their work and why he is needed. “You’ve got tremendous gifts Alex and you’ve chosen to piss them away,” he notes. The principle is that a subject can “psychically project himself into the dreams of another person.” Alex interprets this ability as a “Sort of a cerebral Peeping Tom”, but the ultimate goal is to delve deeper into the subconscious mind that is the dreamscape. His initial observance of the technique sees the death of another experimental subject – young Buddy (Cory ‘Bumper’ Yothers) – experiencing horrific nightmares involving a terrifying snake-man. Matters become more sinister when government agent Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) takes over the programme in order to use the technique for more menacing purposes. And then there’s fellow psychic Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly) who has the potential to become a truly horrendous adversary. The President arrives at the facility because he has been experiencing dreams of nuclear destruction and the aftermath of such devastation. “Sitting in the oval office making decisions based upon his nightmares.” He declares, “It’s my responsibility to lead the world away from the brink, this nuclear situation has got to end.” Alex feels he must save the world from not just corrupt agents but apocalyptic inevitability whilst still in the realm of the subconscious worlds of the dreamscape, a world where the dreamer can die in the outside world… and so can the observer.
In modern cinema CGI has become ubiquitous and these days is intrinsic to the depiction of other worlds as well as our own. However, Dreamscape came from a time when its use was restricted to huge budget productions and even then it was employed on a very limited basis. Visually, given the premise of the film, this lack of slick computer graphics makes Dreamscape all the more watchable as the combination of grainy tinted documentary footage and brightly coloured scenery contrasts with the naturalistic real world plot elements and this enhances the unreal feeling of the dream environments. This is aided by the terrific use of monster make-up which ensures that the dream elements seem organic and reflect the links between realism and surrealism: believable even when unbelievable.
In many ways Dreamscape is a multiplex fantasy, which has a certain Cronenberg feel to it, with science and body horror themes mixing with action and car chases as well as an emerging romance in the real and subconscious worlds. This is balanced with the need, as in all action movies, to accomplish a greater goal, in this case saving the president and indeed the world. There are, of course, nemeses to deal with. Alex may initially distrust his old acquaintance Novotny but he has wider issues in the form of the secret governmental department who want to use the programme for savage nefarious purposes and their number one psychic assassin Tommy, an ex-serial killer eager to reinstate his butchering trade in a genuinely horrific manner in the alternate world. So all the elements of big action entertainment are packed into 100 minutes of fully restored fun.
Included on the DVD release are a plethora of extras which delve into the film’s background as well as providing interviews and commentary tracks. Dreamscapes And Dreammakers looks at the film’s creation including the multiple varied special effects sequences and styles. Nightmares And Dreamsnakes looks at the creation of the film’s best remembered monster (aside from those outside the dreamscape and the zombies inside) the Snake-man from its initial script inception as a rat-man to the alteration to the sketch concept by co-writer and producer Chuck Russell. A welcome reissue of a mid-budget big-named fantasy-horror that still has the enjoyment factor.