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Them cobwebs keep getting more elaborate
each year, don't they?!? 

Dreamcatcher
Review written by: Alex Sandell

In the summer of 2001, I propped up some pillows and read the novel, Dreamcatcher.  I didn't consider the book to be much more than a mediocre mishmash of clichéd pulp horror and science-fiction, but it made for some damn good comfort food for the brain, when I needed it the most.  Some people do excessive Opium when they desire an escape from reality; I did a double dose of Stephen King. 

I received the book, just after being told that my dog, Brady, only had one day left to live.  As thick as the novel was, I figured it was the perfect way to escape the miserable emotions surrounding Brady's imminent doom, without ever leaving the side of my beloved Shar-Pei.  Brady ended up living another two days, and I wound up reading Dreamcatcher twice.  What does that say about me?  1.  I'm definitely a "dog person" and 2. I know this novel like the hives that take over my face whenever I suck down an artificially flavored Burger King shake.

Dreamcatcher became the last shared experience I had with Brady-Lu (full name:  Brady-Lu Rafiki Skywalker Thorn).  I would read her select pages, just so she could hear my voice.  I'd put the book down at least 3 or 4 times an hour, when she'd awaken from a restless sleep, unable to take in a breath, and whisper lullabies into her ear, until her stubborn lungs and throat would open up and let the oxygen back in.  Because of the circumstances surrounding it, I will forever place more importance on this book than the writing between the covers actually warrants. 

Dreamcatcher reads like a fever-dream.  It can turn from lucid to opaque in a matter of seconds.  I got the distinct impression that King was popping too much Percodan before tackling this monstrous epic of aliens, concentration camps, telepathy and dream catchers.  Maybe it was the powerful pain-killer, swirled in with an over-abundance of the monster movies that King was raised on, that inspired the thing.  No matter what the reason, the novel was about as adaptable as, The Orchid Thief.  "There is no way," I thought to myself, "that this will ever become a film."

Without my knowing it, Mr. William Goldman was already at work adapting the impossible.  In an odd parallel to last year's Adaptation, screenwriter Goldman, in a Charlie Kaufman state of mind, set out to recreate Stephen King's book, only to transform himself into Charlie's fictional brother, Donald, when the going got tough. In Goldman's adaptation, this is an unintentional transformation, with none of the winking irony provided by Kaufman, only a few months earlier.

The first third of King's novel would be the easiest to adapt. Four childhood friends make their annual trip to a hunting cabin, weird things happen, and, before you know it, you're smack-dab in the world of Stephen King, at his most darkly comical and gaily grotesque. It's flatulent, bloody fun on the page, and Goldman has no problem translating this hideous orgy of gas and guts into screenplay form. Unfortunately, as the screenplay proceeds, it strays from the book to the point where the film becomes a Hollywood embarrassment of epic proportions.

As a novel, Dreamcatcher also fell apart in its second half, but was able to keep you reading, thanks to the mind games going on in the lead character, Jonesy's (Damian Lewis) head. Jonesy's brain and body has been taken hostage by an alien named, Mr. Gray. In the novel, Jonesy notices Gray becoming tempted by the trappings of humanity, and uses that to his advantage. It's fun to watch the alien craving various human indulgences, more and more with each passing minute. This aspect of the novel is completely removed from the film, leaving us with nothing more than Damian Lewis, playing both Jonesy and Mr. Gray, making silly faces and putting on goofy accents, as he goes between the two characters.

The second act of the film, one taking place in a concentration camp for American citizens who may or may not be contaminated with an alien virus, is nothing more than a shadow of what is given to us in the book. Even the shoddiest of cliffnote "authors" would be embarrassed to condense a novel down to this elementary a form.

In the book, the head of the camp, Colonel Abraham Kurtz, played in the film by Morgan Freeman, was a nasty man; a man so over the edge that he was frightening from his first appearance to his last. In the movie, we're made aware of the fact that he has lost it, but almost exclusively through exposition, rather than action. Seeing these innocent civilians locked up like animals was disturbing in the novel, and would make for an extremely tense mid-section of this film, if this film had any balls.

In King's Dreamcatcher, the people locked in the camps join together, with help from the telepathic Dr. Henry Devlin, played in the film by Thomas Jane, and start a massive uprising against the guards. At the same time, Devlin is working on Colonel Kurtz's more conscientious subordinates, both through words and the power that he, along with Jonesy, Beaver and Pete, was given by a mysterious fifth friend, Duddits. In the movie, the uprising never occurs, and it feels as though each of the concentration camp scenes were put into the film to pad it out, while giving a plum role to Morgan Freeman.

I won't give away the finale to either the novel or the film, but I will say that everything good about the finish of the book form of Dreamcatcher is noticeably missing from the film version. Instead of an emotionally moving climax, we get a sloppy CGI-fest that reminded me a bit of Godzilla VS. King Kong, or maybe even Species 2. Although I found myself squirming over the laziness displayed during the majority of the second half of the picture, I was still undecided as to whether or not I would recommend it. The lousy last few minutes of film made up my mind.

This is the first movie I can think of that I can only recommend in patches. If you're a fan of horror, you will enjoy the first hour of the film. The bathroom sequence is a near-masterpiece, and, for that alone, Lawrence Kasdan should be commended. Kasdan also handles the flashback scenes, featuring the four main characters as children, adequately enough to get my thumb working its way toward the "up" direction. Finally, during those few times Kasdan takes us into Jonesy's brain, he does so in an incredibly interesting, oftentimes humorous, and sometimes terrifying manner.

When Jonesy leaves the relative safety of the locked room he has nuzzled deep within his cerebrum, only to find the evil that is hiding behind boxes of stored memories inside his mind's warehouse, it genuinely gave me chills. With a few more scary moments like this strategically placed throughout the film, Kasdan may have had his first instant classic in a long while.

There was a lot of money and time put into Dreamcatcher, and it shows on the screen. Steve Johnson's work on the puppet versions of the "shitweasels" is extremely effective, and shows, once again, that anything CG can do, human hands can do better. The CG isn't the best I've seen, but it's significantly less cartoony than either of the last two Star Wars prequels, and does the job nicely. The cinematography by John Seale (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Witness) is gorgeous, but not noteworthy enough to make the Director of Photography the star of the film, like Caleb Deschanel's work did for him in the recent semi-stinker, The Hunted.

What we end up with is a nice looking film that feels hollow.  Everything seems to work, but it's all too abbreviated to draw the audience in.  It's too bad, seeing as how both the movie and the book bring back horrible memories, but they also bring back a time, not so long ago, when my best friend was still alive. 

On a scale of 1-10?

5


This review is dedicated
to Brady-Lu Rafiki Skywalker
Thorn.  Click her picture
above to read the most
heartfelt update ever put
on this page.

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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].