The Good: The cast here is great across the board. Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer? Why you are just one, Christopher Lee, away from a trifecta of awesome. Dennis Quaid is at maximum smirk level, Kate Capshaw is surprisingly sexy and you even have George Wendt in a cameo of sorts.
The premise of being able to enter peoples dreams and change their minds or fix their psychosis is a fun one that has been revisited over the years by better properties. (Or even the same year by Nightmare on Elm Street.)
The Bad: All movie universes have rules. The rules can change throughout the movie as a major plot point (See The Matrix) but overall good stories work within the rule set that they themselves set up. Dreamscape is all over the place.
It is established Dennis Quaidâ(TM)s character is psychic which allows him to enter other peoples dreams. Can he also see the future? The movie is unclear. Obviously reading peoples minds would not help him win money at the horse track. Yet the film sets him up as doing just that. (Poker player is a much more obvious choice.) They also have him being chased by track people for I assume winning too much which makes zero sense if you have any inkling about how betting at a large state-run horse track works.
On the other hand, if he can see into the future why would he make the idiotic choices that he does? Câ(TM)mon to think of it if he can read minds why doesnâ(TM)t he realize who the bad guys are well before the audience. (In all fairness you donâ(TM)t hire David Patrick (Warriors, come out to play-i-ay.) Kelly to be a good guy.
Can you die in a dream? The entire plot revolves around a planned assassination during a dream but the opening dream sequences clearly show that you are not killed in a dream. The movie seemingly changes its own rules halfway through.
The Ugly: What is Christopher Plummerâ(TM)s endgame in this thing. Here has a tool to enter peoples minds and change the way they think (Inception) and instead he is thinking all Freddy Kruger complete with claymation snake monster. Even if he succeeded one can clearly see it would not work out the way he wanted it to.
In Conclusion: Great cast basically wasted on tepid sci-fi premise. Special effects are of the time so I can excuse them but the action sequences wouldnâ(TM)t be out of place in a lighthearted Quincy episode. The charisma of the leads isnâ(TM)t enough to carry the tepid romance and the excellent chops of the bad guys are helpless against their lame-brained scheme. Passable curiosity piece and time capsule but it never really rises above its own averageness.
Dreamscape (Rifftrax edition): 4 out of 10: Janet Varney and Cole Stratton guest star as riffers and it does not work out well. Dreamscape provides plenty of material for a really good riff, unfortunately, our guest riffers leave most of it on the table. What they do bring to the table is some very low hanging fruit punctuated by lots of silence. There is also seemingly no real connection or banter between the two where one feels they recorded their riffs separately. Honestly, they add nothing to the movie and are at best a distraction.
Dreamscape could have done more with its characters and cinematic presentation, but the dream sequences -- along with Dennis Quaid's charm -- are enough to serve as an entertaining diversion from the 80s.
Dreamscape is clearly a dated film. This becomes clearly apparant in the opening dream sequence where a woman is sceen running in front of a clear green screen before the background changes and yet the colour scheme does not. The artificiality of this scene makes the low-budget nature of Dreamscape all the more apparent, and it proves itself repeatedly throughout the film. The visual effects are no longer surprising because it is easy to isolate the use of green screens in the film, although it is slightly admirably for its low-budget nostalgia nature. They have their moments, but most of the time they prove to be rather obvious by today's standards. But even then, Dreamscape is a film which is more focused on narrative than visual effects. And yet even there Dreamscape fails to make the same amazing impression. Dreamscape maintains a premise very similar to Christopher Nolan's inception, though it is explored in a much cheaper way which prevents it from being much of a spectacle. It has its visual appeal at times, but Dreamscape is far more focused on being a film about the story at the heart of the feature. In that sense there is a certain sense of admirability in Dreamscape, but as well as that the feature is a genuinely slow one which gives it a tendency to drag on a lot of the time. In a sense the film is cleverly written so that it is able to play with an interesting concept on a low budget without being overly reliant on visual effects, but as a result it takes the approach of using a lot of talking which really slows the experience down. And while the science fiction concept at the heart of the story is fairly interesting, the characters themsleves are not always precisely on par. The intentions behind the film are charming though, and for what it's worth I appreciate the intended efforts of director Joseph Ruben. But it just wasn't as fun as I expected.
