...bogs down in psychological mumbo-jumbo, redundancy, imitation, and sheer vulgarity, with a multitude of flashbacks interrupting the flow of what little narrative is left.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

As everybody knows, Stephen King writes about 800 books a year, and they all end up as movies ten minutes after they hit the stores. But how many of these movies are any good? Count them on the fingers of one hand. But don't count "Dreamcatcher."
Maybe there's just so much you can do with a space-alien flick, and "Dreamcatcher" adds nothing new. This 2003 nonstarter is made all the worse for our knowing that it not only came originally from the pen of America's most popular and prolific horror-story writer but that it was directed by one of Hollywood's premier filmmakers, Lawrence Kasdan ("Body Heat," "The Big Chill," "Silverado," "Grand Canyon," "The Accidental Tourist"), and the script co-written by one of the screen's best writers, William Goldman ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Stepford Wives," "All the President's Men," "Marathon Man," "The Princess Bride," "Misery"). Seems a waste of talent, you know?

The movie has more people in it and more dangling subplots than you can throw a flying saucer at. King's novels are always too long, anyhow, and at 134 minutes, so is this film. It goes off on any number of tangents and gets lost along the way. Besides which it substitutes shock and coarseness for genuine frights, a definite horror-movie no-no.

After some appropriately creepy opening graphics and some equally atmospheric opening music by James Newton Howard, the first half hour of the film is taken up with character exposition before any real action ever begins; yet it's this part of the picture that is most pleasing. Maybe that's because character development and relationships are what Kasdan does best. When the monsters and hobgoblins show up, the movie slides relentlessly downhill.

We start with four, adult, male best friends, Henry (Thomas Jane), Jonesy (Damian Lewis), Beaver (Jason Lee), and Pete (Timothy Olyphant), who in their childhood were given the power to communicate with one another telepathically. In a flashback from years earlier we see them saving a mentally challenged little boy, Duddits, from some bullies, and in repayment Duddits providing the fellows with premonitory gifts to see into each other's lives. It's like that in Mr. King's romanticized world, where people who are mentally wanting have other, special, often supernatural endowments. Then again, Duddits is more than he appears.

Flash forward back to the present, where our four heroes go on a winter retreat to the backwoods of Maine (it's always Maine in King's stories; he lives there, so what are you going to do), to a cabin where they've gone every year for twenty years. It's there that all hell breaks loose. But we're a good forty-five minutes into the story before it does.

So what we've got so far is an interesting character study that seems to be going nowhere until the whole thing turns into a space invasion of the grossest kind. And I mean gross. The four split up for a moment, two staying in the cabin and two going in the car, and the two of them who stay behind find a stranger wandering out in the snow, lost. They take him in and notice he's suffering from continual belching and flatulence. Then the stranger goes into the bathroom, where he chunks out a space weasel from his bottom end. Almost simultaneously, everyone's cell phones go dead, and the two fellows that left the cabin crash their car and have to return on foot in the snow. When they get back to the cabin, the space alien, a giant slug-like creature with rows of pointy teeth, has done its thing.

How can anyone of any age take any of this seriously?

But wait, that's not all. Morgan Freeman, one of my favorite actors, shows up at this point sporting flyaway eyebrows (for reasons unknown) and playing a looney army colonel, Abraham Curtis, who's been fighting these alien monsters for twenty-five years and finally gone around the bend. Freeman is the first-billed actor in the movie, but his role is so small he's actually nothing more than a supporting player. Still, he's got the big name, so he gets the top billing. His character is the head of an elite military group that cleans up alien infestations before the public gets wind (pun intended) of them, and he wants not only to kill the creatures themselves but any humans they've contacted. His second-in-command flunky, Owen, is played by Tom Sizemore, an actor who gets as much or more screen time as Freeman but is listed lower in the credits. Such are the vicissitudes of life in the movie business.

Anyway, you've guessed that the aliens use human bodies as receptacles for their nefarious plans, whatever those plans are. They take over human bodies, and when they need to do so escape through the rectum. I say "whatever those plans are," incidentally, because it is never made clear what these beings want, except the usual pursuit of world domination. Trouble is, the aliens in our present story have accidentally crash-landed in their spaceship, and they probably just want to go home. Like most everything else about this picture, we never find out what's going on with them; or how, if they're so powerful and advanced, Earth has been able to ward them off so easily for the past twenty-five years without anybody outside the government catching on. We just know they're mean critters.

