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starring Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis
screenplay by William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan, based on the novel by Stephen King
directed by Lawrence Kasdan
by Walter Chaw As stupid as stupid can be, Lawrence Kasdan's splashy comeback on the backs of two writers who haven't really been any good for about forty years between them (Stephen King and William Goldman) is riddled with knee-slapping plot inconsistencies and the sort of dunderheaded conveniences that reek equally of desperation and a lack of respect for the audience. Based on the first King novel written after the author was smeared across a Maine highway by a man who would later kill himself in a trailer, the book is a fine short story trapped in the body of a six-hundred page book. Hopelessly protracted, after the first two-hundred pages, the novel becomes a pathetic exercise in chronic self-reference: the malady of a successful author who's begun to lose the line between reality and his cult of personality. King has become a writer interested in writing love letters to his fanbase and smug gruel for everyone else.
That so many of King's works have been translated to the screen by Goldman (this is his third after Misery and Hearts in Atlantis) speaks a great deal to Goldman's relative vestigiality post-'70s (and to his dangerous capacity for smug gruel)--and explains to a degree how Dreamcatcher made it to the screen riddled as it is with the same sort of self-references and insular nature. It's not necessary to be familiar with King films (and novels) to watch Dreamcatcher, but it sure gives you something to do.
Four childhood pals (The Body (retitled Stand By Me for film), united by an act of kindness toward a child afflicted with Down's Syndrome (the clumsily named "Duddits"), reunite annually as adults in a hunting trip in the woods of Maine. Each gifted with a low-level telepathy, upon their twentieth year (It) at their rustic, snowed-in (The Shining) lodge "The Hole in the Wall," an alien spacecraft carrying a highly infectious fungus crash-lands in the woods nearby (The Tommyknockers), causing the quartet (and Duddits) to fulfill their destinies as saviours of the world. Jonesy (Damian Lewis) is a teacher, Beav (Jason Lee) is comic relief, Henry (Thomas Jane) is a suicidal shrink, Pete (Timothy Olyphant) is an alcoholic, and Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg) is a deus ex machina. Representing the evil military interested in cover-up are Morgan Freeman's Col. Curtis (the connection to Apocalypse Now is so obvious it's hardly worth pointing out) and Tom Sizemore's oddly neutered Capt. Underhill.
King's traumatic accident does go some way towards explaining the body horror of the piece--it is easily King's most scatalogically obsessed work, with explosive bowel parasites (the colourfully-named "shit weasels"), a phallic serpent armed with a vagina dentate, and one hero consumed by cancer and another by alien possession (the revolt of the physical). Beav (with a bad oral fixation) finds his moment of crisis while sitting on the toilet, Pete finds his while pissing in the snow, Henry's comes in the squishing of little sperm-like larvae, and Jonesy is the Stephen King-projection (hit by a car, hip shattered) with a serious case of existential crisis. It's Cronenberg for dummies, in other words, with the ultimate themes not of addiction and the failure of the flesh, but something along the lines of "don't mess with The Duke" (a gun once owned by John Wayne plays a central role) and, apparently, don't trust the British. It goes without saying that Dreamcatcher is scatterbrained and ridiculous.
Jettisoning much of the Christian redemption that has flavoured King's late work (not only post- but also pre-accident, curiously enough), the second half of the picture deviates drastically from the second half of the novel, cleverly replacing something that doesn't work because it's boring with something that doesn't work because it's stupid. Why does an alien fern capable of shape-shifting and possessing humans need to resort to shit weasels (Alien) and evil fungi (Creepshow) of indeterminate intent? Are the shit weasels the larval incarnation of the bigger aliens instead of just phallic and sperm images of indeterminate intent? Why is the final chase conducted as a solo mission with the power of the entire United States military complex at Underhill's disposal? Does the military really believe that it can quarantine a few hundred acres of wilderness, including all of its animals? Why does the alien, which appears to be able to turn into an extremely powerful dinosaur thing at will, insist on using Jonesy's damaged body to laboriously move a pivotal manhole cover? Dreamcatcher has no internal logic, in other words, and, free of the irritating bonds of coherence, it's also free of stakes and tension.
Not helping is dialogue composed of the sort of shorthand catchphrase idioglossia meant to imply years of familiarity but only succeeding in making one pine for the days when Kasdan was penning (he shares a screenwriting credit here with Goldman) strong, character-driven genre pieces (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, Silverado) without narrative crutches and meandering shortcuts. Like the book, the film is overlong (at a slow 135 minutes) and only really engages during its prologue, providing maddening glimpses of promising storylines and character moments tossed aside in favour of being a cut-rate adaptation of a cut-rate King novel.
Looking at times like John Carpenter's The Thing (John Seale's ravishing cinematography is easily the best part of the boondoggle), Dreamcatcher feels a great deal like what it likely is: a product of a down-on-his-luck director trying to juggle material that's clearly beneath him, jettisoning any sense of rhythm and cohesion in the belief that King's massive sales represent the kind of mindless support that defeats the director's best instincts while offering him a chance to regain the keys to the executive washroom. A shame that in the forlorn search for his lost audience, Kasdan's found himself only another indiscriminate, wholly interchangeable contributor to the mainstream crapper--shit weasels and all. Originally published: March 28, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Warner releases Dreamcatcher in an almost but not quite Special Edition that comes in widescreen and fullscreen flavours. We received the former for review, which contains a 2.35:1 transfer of the film in anamorphic video; the image is quirky in accordance with John Seale's cinematography: grain is overemphasized in several climactic shots, as if to ground the ludicrous plot machinations in some kind of hard-edged reality, while blacks are chalky throughout and detail has a filtered quality--a Lawrence Kasdan trademark. Compression is smooth, though, and the childhood flashbacks look as idyllic as they're supposed to. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is subtle yet fiery, if overly cautious about unleashing hell in the subwoofer. Note the delirious impact of thrown voices in the "memory warehouse" scenes.
"An Invasion of Planet-Conquering Bonus Features" (I'm thinking that Warner copywriters should make the switch to decaf) begins with the 7-minute "DreamWriter - An Interview with Stephen King"--which, although conducted moments after he screened the rough cut of Dreamcatcher in September of last year, does not especially delve into his thoughts on the film. (It is, however, plagued by hopeless comparisons of the picture to Psycho and others.) On the encouraging side, King is no longer as frail as he was in the months following his accident. The deeper "DreamMakers - A Journey Through the Production" (19 mins.) hears most significantly from Kasdan. Calling himself a "casual" fan of King, Kasdan says he decided to direct Dreamcatcher out of a newfound desire to work on bigger productions. We also collect soundbites, in the rushed second-half, from every major cast member and, briefly, from production designer Jon Hutman and editor Carol Littleton. Composer James Newton Howard is meanwhile glimpsed consulting with Kasdan on a soundstage.
"DreamWeavers - The Visual Effects of Dreamcatcher" (8 mins.) is the third and final featurette (all of which were produced by the unremittingly superficial Laurent Bouzereau), its content largely limited to a breakdown of the air raid on the mothership courtesy F/X supervisor Jeff Olson. Here, Kasdan says that, having written two Star Wars episodes, he was growing anxious to play with the toys that George Lucas gets to, but his unoriginal creature designs for Dreamcatcher suggest that it's not the technology that eluded Kasdan, but the last decade's worth of monster movies. A section containing four "lifted" scenes plus the film's original, more sombre, though hardly superior ending (at least the final third of Dreamcatcher is beyond repair), the film's surprisingly lengthy teaser trailer (2:25), and a cast and crew listing round out the disc. Originally published: September 16, 2003.