Home Video Hovel: Dreamscape, by David Bax

16 Jun

1984’s Dreamscape, directed by Joseph Ruben, deserves to be better known. Not because it’s great (it drags with the introduction of a lame political intrigue plot in the second half) but simply because it’s a weird, fun movie that happens to have a jaw-dropping cast. Dennis Quaid and Kate Capshaw are the leads but they’re joined by Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert and the great David Patrick Kelly, along with minor turns by Peter Jason, Chris Mulkey and George freaking Wendt, who shows up for a clandestine meeting in the park at night wearing a bright, red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. How could you pass this one up?

Quaid is Alex Gardner, a psychic who uses his gifts to win money at the racetrack. Soon, though, he’s recruited by Dr. Paul Novotny (Sydow) and his assistant, Jane DeVries (Capshaw) to participate in a series of experiments that will allow him to enter the dreams of others. But when a secretive, high-ranking government official (Plummer) ask Novotny and Jane to use their process on the President (Albert) to influence him against nuclear non-proliferation (we’re in major Cold War paranoia territory here), things get dangerous and Alex’s cohort, fellow psychic Tommy (Kelly) may not be who he seems.

Dreamscape is at its best in the early going, before the narrative takes over. As a series of vignettes that find Alex in various people’s dreams, exploring their fears, turn-ons and whatever else lurks in the subconscious, the movie gets to be science fiction, horror, fantasy and more. The production design in these scenes mixes practical sets with matte paintings and rear projection, all photographed in a warm, saturated rainbow pallet by cinematographer Brian Tufano (Quadrophenia, Trainspotting).

As mentioned, the second half gets weighed down by plot and, at times, turns into a boilerplate thriller (Alex has to dive out of a phone booth to avoid two henchman trying to run him down in a car!). Still, Dreamscape ought to have a better reputation, not just because it’s an obvious precursor to Inception, complete with an “Is he still in a dream?” ending but also because how can you overlook a movie in which a character says, “I stabbed her with a knife! A dream knife!”?

Shout! Factory’s new 2K is solid and textured. As mentioned, though, there are a lot of process shots in the movie, which will always result in lower overall clarity and consistency.

Special features include a new interview with Quaid; a new featurette with Ruben, co-writer David Loughery, Kelly and others; a new featurette on creature make-up with Kelly and make-up artist Craig Reardon; an interview with producers Bruch Cohn Curtis and Chuck Russell; a commentary with Curtis, Loughery and Reardon; test footage; and more.

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