Dreamscape [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (30th August 2017).
The Film

In the ten years since nineteen-year-old telekinetic and telepathic whiz kid Alex Gardener (Innerspace's Dennis Quaid) ran out on mentor Dr. Paul Novotny's (The Exorcist's Max Von Sydow) intensive testing and disappeared, he has been making a living hustling women and predicting the winners at the horse races. Novotny is now experimenting in sleep studies using psychics as a way of diagnosing subjects' problems through their dreams, and government representative Bob Blair (The Pyx's Christopher Plummer) is able to use his resources (thuggish agents played by Prince of Darkness' Peter Jason and Twin Peaks' Chris Mulkey) to track Alex down for the experiment. Alex is reluctant and defiant to get involved despite the threat of an IRS audit of his unreported gambling winnings but find distraction in thawing out "Dr. Deep Freeze", or Novotny's younger colleague Dr. Jane DeVries (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's Kate Capshaw). With the help of Novotny's machine that links the brainwaves of psychic and subject, Alex is able to cerebrally project himself into the nightmares of Bill Hardy (stuntman Fred Waugh). Although he is instructed to merely observe and report the findings to Novotny, he intervenes when the man thinks he is about to die from a high rise fall and instead helps the man confront his fear of death. Against Novotny's concerns, Alex pushes him and DeVries to let him do the same with young Buddy (Getting Wasted's Cory 'Bumper' Yothers), a young boy whose nightmares have him on the verge of a nervous breakdown and have already driven one of Novotny's other psychics (Fear City's Carl Strano) over the edge. In Buddy's dream, Alex meets the source of the boy's terror in the Snake Man (Deadwood's Larry Cedar). Although helps Buddy conquer his own fear of the monster, the nightmarish figure continues to haunt Alex. Alex is just starting to believe that he is doing some good when pulp horror writer Charlie Prince (Cheers' George Wendt) in trying to probe him for details on the experiments warns him that Blair is actually the head of supposedly non-existent government agency the Department of Covert Intelligence and is likely planning to use his abilities to extract classified information from the enemy through their dreams. Blair's intentions, Alex discovers, are far more sinister since he has been grooming sociopathic telepath Tommy Ray (The Warriors' David Patrick Kelly) as a psychic assassin whose first target is the President of the United States (Green Acres' Eddie Albert) whose persistent nightmares of nuclear destruction have him intent on negotiation a nuclear disarmament deal with the Russians at the next Geneva Convention.

A high concept picture from independent producer (the script was optioned by Fox and then sat on the shelf for a year), Dreamscape not only works wonders with its lower budget in terms of special effects wizardry utilizing the talents of visual effects artist Peter Kuran (The Wraith) and the make-up effects of Craig Reardon (The Gate) and Greg Cannom (The Lost Boys) among others who cut their teeth with the studio blockbusters of the late seventies and early eighties before branching out but also wows with the charisma of its cast and the thematic core of its script that touches upon relatable fears and doubts that express themselves through dreams and nightmares including the wider threat of nuclear annihilation (which is starting to seem timely once again). Then-little-known Quaid and unknown Capshaw lend charisma to the film as effortlessly as seasoned Von Sydow and Plummer provide the necessary gravitas and cool menace (the latter a counter to the studied intensity of Kelly). The nightmare sequences and action set-pieces aptly punctuate the more cerebral aspects of conspiracy thriller storyline without seeming present to keep audience attention. Associate producer/co-writer Chuck Russell would explore similar themes with a heavy influence from Dreamscape when he went on to helm A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and the comeuppance of one villain seems right at home in any genre pic from later in the decade without seeming like an obligatory shock finale (Curtis, Russell, and Reardon would team up again later in the decade for the The Blog remake.

Video

Released theatrically stateside by Twentieth Century Fox and in the UK by Thorn EMI, Dreamscape has been available domestically in its PG-13 cut this being the early eighties, the film is still content that would not have earned it an R only a few years later and overseas in a version featuring extensions to the infidelity and train lovemaking scenes but it is the domestic cut that has endured on home video from Thorn/EMI's VHS and Image Entertainment's fullscreen laserdisc release to Image Entertainment's 2000 special edition DVD, their early, unsatisfactory 1080i60 Blu-ray from 2010, and most recently Shout! Factory's 2016 special edition Blu-ray. Second Sight utilizes the same 2K source as Shout! for their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray and the results are excellent in that they faithfully represent the film in all of its rough edges from the coarser grain of the opticals, the slight fading on either the left or right edge of some opticals or a transparent line running down the edge of another optical, the intercutting of crisp footage from the film and grainier stock footage during the horse racing scenes as well as the nuclear blast bits.

Audio

Audio options include a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix and the original Dolby Stereo track as an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 option. The surround track gives the sound design some expansiveness but can only do so much to spread out the synth score of composer Maurice Jarre (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). Optional English HoH subtitles are also provided.

