Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Dreamcatcher comes to Australia smelling of rotten eggs thrown all over it by US critics; and the reason is that it’s listed as a sci-fi horror flick. Fact is, this is a giant spoof, a joke perpetrated by three great talents on an unsuspecting world. Novelist Stephen King has conspired with legendary screenplay writer William Goldman and respected intelligent-sensitive filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan to hoodwink moviegoers from Maine to Melbourne. Let’s throw all the cliches in, dress it up and play it for real; then see the suckers fall for it. But Kasdan had a better idea: let’s fill it with funny lines, and give it a comic tone that sits well with the post-Tarantino cinematic language of humour-backing-splatter. Now you’re grooving, baby, said the others, but let’s keep this our little secret. The studio suits wouldn’t get the joke and they’d turn the money off.
Luckily, Kasdan is one of the two producers, so he could run the show without alerting the studio. So that’s why Dreamcatcher features aliens who are jokingly nicknamed shit weasels; they inhabit humans and emerge after a tour of the intestines from the only door available. But to make sure the joke really sticks, there is another alien life-form, which comes straight out of the pages of a 1950s UFO circular.
But to ensure there is enough money to make the stunts, explosions, special digital effects and catering big enough, they talked Morgan Freeman into playing a bad ass rogue military dude, which stamped the project with gravitas. As in gravy train. Nobody admitted during production that the movie was a fake, a joke and a big send up; the credentials of the creative trio at the head of the team even fooled the studio during double head screenings. Everybody reckoned the big fake Martian was an homage to the 50s.
The line where the human screams at one of the aliens, “What do you want?” is another homage. The aliens emerging from bottoms (trigger word for kids) is an elaborate pooh joke, but the suits figured this was some existential shit from King and Co. The bits of bad acting were considered nothing more than profound method, and the squatting figure in the middle of the snowbound road that decorates the poster was accepted as a symbolic mystery around which the film would weave its dreamcatcher web.
All of this would have come off, had there been a lot more comedy; as it turns out, some bits are not at all funny but embarrassing.
NOTE: Dreamcatcher is released with the 11 minute short film, Final Flight of the Osiris, a digital production intended as a prelude to The Matrix Reloaded. If you use the word cool a lot to describe something cool, you’ll enjoy this exercise in digital filmmaking, especially the first part, in which a man and a woman (virtual) play ‘strip sword fight’ – just like strip poker, sort of.
Review by Louise Keller:
More likely to provoke nightmares than dreams, Dreamcatcher tosses up some stimulating ideas, and splashes them across the screen with its big budget and some top talent, but the creature feature and horror genre is downgraded and sinks deep into the preposterous. In parts terrifying, in parts repulsive and in parts just plain long-winded, director Lawrence Kasdan has visualised the story from Stephen King’s novel, and collaborated with William Goldman (who previously adapted King’s Hearts in Atlantis and Misery) for the script.
What could have gone so badly wrong? Definitely not for the squeamish, the anticipation and tension delivers a barrage of blood and gore while visual effects offer plenty of slippery, slimy, wiggly, deadly alien monsters. (Yes, there’s plenty of face-scrunching to be done!) These are nasty snake-like creatures with massive, spiky clenched fang-like teeth that munch on pretty much anything (or anyone). It’s a poor man’s Men in Black, without the droll humour.
There is attempted humour – but it is mostly contextual, like when Thomas Jane’s character hears his friend’s thoughts and talks to him using the barrel of a gun instead of a mobile phone. Hmm. Yes, indeed. You really had to be there….
John Seale’s imposes his cinematic touch and there are marked contrasts between the picture postcard and wintry white settings and the richly coloured interiors. Shot north of Vancouver in freezing conditions (the temperature apparently dropped at one point to –37 degrees Celsius), the landscape is gorgeous, while simultaneously offering a harsh, unforgiving backdrop on which the story is set.
Morgan Freeman does elevate the project by his presence, and his white bushy eyebrows rival for the job of Santa, but one would have to wonder why he ever agreed to the role. Thomas Jane is likeable, credible and at all times believable, but Damian Lewis’ Jonesy overplays his role - badly. The flashbacks are ho hum and the running time could (and should) have been liberally chopped.
Offering so much more promise than it delivers, Dreamcatcher is not a juicy success, but may attract a young audience looking for a dose of gore.