Film Review: Dreamscape (1984)


In 1980s there were science fiction films that became obscure despite having relatively high quality and featuring original and intriguing ideas in the plot. One of such hidden gems is Dreamscape, 1984 film directed by Joseph Ruben, known as the first to be based on the premise that would shortly afterwards be used in A Nightmare on Elm Street and, decades later, in Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

The protagonist, played by Dennis Quaid, is Alex Gardner, young man with psychic gift who uses it for betting on horses and seducing women. All those activities frequently get him in trouble, so he reluctantly accepts invitation of his old friend, Dr. Novotny (played by Max von Sydow) to join his new scientific research project. It turns out that Novotny and his comely assistant Jane DeVries (played by Kate Capshaw) have developed technology which allows telepathically gifted people like Alex to enter, witness and even manipulate other people’s dreams. This technology proves to be beneficial to many people who suffered mental and health problems from recurring nightmares. Bob Blair (played by Christopher Plummer), powerful head of government intelligence agency who secretly funded the project, has different and more sinister ideas how to apply it. US President (played by Eddie Albert) has recently been tortured by nightmares about nuclear apocalypse and feels compelled to start disarmament talks with Soviet Union, much to the displeasure of Blair. He invites President to Novotny’s institute where he has another psychic at his disposal, psychopathic murderer Tommy Ray Glatman (played by David Patrick Kelly) who is able to kill people by scaring them to death in their dreams.

While Dreamscape looks little bit aged in the scenes featuring primitive pre-CGI technology of special effects used in dream sequences, in most other aspects looks surprisingly fresh and effective for film made nearly four decades ago. This is mostly due to very good script by Ruben, Chuck Russell and David Loughery, which employs different genres – horror, adventure, political thriller, comedy – without making unnatural changes in tone and keeping the steady pace. The cast is very good, which includes Dennis Quaid whose natural charm helps transform his character from roguish anti-hero into hero who saves the day. Kate Capshaw does decent job in somewhat cliched role of female scientist who is an eye candy at the same time. Both of them are, however, much inferior compared to veterans like Von Sydow and Plummer, with later playing one of the most sinister and effective villains in his long career. David Patrick Kelly is, on the other hand, somewhat questionable casting choice for the role of despicable psychopathic villain, which could be explained with inevitable comparisons with much more effective role of that nature in The Warriors. There are some elements this film could have been better without – like George Wendt’s character of investigating novelist, some action scenes and the dreadful soundtrack by Maurice Jarre which at times makes Dreamscape almost unbearable. Obligatory love scene between Alex and Jane, which happens in dreams and is supposed to feature someone’s most intimate sexual fantasies, is surprisingly chaste, but this could be explained with Dreamscape being among first films to be made within limits of PG-13 censorship rating. On the other hand, Ruben handles relatively low budget well and even allows couple interesting details in production design for President’s post-nuclear nightmare. Dreamscape, with its clever combination of genres and effective mix of diverse talents, could be recommended even to the audience that cares little about 1980s science fiction cinema.

RATING: 7/10 (++)

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