Dreamscape (1983) Blu Ray from Second Sight starring Dennis Quaid
In your dreams
Dennis Quaid plays Alex Gardner, a young man with incredible psychic talents which he uses to bet on horses. While on the run from a group of underworld figures who are insistent on getting a piece of his action, he is dragged into working for Doctor Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) - the man who originally identified and nurtured his unusual abilities.
Novotny is involved in a government-backed scheme involving psychically-talented persons projecting themselves into other people’s nightmares, thus helping to resolve them. He naturally sees Gardner as being the perfect man for the job, and manages to blackmail him into helping out - by threatening to turn him over to the IRS due to his horse-betting racket.
The latter has some considerable success helping various patients, including a nerdish man who has paranoid visions of his wife’s infidelity, and a young boy whose sleep is perpetually disturbed by a snake-headed demon. However, things take a turn for the more dangerous when he suspects one of his colleagues of murdering people in their dreams. Moreover, the President of the USA (played by Eddie Albert) is being guided by his own nightmares of nuclear armageddon to consider entering a disarmament process with Russia - something his shady colleague Blair (Christopher Plummer) is keen to put a stop to.
Watch a trailer:
A Nightmare Before Elm Street
Dreamscape has its share of faults but still ends up being a lot of fun. A major issue is that it’s rather episodic and lacks sure-footedness in terms of tone. On one hand, it hearkens back to the paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s, even to the point of blatant referencing: Quaid’s character playing the saxophone in his room à la The Conversation, Max von Sydow popping up in the cast à la Three Days of the Condor. On the other hand, many of the dream sequences tip into A Nightmare on Elm Street horror territory, although it should be noted that Dreamscape came out a few months before it.
It also flirts with other genres on occasion. One dream sequence wrings humour out of feelings of sexual inadequacy in the manner of a Woody Allen film, and another one later throws in homages to kung fu and zombie movies which may look cool, but ultimately don’t go anywhere.
It’s also true that a number of elements tend to date the movie. The visual effects (in particular the blue screen and rotoscoping work) aren’t always convincing nowadays. While Maurice Jarre is regarded as one of cinema history’s greatest composers for his work with the likes of David Lean, his synth score here is almost as jarring (pun intended) as the one he created for the later Solarbabies. There’s also a romantic subplot that’s borderline rapey - mind you, Hollywood is still shamelessly green-lighting this sort of stuff nowadays (take Passengers for example).
Still, despite all of these issues (and perhaps because of its unabashed magpie-like cribbing from various genres) it moves along so quickly that it’s almost impossible to get bored.
One of the best aspects here is the acting. Dennis Quaid’s earlier performances were arguably his finest, and that’s the case here; he has a boyish, cheeky charm and effortless chemistry with the other cast members. At the more heavyweight end of the acting scale, Max von Sydow is perfectly cast as the eccentric and fatherly scientist behind the project, while Christopher Plummer conveys an effectively restrained air authority and thinly-veiled malice as Blair.
David Patrick Kelly conveys twitchy, pint-sized psychosis as well as he did in The Warriors, and even the dreaded Kate Capshaw (who spoilt the same year’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) is non-annoying, her snarkiness clicking well with Quaid’s aloof charisma.
The plot’s central theme (revolving around some distinctively underhanded government machinations) is as intriguing and relevant nowadays as it was then, although it’s a pity that it takes too long to come fully into focus. The film’s production design is also notable; the young boy’s dream evokes the skewed angles of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T’s sets, albeit with a much darker visual palette. The stop-motion snake/man hybrid is another impressively ominous creation.
Dreamscape wasn’t a big box office hit when it was released, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting genre movies to come out of its decade.
Runtime: 99 mins
Dir: Joseph Ruben
Script: David Loughery, Chuck Russell, Joseph Ruben
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert, Kate Capshaw, David Patrick Kelly, George Wendt, Peter Jason, Chris Mulkey
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
There is a bit of grain in some shots (especially those involving slow motion) but others look fine. Colour and detail levels are generally good, as is the sound quality.
Highlights amongst the extras
There’s a substantial selection here, and most of it newly-shot for this release.
Audio Commentary with producer Bruce Cohn Curtis, co-writer David Loughery and special makeup artist Craig Reardon
A fine commentary from this trio who were involved in the film’s production. There are plenty of enjoyable revelations here, including that the comedic “unfaithful wife” dream originally ended on a darker note. The nudity in the train sex dream was also severely reduced so that Kate Capshaw would agree to do it, as well as to ensure that the film got a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. The dogs in the climactic dream were originally supposed to wear specially-made suits, but wouldn’t cooperate - hence they were shaved instead.
The Actor’s Journey - Interview with Dennis Quaid
Quaid talks about the making of the film. Amongst the most interesting parts are when he discusses meeting a researcher on astral projection. He describes having his own experience where he imagined the 2nd unit director knocking on his trailer door, and then woke up to discover that it was happening for real. He is a likeable and down-to-earth interviewee.
Dreamscapes and Dreammakers
This superb 1-hour documentary features interviews with quite a few people involved in the film including Joseph Ruben, David Loughery and David Patrick Kelly. Kelly is amongst the highlights here as he describes all of the research he partook in, in order to get into his unhinged character Tommy Ray Glatman (named after serial killer Harvey Glatman).
The latter half of the doc describes how the numerous effects shots in each individual dream were constructed. The snake transformation climax reportedly used 35 different head masks. An absolute must for those with an enthusiasm for practical effects.
Nightmares and Dreamsnakes
A more detailed look at the various effects used for the “Snakeman” scenes. In the script, it was originally a rat-man, but this was changed due to Joseph Ruben’s phobia of snakes. Plenty of interesting tidbits here, including that the man in the costume had to wear trash bags on his legs when shooting in the Bronson Caves due to the amount of soupy mud at the location, and that the climactic impalement scene was achieved by piercing through tissue paper because no other material would break easily.
We also get an in-conversation featurette involving producers Bruce Cohn Curtis and Chuck Russell, some Snakeman test footage, a stills gallery and a trailer.
The film’s enjoyable and the extras plentiful. If you’re already a fan then it’s well worth upgrading to this version for its brand new extras. If you’re curious about seeing a decent yet lesser-known fantasy effort from the period, it fits the bill nicely.