Though Dreamscape is praised as being a film which combines in elements of science fiction, action and horror all into the one film, for me I felt that things were really scattered. The story itself did not feel consistent enough as there was constantly new themes being thrown in from all kinds of unpredictable angles. The concept itself is interesting, but it is all thrown into a slow moving feature which just fails to make the same impact today that it did upon its original release. The crossover of political themes and various characters against the backdrop of a science fiction film with deadpan comedy proved to just be sporadically entertaining at best. The dream sequences themselves were very creative which I hand high praise to, but it was the rest of the world around it that failed to make an entertaining impression. At heart, Dreamscape is just very much a B-movie which has fun when it sits back and embraces that notion. But it too often makes the mistake of getting caught up taking itself too seriously which is when the story is less than entertaining. And due to the low budget nature of Dreamscape, the visual style of it can be rather dull a lot of the time. Though the visual effects have their own cheesy appeal, the cinematography in the film always follows the most conventional of angles which are hardly atmospheric in any way and the general visual quality is a little bit rough or grim. This is particularly poor in some scenes which are shot with monochromatic backgrounds or nighttime settings. The one major techincal aspect of Dreamscape that is worth boasting about is the musical score. It is interesting to hear Maurice Jarre taking on a retro style 1980's musical score for Dreamscape because it is great in capturing the level of nostalgic and smooth atmosphere for the story, even getting rather intense during the more powerful scenes.
The cast of Dreamscape also supply their own charms to the film.
Dennis Quaid manages to stand consistently strong as the lead actor in Dreamscape. Dennis Quaid shows off that he has a Harrison Ford type charm in Dreamscape which works in the sense that it capitalizes on some of the Indiana Jones type moments in the film. He maintains a likable sense of sophisticated charm, and yet at the same time he has the bold and swift abilities of a smart action hero which means that he intergrates his physical capabilieis with his skill at creating an intelligent character. The balance is great, and he finds it without turning his character into an overly melodramatic one but rather keeping his balance on a steady level. Dennis Quaid leads Dreamscape with the right serious tone and plenty of charm.
Max Von Sydow is a charming presence as always. Dreamscape sees him returning to the science fiction genre and bringing his iconic sense of wisdom along with him, making him the ideal casting deicision for the role of the exposition within the story. His charming tone of voice and effective chemistry with Dennis Quaid see him put to good use in Dreamscape, even if he is limited by the one-dimensional simplicity of the role and the minimal screen time. Christopher Plummer manages to bring along the same kind of charm, although he achieves it through more antagonistic means. David Patrick Kelly is also welcome to see once again.
So Dreamscape benefits from Dennis Quaid's charisma and an original story with many creative dream sequences, making it all the more dissapointing that they are buried beneath a series of extended dialogue sequences which stretch the slow pace of the film on for too long while they cram in all kinds of unsuspecting and inconsistent themes which leave Dreamscape as a film which has aged strangely.
Joseph Ruben is a skilled director, and he keeps the film moving, and the screenplay is smart as well. Writer David Loughery has a lot going on here, different genres colliding together in what could have become a mess of a movie, but the whole thing works surprisingly well.
Dennis Quaid is perfect in the lead role, good looking but smart as well, a hero without being overly heroic. He draws you into the story and makes the whole thing believable and accessible. The special effects, while cutting edge upon the film's initial release, seem a bit dated now but in my eyes are still more convincing than the CGI that plagues most movies these days. The stop motion Snake Man would have made Ray Harryhausen proud.
The dream sequences are impressive regardless of the film's age, and I wish there had been more of them. There are several notable similarities to this and another of the year's big dream-like release "A Nightmare on Elm Street", including the moment when bad guy David Patrick Kelly sprouts knives from his hand a la Freddy Krueger. This film made it to theaters a full three months before the Wes Craven future classic.
"Dreamscape" is a splendid science fiction film with a lot of novel, clever ideas. It's deserving of a wider audience to appreciate all it has to offer.