Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Dreamscape


   "I'm doing this because it's exciting." Rarely are movies so straightforward, providing honest and simple reasoning for characters' actions. Dennis Quaid plays Alex Gardner, a 20-something psychic who gets sucked into a top secret experiment run by scientist Paul Novotny, played by Max Von Sydow. Novotny pitches the fantastical project to Gardner, a way into people's dreams simply because "No one's ever done this before-" "-Because it's exciting." He's not wrong, and while Dreamscape eventually grows complex and full of danger, its honest motives are adventurous and exciting like a brand new Fantastic Voyage.

   Sure, it's dated- and not in the best of ways, but Dreamscape is ambitious and makes good use of it's meager $6 million budget. It fashions vast post apocalyptic landscapes and sinister dream creatures with some fun 80's special effects, ranging from matte paintings, to miniatures, facial prosthetics, and even some decent claymation. In that sense, Dreamscape feels like Inception in the late 70's via Ray Harryhausen and Alfred Hitchcock. It's as much of sci-fi fantasy as it is a government conspiracy thriller. At this point, either my description has your interest piqued, or you already know Dreamscape is just not your cup of tea.

   It's funny how low budget 80's fare is still more exciting than a lot of modern low budget tripe. There was some serious talent behind this flick, including a shared writer with A Nightmare on Elm St. III: Dream Warriors and the remake of The Blob- both of which were awesome flicks. Is Dreamscape on the level of either? Not quite, but also not for lack of trying. It's sporting a damn respectable cast with the likes of Dennis Quaid, Kate Capshaw, Max Von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, and David Patrick Kelly. If you're a movie nerd like me, you're liable to pick out even more familiar faces. It's hard to understand why 20th Century Fox or whoever, didn't fork over another several million.

   I don't think Dreamscape's budget holds it back from being a lot of fun and really entertaining, but it certainly held it back from being a bigger hit. It doesn't have the synergy that a movie like Innerspace had. It's kind of dry movie here and there, and its synthesized score isn't a shining example of what could be done back then. It feels very stock, and to be frank- kind of annoying. There's far too many scenes of people walking and talking and talking, and not enough time spent in the dreams themselves. And out of maybe five dream sequences, one is super brief, and the second is just a big punchline. The real exciting stuff comes more than halfway through the movie.

   I don't want to put anyone off watching it though, the chemistry of the leads and the exploration of the technology aren't boring in the slightest, but it does recall an older and drier aesthetic- like the opening act of Fantastic Voyage. Very detail oriented, with lots of sterile environments and long hallways being home to heady conversations about fanciful techno babble. We're lucky then that the core dynamic of the movie is a three-way split between Quaid, Capshaw and Sydow. The former two have a fun dynamic, and Sydow is a welcome presence in any damn movie.

   Once Alex plunges into the nightmares of a young boy, helping him conquer a monster in his dreams, the pace and intrigue levels of the movie pick up dramatically. The third act is a blast, pulling out all the stops, pitting Alex against a dream-assassin who aims to kill the President of the United States. Hot damn! The climax of the movie is visually exciting and features the most colorful sets of the movie, which are also quite haunting and well made. Dreamscape is a ultimately a curious little 80's flick, that's more fun than it ought to be, and consistently entertaining despite itself. I really really like this movie, partially because of how odd it is, and partially because of how zany it gets. Fans of 80's genre cinema should definitely check it out, it's a perfect Saturday night flick.

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