Released by: Shout! Factory
Released on: December 13th, 2016.
Director: Joseph Ruben
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Kate Capshaw, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer
Year: 1984 Purchase From Amazon
1984's multi genre hybrid film DREAMSCAPE, the "other" dream movie that predated A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET by a few months remains largely forgotten today. It has retained a pretty healthy cult following over the years in certain circles though - mostly due to its quirky FX, a couple of unforgettable sequences and its ubiquity on cable television and the VHS rental racks during the late 80's/90's home video boom.
Lovable rogue/psychic Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) was once part of a crucial scientific study group headed by Dr. Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) but rather rudely and abruptly fled the scene when he got tired of being poked and prodded. Now Novotny has moved onto another project - this one government sanctioned and with grave national security implications. The powers that be, headed by shady government agent/spook Bob Blair (a terrifically oily Christopher Plummer), have decided that they need Alex's talents so they essentially kidnap him. So much for his life of picking ponies at the track and scamming ladies into bed...
The plot of DREAMSCAPE uses the hoary old bit about dying in a dream/dying in real life but puts a neat astral protection twist on it. Novotny's program (which he's running in conjunction with a female associate named Jane played by Kate Capshaw), is working on a form of dream projection where gifted psychics enter the dreams of others in a clinic environment and become active participants in those dreams. They have a small group of psychics with one breakout talent - mentally unstable (and patricide practicing!) Blair protege Tommy Ray. The fact that Tommy is played by one of the screens all time great psychos - David Patrick Kelly (the guy who clinked those bottles together so unforgettably in Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS) should be the viewer's first tip off that some bad shit is going to go down. Blair has some nefarious and secret plans for the program due to his policy differences with the current president of the United States (Eddie Albert). The president has been suffering from nightmares relating to a potential nuclear holocaust and is planning to lead a major disarmament initiative at an upcoming Geneva convention. Blair, a hawk, considers this national suicide, and he'll happily use Tommy Ray to stop it. When the president turns to his national security advisor for help with his nightmares, Blair recommends a visit to Novotny's clinic... and the trap is set.
Aside from a bit of a side plot with George Wendt of Cheers fame as a snooping reporter, DREAMSCAPE moves forward in a petty linear and predictable fashion. Alex and Jane develop the hots for each other, Novotny and Alex slowly figure out what Blair and Tommy Ray are up to, and if all leads to a dream world showdown featuring the president of the USA on a post-apocalyptic zombie train with a huge snake man on the loose.
"Cheesy" is a very overused term these days, so let's go with kitsch factor instead. DREAMSCAPE has that quality in spades, from its absurdly over baked synthesizer score (amazingly enough by Maurice Jarre) and ambitious but primitive pre-CGI practical effects. People of a certain age seem to remember the snake man monster in the film more than anything else. Despite being quite artificial in appearance at times, this creation is pretty impressive in a CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON sort of way and Quaid's climactic battle with it in a dream where he's protecting a young boy and clinic patient is a film highlight. As a thriller the film is a decent enough setup as well.
But what really makes DREAMSCAPE a success is the three crucial performances of Plummer, Von Sydow, and Kelly. Quaid and Capshaw are likable but lightweight performers here playing heavy on the glib. But arthouse icon Von Sydow invests his underwritten character with a lot of quirky charm, and Plummer manages to deliver a brilliantly reptilian performance. His cold menace is perfectly counterbalanced by the white hot insanity of Kelly's Tommy Ray. Tommy is the kind of guy who doesn't spend much time yelling or acting out in the traditional sense. He'd rather casually tell you you're going to die over a sandwich. He's a complex mix of sociopathic homicidal tendencies, unbridled arrogance and deep-seated insecurity. The fact that then rookie director Joseph Ruben (THE STEPFATHER) was able to get such a stellar cast was really DREAMSCAPE's biggest break.
Shout! Factory's freshly minted 2K scan looks terrific. The 1080p 1.85:1 framed AVC encoded image is a massive upgrade in every area over Image's previous sketchy Blu. There is a lot of softness here, but that's very much a function of the original elements due to all the post production tinkering needed for the FX. But black levels are deep and true, fine image detail is aces and the color palette shines. No traces of DNR are evident and facial closeups look particularly strong. Print damage is minimal. DREAMSCAPE is a colorful film and this transfer really accentuates that quality in an organic way.
The audio is handled by twin tracks - a DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround one and a 2.0 one. Both are solid endeavors that are really only hampered by the period limitations of when they were recorded. The surround track has modest ambitions but does certainly open up the sound field - most noticeably during the dream sequences. There are no hisses or pops or other flaws on either track.
This is a stacked release with all of the previous Blu ray's special features ported over and a bunch of new stuff. The DVD era commentary with Bruce Cohn Curtis, writer Brandon Loughery and makeup man Craig Reardon is here. It's a nice informal chat that covers most of the big points surrounding the film with a lot of emphasis on the casting. It's a little jarring hearing them talk about Eddie Albert currently working considering that the man has been dead for quite a while now, but time does march on!
The hour long freshly minted "Dreamscapes And Dreammakers" documentary is pretty much the last word on this film with some great interviews with most of the key players. I found David Patrick Kelly's contributions particularly fascinating. He's an intense guy with a lifelong affinity for experimental theater who has a really interesting perspective on things. "Nightmares And Dreamsnakes" delves into the film's most famous creature with Reardon taking about 23 minutes to brief us on the creation of this monster. Star Quaid sits for a cool 15 minute solo interview where he offers his thoughts on the film but even more enjoyably talks about his craft as an actor and some of his early professional experiences. Producers Bruce John Curtis and Chuck Russell spend approximately 25 minutes in their own separate filmed chat and this is another fun piece with two old friends and professional colleagues shooting the breeze. This one has a lot of humor and cool anecdotes. There is also a brief two minutes and some change footage of the Snake Man creature as a separate special feature.
The set closes out with the obligatory still gallery and theatrical trailer.
The Final Word:
DREAMSCAPE is a lot of fun. It's very much a period piece that screams 80's (with a touch of the 70's), but it's an engaging film. Seeing heavyweight talents of the caliber of Plummer and Von Sydow in this kind of genre cinema is also always a treat. Shout! have done a first class job on this release with a great transfer and far more quality extras than anyone had a right to expect.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!