[box cover]

Dreamcatcher

Warner Home Video

Starring Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee,
Timothy Olyphant, and Tom Sizemore

Written by William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan


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Review by Dawn Taylor                    


Having been run down by an errant van-driver and smashed into bits by the side of a Maine highway in 1999, a recovering Stephen King kept himself entertained during his period of forced bedrest by doing what he does best — vomiting up every little bit of his psyche onto the printed page in the form of a horror/suspense novel. The uneven, formulaic, and ridiculously long novel (it logged in at over 600 pages) read exactly like what it was — the work of man who was attempting to revisit every single one of his most overworked themes while obsessing on his disabled state, hopped up on painkillers. With some five different storylines in both the past and present happening simultaneously, horribly written characters, idiotic set pieces and an almost gleeful wallowing in graphic descriptions of bodily functions, it may be King's absolute worst book in his extremely uneven career.

Yet someone, for reasons utterly inexplicable, decided that Dreamcatcher should be made into a motion picture. William Goldman signed on to co-write it, having already translated King to the screen with Misery and Hearts in Atlantis, and Lawrence Kasdan — who either lost a sizable bet or was being punished for doing something very terrible — directed. The result is a film so surreal in its awfulness that it transcends ordinary concepts of "good" and "bad" and becomes, instead, a fascinating, blood-soaked train wreck of a movie, a shining example of what happens when a very good director takes on an incomprehensible script and a laughably preposterous story. As horrific as it is, for its entire 134 minutes you simply can't stop watching it, if only to see what new level of appalling nonsense will be thrown at the screen next.

Four childhood pals, in long-ago flashback (recalling Stand by Me and It) save a retarded kid from a beating by local bullies. The boy, nicknamed "Duddits" for his mispronunciation of his own name, is a standard King construct — the Magical Retard, possessing some sort of telepathic power that's detailed extensively in the novel but not explained at all in the film. Duddits passes on this unexplained gift for whatever-it-is to his new friends and they carry it with them into adulthood (even though it has virtually no bearing on how the film resolves.) Twenty years later, on their yearly hunting trip, the friends get snowed in at their mountain cabin (see: The Shining and Misery.)

And then the aliens arrive. Like in The Tommyknockers.

From this point on, it's just a matter of holding on with both hands in slack-jawed amazement as the movie (like the novel) spins psychotically out of control. The one constant is the unrelenting, brutally obsessive focus on physical impairment and bodily functions, with each character reflecting some aspect of King's own splintered body and spirit. Jonesy (Damian Lewis) has a shattered hip, as he's recovering from a similar accident to King's when he comes to the cabin. Pete (Timothy Olyphant), like King himself, is an alcoholic — and he suffers a broken leg when he and the suicidal Henry (Thomas Jane) roll their SUV in the snow. The adult Duddits (an unrecognizable Donnie Wahlberg) is dying of leukemia and constantly references "Scooby Doo." And Beaver (Jason Lee) is almost a parody of the standard annoying King character featured in every one of the author's novels — compulsively chewing on toothpicks, Lee's forced to utter an idiotic, unworkable catch-phrase ("fuck me Freddy") in virtually every scene in which he takes part.

Then there's the aliens, who start out as parasitic worms that exit explosively from their victim's bowels — charmingly referred to by King's characters as "shit weasels" — before turning into eel-like creatures with vagina dentata for mouths. The aliens' goal appears to be to infest the Earth's water supply with some sort of blood-colored, flesh-eating, moss-looking virus. "Appears" is the operative word here, since it's never clear what the fungus-alien is, how it relates to the shit weasels or what it's purpose may be. Or if the bigger, monster-aliens that are also part of the plot are grown-up versions of the shit weasels. Or why the monster-aliens-that-may-or-may-not-be-shit-weasels sometimes choose to take over human bodies and minds, yet other times they choose to explode out of said bodies as shit weasels. Or, most perplexingly, how they can transform from humans into huge scary monsters and then go back to looking like their human hosts without a) damaging the human's body or b) even messing up their clothes at all.

Adding to the convoluted miasma of a plot are scenes in Jonesy's "memory warehouse," a physical representation of the inside of Jonesy's thought processes, and the idiot melodrama that ensues when the evil military guys show up — because it wouldn't be a Stephen King story without evil military guys (see: "The Shop" from Firestarter and other King novels). The primary evil military guy is Col. Curtis (Morgan Freeman), who calls all of his underlings "bucko" or "laddie." He's pretty much insane from having battled the aliens for the past 25 years, but even though it's obvious from the moment he opens his mouth that he's living on Planet Nutball, this seems to have escaped the notice of everyone around him. His second-in-command, played by Tom Sizemore, simply exists for exposition purposes, allowing the two characters to have overly long conversations about their history with the aliens purely for the benefit of the viewer.

These are, by the way, possibly the stupidest aliens ever. For at least a quarter-century they've been trying to infect all of humankind with their fungus-virus and they need to get to a body of water to do so. In fact, we're told it just takes one worm in a city water supply to start the dominoes of world domination falling. But, if Freeman and Sizemore are to be believed, for 25 years the aliens have kept landing their craft in the middle of large, secluded bodies of land. Considering the surface area of the planet is some 70 percent water, these have to be some seriously dumb friggin' aliens to have never been able to land in, say, a lake. Or the ocean. Or even a Third World country that doesn't have a standing military with a well-funded Alien Death Squad ready and able to blow them straight to Hell.

All of this ugliness, confusion, and sheer dumbfoolery is framed by simply breathtaking cinematography — DP John Seale (The English Patient, A Perfect Storm) apparently had no idea how appallingly terrible the film he was shooting really was, and he did his damnedest to make every scene simply gorgeous. Further confusing matters, Kasdan somehow manages to inject a few moments that are genuinely fun and suspenseful into the mix, making the craptastic quality of the overall picture even more mind-boggling.

Angry, suffering, and no doubt obsessing over his accident, it's possible that King wrote Dreamcatcher while fantasizing about driving a van of his own over somebody and inflicting the same sort of pain that he was dealt. Little could have realized that the victims of his vengeful fury would be his unsuspecting readers, and that the collateral damage would include one previously esteemed director and legions of filmgoers.

Warner's DVD release of Dreamcatcher offers the film in a beautifully crisp, clean, and saturated anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with big, rich Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English or French — English, French, and Spanish subtitles available) that presents James Newton Howard's good-if-forgettable score at its very best. Extras include DreamWriter — An Interview with Stephen King (7 min.), an interview from 2002 in which King discusses his accident, the process of writing the book, and his thoughts on the film; DreamMakers — A Journey Through the Production (19. min.), a fairly standard behind-the-scenes featurette; DreamWeavers — The Visual Effects of DreamCatcher (8 min.), a featurette on the computer effects created for the film; and deleted scenes, including a "so what?" alternate ending.

— Dawn Taylor



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