What’s it About?
A young psychic on the run from himself is recruited by the government to save the US president whose mind is trapped inside the dreamworld.
Directed by Joseph Ruben
8 out of 10
I had the pleasure of seeing “Dreamscape” in the Bronx, one late summer day, by myself (my friends did not seem too interested in this one) and I recall vividly having a great time watching this unique and intelligent science fiction movie from Joseph Ruben who brought us the cool sci fi flick “The Forgotten” and the horror classic “The Stepfather.” “Dreamscape” remains to this day an overlooked and under-rated little gem that many haven’t even heard of. It’s a small and likeable B movie with all the right elements of suspense, grandeur and determination.
Released in 1984, Ruben’s film was a small blip on the radar but eventually garnered a huge cult following due to the VHS/Home Video market much like Carpenter’s “The Thing” did. Dreamscape was the second film right after “Red Dawn” to be slapped with a PG – 13 rating. Some of the imagery, make up FX and scares push that rating to it’s limit. Ruben supplies us with a visceral story that is effective and has a cold war theme that runs through it’s meta-physical framework. It explores subterfuge, conspiracies and deadly clandestine elements that transforms the film, despite a little bit of camp and cheese, into A moviedom.
Dennis Quaid (Dragonheart, Pandorum and Joe Dante’s Innerspace) plays Alex Gardner, a psychic charmer on the run. He’s young, slick and a bit of a con man who uses his talent to live fast, in the moment and engage in some iffy activities like horse racing and betting. He’s been known to also be a sort of a ladies man, too. After getting into some hot water with some local thugs who want in on Alex’s talent he lets himself get caught and taken to his old psychic Institute where he was a patient.
This all leads him back to his old mentor and professor, Dr. Novotny played by Max Von Sydow (The Wolfman, The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Exorcist). Novotny is now involved with a federally funded psychic research program that allows people who have the talent, to enter another’s dreams in order to help them. The Program is headed by the suspicious Bob Blair played by Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) who may have other plans for the unique psychic program.
Alex is hesitant to be back but is persuaded by Jane, Novotny’s partner (Kate Capshaw) to stick around. Novotny’s original idea was to have his program help people with Sleep Disorders and Alex, after helping a small boy with frightening nightmares, begins to get deeply involved while the plot is revealed. The program is a tool to get others with Alex’s abilities to perform assassinations on key people on the Government’s hit list. including the President of the United States as well who also suffers from debilitating nightmares about a nuclear holocaust.
Others try and warn Alex about his dangerous appointment. George Wendt plays a novelist named Charlie, who is writing a new book on the clandestine program, tries to tell Alex about the danger he’s in. The real stick in the mud is Alex’s competitor and nemesis, Tommy Ray (David Patrick Kelley) who is an oily, angry and sinister dude with the same abilities as Alex. Can Alex and Jane, who he becomes romantically involved with (He enters her dreams too) stop Blair and Tommy Ray from actually harming the President after he is admitted to the Institute? What agenda does Blair have? What becomes of Novotny and Charlie? Ruben answers all of these questions with a great affection for the material.
What the movie lacks in special visual FX, it makes up for in heart, drive and interesting techniques. Ruben even uses old fashioned stop motion among other types of FX of the day. He does a very good job establishing his characters and you get to really like or dislike them greatly. The antagonistic Tommy Ray for an example, has the balls to play Alex’s sax while trying to provoke him. What an asshole. Or when Alex befriends a small boy who needs his help, we feel for him and honestly want Alex to succeed in assisting him. “Dreamscape” has suspense, uses some old school techniques to engage us and the performances are all top notch here. Capshaw and Quaid are very capable together while onscreen and Plummer is wickedly underhanded and untrustworthy. Von Sydow and the supporting characters are all very fun to watch.
The film may be dated a bit especially in the FX department but they are still good enough to provoke the viewer. There is a lot of interesting imagery. One sequence involving a Trolley and even a nuclear blast comes to mind as it expresses the worst of what may come in our nightmares and reality. I find “Dreamscape” to be a cool flick to watch even if the subject matter and the effects are a bit hokey in parts. It is clearly a type of cautionary tale with a message thrown in. The dream sequences are moody, creepy and full of expressionalism too. The movie retains a good deal of that tongue in cheek flavor that other science fiction movies of the era could not maintain.
It has an entertaining mix of espionage, science, hokum, romance and suspense that elevates Ruben’s movie above the B movie norm. Quaid, Plummer and Von Sydow make the movie work as does the suspenseful and cohesive script by David Doughery. “Dreamscape” in some ways foreshadows Nolan’s “Inception” but without all of the really headier and dynamic machinations. It is a good and simple sci fi film that I couldn’t help but grin throughout the whole running time. Enjoy!
Vic’s Note: “Dreamscape” is currently available on Netflix for Instant Streaming!