Now, remember the mental gifts our heroes share and the little boy they once rescued? Well, the aliens have mental strengths, too, and all of these people, creatures, and powers eventually come together as the story deteriorates into pure chaos (for the characters as well as for the audience). The Wife-O-Meter, who watched the film only intermittently, described it as "men's bathroom humor," and she meant it literally. The film involves an immoderate number of references to human excrement, at least two of which are quite graphically explicit.

While the film itself is a lost cause, at least it leaves male viewers with one helpful piece of advice: Never, ever, pee in the snow; you never know what might be lurking just under the surface, with really big teeth and an urge to bite whatever's at hand, so to speak.

The movie is an amalgam of half a dozen or more other pictures, with none of the pieces fitting together. There's a little of "The Thing," Hawks's or Carpenter's, take your pick; there's a good deal of "Alien"; there's a bit of "Independence Day" and "Invasion of the Saucer Men"; there's even a touch of King's own "Green Mile," "Stand By Me," and "It." And let's not forget Morgan Freeman from King's "Shawshank Redemption." If the whole thing had been done as a dark, low-key parody, it might actually have worked; but it's not.

Despite its constant action in the last three quarters, "Dreamcatcher" fails to produce any excitement or suspense and certainly generates no scares. It simply becomes a weird mind-reading act amid a countryside of blood and carnage. Nor does the film provide any logic or reason for its actions. As it stands, "Dreamcatcher" is so unfocused, so gross, and so imitative, it must be considered a curiosity at best.

Warner Brothers have provided a handsome if not spectacularly great video transfer. First, they're ensured the screen size approaches its theatrical-release dimensions, in this case measuring an anamorphic widescreen ratio of about 2.16:1 across a normal television. Second, they've projected the film's color in excellent condition, bright but not too bright, deep but not over-saturated, detailed and natural even in the darkest areas of the frame. Definition is only so-so, but there are no evidences of grain, moiré effects, or digital artifacts to be seen.

As often happens these days, the sound engineers come up with the best parts of the show. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is outstanding in every department. All the channels offer up strong dynamics, fast transient response, and a wide frequency range, including a powerful mid and deep bass. A few of the gunshots will have you ducking for cover. In addition, the surrounds extend the sound well into the corners of the room with dramatic results, excelling in matters like multiple helicopter flyovers and bullets whizzing about, and also in more subtle things like distant thunder, rain, voices, and soft, generally creepy noises.

There are no commentary tracks involved, which may come as a relief to those buyers who feel guilty not listening them, but there are a few other items of interest. Perhaps of most advantage are the film's original ending and four lifted scenes. Unfortunately, the original ending is no better than the one that was finally agreed upon, though it's less silly. The filmmakers obviously looked at or screened both endings and went for the one that was most over-the-top. Then, there are three featurettes: "DreamWriter: An Interview with Stephen King," seven minutes with the book's author; "DreamWeavers: The Visual Effects of Dreamcatcher," eight minutes, self-explanatory; and "DreamMakers: A Journey Through Production," eighteen minutes of the director talking a lot. Finally, there are cast and crew listings, a generous thirty-seven scene selections, and a two-and-a-half minute, widescreen teaser trailer. Spoken languages are provided in English and French, with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

Parting Shots:
"Dreamcatcher" is a frustrating picture. It's got a good-sized budget, ensuring decent special effects; it's well directed; and it's well acted. But its scattershot screenplay leaves it nowhere to go but down. The mind-reading gimmick is good for a few scenes, but ultimately the whole movie bogs down in psychological mumbo-jumbo, redundancy, imitation, and sheer vulgarity, with a multitude of flashbacks interrupting the flow of what little narrative is left.

Stephen King has said he gets his ideas from "what if" situations. In essence, "Dreamcatcher" is a great example of a "what if" in the wrong sense. When we're finished watching it, we're left to imagine what it could have been, if.


Film Value