"Dreamcatcher" is the most incredibly strange movie I've ever seen. While nothing resembling a good film, "Dreamcatcher" facinated me not only because it was so ridiculous and silly that I couldn't help but wonder where it was going, but that I was also amazed that such stunningly odd "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-type nonsense could ever get made, not to mention be working with what was reportedly a $68 million dollar budget.
The film - based upon the Stephen King novel - focused on four friends, Henry (Thomas Jane), Beaver (Jason Lee), Jonsey (Damian Lewis), and Pete (Timothy Olyphant). They have gone their separate ways after childhood, but still keep in touch and manage to meet in the New England woods one Winter. They also share a bond since their youth: after coming to the aid of a mentally challenged child their age, they were all given the power of ESP. This year, the four return to the woods, only to find that they're not alone - an alien menace has taken up residence and is causing the few local residents and animals to become ill. Eventually, the alien exits the human host - and, unlike "Alien", they don't leave via the stomach - they head South. Two of the four friends have their first encounter with the alien when they come upon a hunter with a particularly bad case of gas (I'm not kidding.) Another form of the alien takes posession of human hosts and speaks in an accent that sounds something like a Bond villian (Once again, not kidding.) While said alien takes over human host, human host wanders around in his mind, which looks like an old library (well-realized in the film, but something this Gilliam-esque seems out-of-place in an alien invasion picture). Meanwhile, there's an army colonel (Morgan Freeman, in what has to be his first mediocre performance) that wants to wipe out any humans in their quarantine area and a second-in-command (Tom Sizemore, in what is by far the most low-key performance of his entire career) who may have a second opinion.
The movie is a mess of different plot strings (golden-hued flashbacks mingle with alien outbreak viruses) and an uneasy mixture of humor and horror. However, it's to director Lawrence Kasdan's credit that everything is presented in a moderately serious manner, which makes the film at least watchable. Scary? Well, that's another matter - the film is too odd to be at all spooky and it's so all-over-the-place (not to mention the constant presence of plot holes and underdeveloped subplots - for a 134 minute movie, there's a general lack of character development here, too) that little tension ever builds. Furthermore, Kasan doesn't put John Seale's cinematography - which gives the woods an eerie sense of dread that's creepy in a "Blair Witch" sort of way - to much use. On a positive technical note, the occasional special effects are pretty good and the creatures are rather wild looking.
Again, I liked aspects of "Dreamcatcher", but they really don't come together into anything memorable. There's a good movie buried in here somewhere - the trailers seemed to get what it should have been and there's enough to this (the woods are creepier than anything in the movie) that could be reworked into something, but that's a long way from what the final product turned out to be.
VIDEO: "Dreamcatcher" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Warner Brothers. The presentation is another fine effort from the studio, with some stretches in the wintery woods that are positively stunning. Images remain crystal clear throughout, but the low-light interiors aren't as impressive in terms of definition as the many outdoor sequences.
There were a few flaws during the presentation, but they didn't get in the way: a little bit of edge enhancement here, a couple of specks there. No pixelation or any other issues were spotted. The film's color palette remains extremely subdued throughout, which is expected, given the setting.
SOUND: "Dreamcatcher"'s Dolby Digital 5.1 provides a few strong moments of aggressive surround use, but the majority of the movie provides a fairly front-heavy audio experience. James Newton Howard's score is a powerful presence in the sound mix, sounding rich and dynamic, with some reinforcement from the rear speakers. Dialogue and sound effects remain crystal clear and sound effects came across in an appropriately fierce manner. This is a satisfactory soundtrack, but the film could have gained a few scares from more liberal use of the surrounds.
EXTRAS: Here's one time I wish a commentary would have been included, at least to get a better sense of what the filmmakers were trying for. We do get 5 deleted scenes, including a more subtle and satisfactory alternate ending. There's also an interview with King, who talks about working on the novel after his accident; a general "making of" featurette and a featurette on the effects. Rounding out the package are the film's very good trailer (which I can't get over - it makes the film look so much better and different than it is) and cast/crew bios.
Final Thoughts: I found "Dreamcatcher" to be a strangely watchable disaster - an odd train wreck of elements tied together into something surreal, unpredictable and unfortunately, not resembling the kind of thriller it had the potential of being. Warner Brothers has put together a fine DVD, with excellent image quality, good sound and average supplements. Still, I can't recommend the film, with the exception of those who find the thought of watching the most expensive sci-fi B-movie in ages potentially entertaining.
The Film * 1/2