Dreamscape (1984) movie poster

(1984) director Joseph Ruben
viewed: 08/02/10

With Christopher Nolan’s head-trippy and visual rich Inception (2010) still raking it in at the box office and attracting much discussion on ye olde internet, another thriller about people entering other people’s dreams has garnered a fair amount of mention.  That would be Joseph Ruben’s 1984 thriller Dreamscape, which I remember liking quite well back in the day, but hadn’t seen in a decade of Sundays.  And it’s a good film, for what it is, something that would pale terribly in comparison from a visual side of things, perhaps in many ways, but still a solid 1980’s sci fi film.

Starring a very young Dennis Quaid as a psychic whiz kid, the film also features such notable actors as Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert, and Max Von Sydow, and to a lesser extent Kate Capshaw.  Von Sydow and Capshaw are working on a form of psychological therapy that involves specialists who enter into the dreams of patients and Quaid is recruited because of his innate psychic abilities.  However, Plummer is a government agent of high rank (and dubious background) also involved and David Patrick Kelly is a kooky psychic with a penchant for kung fu and weirdness.  And Eddie Albert is the president of the United States who is having recurring nightmares about a post-Nuclear War landscape, suffering guilt feelings and is leaning toward nuclear disarmament.

What is exciting and interesting in the film are its most surreal nightmare sequences.  While the visual effects are pretty low-fi even for the 1980’s, they are effectively designed often, using strange contrasting images against oddly colored backgrounds.  And emanating from the nightmare of a little boy, there is the snakeman, who while a little corny, is a cobra-like stop-motion animated creature, who while no Ray Harryhausen masterpiece, is certainly striking and kinda cool.

For me, I think the visuals of the film may have influenced my teenage dreaming, especially the post-Holocaust red-hued landscapes of burned-out cityscapes.  I’ve actually long held a notion that visual entertainment (film, television, probably video games, etc.) are very influential on people’s dreaming.   Since the Surrealists, cinema has stood as a for of dream-experience in itself, presenting a world like dreaming, but after a while, they begin to influence one another back and forth.  And so in these films which very actively address and employ the world of the dream, one would think a fairly open palette is thrown open for use.

Dreamscape is pretty cool in my estimation, but in thinking back through that litany of films about dreams and the entering, controlling, manipulating of dreams, it should easily share space with another film from 1984, Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street (and possibly some of its sequels).  But even more than Inception, I was also reminded in re-watching Dreamscape of a much lesser thriller, the 1990 Jennifer Lopez dream thriller The Cell.  As in Dreamscape, the process of entering the dream is somewhat therapeutic, though in that case, they are trying to find out where a serial killer has stashed a young woman who is due to be killed.  It might also be worth revisiting, even though it was, as I recall, outright awful.

It’s funny revisitng Dreamscape because I really remember liking this film back in its initial release, maybe even going to see it more than once.  As well, I was struck by the very nice movie poster for the film, which sort of suggests more of a  Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) sort of possibilities a bit misleadingly, but it’s a nice piece of poster-work, imaginitively designed in a style of poster that is now kind of quaint and old-fashioned.  Still, I liked it.  And the same goes for Dreamscape.  It’s not going to convince a soul looking for more Inception, but as far as entertaining 1980’s sci fi with some interesting visual effects, it’s damn alright.

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