High concept movies always seem to come in twos. And sure enough, in 1984, about three months before A Nightmare on Elm Street was released, Dreamscape emerged. Two movies, both dealing with the possibility of having your dreams invaded and messed around with, both of them suggesting that the old wives tale of “You die in your dream, you die in real life!” was a terrifying reality.
Dennis Quaid, bringing his cocky Han Solo and Jack Nicholson wolfish grin combo to the table, is a young and gifted psychic who’s gone off the grid, using his talents to predict winners at the racetrack. Not long after, he’s unwillingly pulled back into the research lab by his old mentor, Max von Sydow, to help out with a new government funded psychic research project involving dreams.
Of course, he doesn’t remain unwilling for long, especially when he spies an opportunity to jump the bones of underrated hottie of the time, Kate Capshaw, in her own dream. That sounds worse than it is. But don’t worry, Kate secretly has the hots for him anyway, and the bonking is totally consensual, and in soft focus. On a train. It’s dead classy.
I remember seeing Dreamscape back in the day, and thinking it was pretty good. However, it hasn’t aged well at all. The special FX by today’s standards look awful, with ropey back projection, and badly animated stop motion monsters. The plain old rubber monsters look even sillier. One psychic ends up mentally scarred. It’s never made clear whether it’s the horror of the monster itself that’s made him catatonic, or the disbelief that his acting career has brought him to this time and place.
It’s not that there isn’t some fun to be had from the story. There is. David Patrick Kelly, great in The Warriors (“Warriors, come out to plaaayy!”) and Commando (“This place used to be good for hunting slash!”), trots out another one of his amusing, overconfident, irredeemable scumbag characters. He’s a psychic in direct competition with Dennis Quaid. Or so he likes to think.
Max von Sydow, and Christopher Plummer as a slimy government big shot, give the film a much needed boost of gravitas. When Von Sydow talks of psychically invading another person’s dream, he makes it sound all sciencey and believable.
Dreamscape is a film where the ideas are cool and full of potential, but the execution is somehow lacking. The climatic battle doesn’t quite deliver on its promise, with the pacing and camerawork feeling pedestrian.
Honestly? It’s crying out for a remake. However, Hollywood has a habit of reworking films that are already good, playing it safe on ones that don’t need an overhaul. Instead, I wish they’d grab a hold of this one, refine the story, improve the special FX, and knock out a film that’s a good rival to the likes of Inception. A fun, less earnest, counterpoint to Christopher Nolan’s mind bender.