Extras

Extras mirror the Shout! Factory edition starting with the audio commentary with producer Bruce Cohn Curtis, writer David Loughery, and special effects artist Craig Reardon recorded back in 1999 for the Image DVD. The heavy input of Curtis (Dolls) reveals just how much of a collaborative effort such productions were as opposed to the auteur view of filmmaking impractical on a low budget project of such scale and ambition. He reveals that John Schneider (The Dukes of Hazzard) was considered for the role but that he, Russell, and director Joseph Ruben (The Stepfather) all wanted Quaid who had worked with Ruben previously in Gorp and Our Winning Season (and also had three other films yet to be released that would put in the public eye). He and Loughery (Lakeview Terrace) discuss the changes made to the script, including the switch from Alex's choice of instrument from violin to saxophone as a personal choice of Quaid, the input of their primal fears in the nightmare scenarios, and how they were never really satisfied with the infidelity dream sequence in the scripting stage or the laborious editing to rework it in post (which taught both to keep working at a scene if it does not satisfy rather than leaving it to be fixed on the set or in the editing). They touch upon the bits deleted for the desired rating, including the necessity of filming a shot of the children separately from the shot of their mother in bed with another man for foreign markets (although the alternative would probably have been just as objectionable in a PG-rated film of a few years later). Reardon appears intermittently and may have been recorded separately.

While Quaid was not present in the DVD special edition extras outside of an archival 1984 interview that was included on some overseas editions he is present in the 2016 interview "The Actor's Journey" (14:50) in which he discusses the influence of seventies movies and actors (particularly Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando who he got to observe on the set of The Missouri Breaks) on his career as an actor which started accompanying his older brother Randy Quaid to jobs before landing a part alongside him in The Long Riders. He uses the discussion of Dreamscape a much-loved work as one of his first leads to expound upon what he looks for in roles as an actor, including the opportunity to learn, research, and train (in this case, working with an astral projection guru and learning to play the saxophone). He speaks in awe of Von Sydow, Plummer, and Albert as well as being intimidated by Kelly, and of his ongoing friendships with Jason and Mulkey. The lengthy featurette "Dreamscapes and Dreammakers" (61:50) expands upon the commentary as Loughery reveals that the Salvador Dali-designed dream sequences of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound were an influence on the script along with the belief that "if you die in your dream, you die for real." Curtis reveals that the script was optioned by Fox and sat on the shelf for a year because they found the projected budget of twelve million dollars prohibitive until Ruben lighted upon it. He and Ruben separately discuss the ways in which they reworked the script in a new draft before Loughery became involved again, and the latter concedes that they changes were for the better. Ruben notes that the Snake Man was originally a Rat Man but he feared that the effect would be laughed at as another guy-in-a-suit monster. Kelly discusses his research for the role into psychokinesis as well a visit to Bellevue, and reveals that he met casting director Johanna Ray (Mulholland Dr.) on the film which lead to his casting later on Twin Peaks. Ruben reveals that he wanted to bring cinematographer Brian Tufano from the UK on the strength of Quadrophenia while Curtis wanted an award-winning editor to cut the film leading to the hiring of Richard Halsey (American Gigolo) who reveals that he cut the film around the absent special effects so that the production could figure out what they needed and then returned six months later to finish editing after cutting Moscow on the Hudson. Virtually half of the featurette is devoted to detailed discussion of the film's special effects enough to believe that it was meant to be two separate featurettes with Reardon, Kuran, miniature designer Susan Turner (Dragonslayer), special photographer Kevin Kutchaver (Robocop), and stop motion artist Jim Aupperle (Ghostbusters), many of whom had worked together on John Carpenter's The Thing (with input from Tufano on matching the lighting of scenes to the effects inserts). Halsey reappears in discussion of the scoring to reveal that he had actually temp-tracked the film to the album "Oxygen" by Jean-Michael Jarre, composer Jarre's son who then decided to do an electronic score rather than a symphonic one.

"Nightmares and Dreamsnakes" featurette (23:23) focuses in more depth on the Snake Man effects from Reardon's early sketches to test footage of the suits before it was decided to use the suit in close-ups and stop motion in long shots (Russell feels that Ruben ultimately gave Reardon's designs short shrift in favor of the stop motion angles). Reardon takes care to credit all of the other artists he used including David B. Miller (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and the uncredited Michiko Tagawa (Pumpkinhead) who designed costumes for mutant dogs out of scrap foam latex which the animals refused to wear (leading to the make-up artists just shaving off patches of the animals' fur and applying fake blood while Kuran inserted opticals of glowing red eyes). The In-Depth Conversation Between producer Bruce Cohn Curtis and co-writer/producer Chuck Russell (23:31) is of less value since it reiterates a lot of what was covered in the other extras but it is a nice chat between old friends in which Curtis that Russell sold him on the project as he did not like science fiction, favoring the more "classy" thrillers (presumably referring to the likes of The Seduction, though their collaboration also netted the wonderfully atmospheric slasher Hell Night). The disc also includes Reardon's Snake Man Test Footage (2:16) with the man-in-a-suit variant going through all the motion of the nightmare sequence with Reardon standing in for Buddy and axing the beast along with a still gallery (2:32) and theatrical trailer (2:13).

Overall

A high concept picture from independent producer (the script was optioned by Fox and then sat on the shelf for a year), Dreamscape not only works wonders with its lower budget in terms of special effects wizardry but also wows with the charisma of its cast and the thematic core of its script, making it one of the more underrated fantasy films of the eighties worth discovery.

 


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