Skip to main content

If a Ripley gets out of this pine tree paradise, well, it just can't be allowed to do that.

Dreamcatcher
(2003)

(SPOILER) A puzzler for many. Not so much in terms of how a post-horrific car crash, OxyContin-addicted Stephen King could have written such a rotten story (at one point, before his comedown, he proudly extolled that Dreamcatcher would do for the toilet what Psycho did for the shower”, which, well…) – I think the circumstances speak for themselves – but how such luminaries as William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan became involved in the movie adaptation, and how Castle Rock, for the most part a bastion of successful translations of the author’s work, could have tripped up so badly. Because Dreamcatcher is an unmistakably bad film.

As an unnamed production assistant told it, in an interesting interview with slashfilm.com, it was likely a way for Kasdan to get something, anything, into production after a project he’d been working on went cold (besides which, he hadn’t had anything do decent business in nearly a decade, and Wyatt Earp had seriously tarnished his resumé, even if less so than Costner’s). Castle Rock had first dibs on any King properties, on account of a string of successes with non-supernatural (Stand By Me, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption) and even supernatural (The Green Mile) fare. Of course, they’d had a few stiffs too (Needful Things, Dolores Claiborne, and most recently Hearts in Atlantis) but their track record was pretty good.

Which might lead one to wonder why they didn’t smell a stinker when they read it; they clearly hadn’t put everything he’d produced into development during this period. Perhaps they felt it was only right, given their special relationship and the significance of the novel, regardless of quality. And it was, after all, a big science fiction affair, with more obvious studio cachet, despite the shit weasels, than the King’s more intimate works.

Whatever the conversations behind Castle Rock doors, William Goldman clearly couldn’t make it work. But then, he’d shown reluctance to make fundamental changes to the Absolute Power novel, until Tony Gilroy set him straight. To salvage Dreamcatcher into a workable movie script, you’d probably have needed to jettison about sixty percent of it. And the forty remaining… Well, as has been pointed out, and obvious even to a non-King acolyte, it’s heavily indebted to It for its protagonists and arc (a quartet with a common bond stretching back to their childhoods discover that bond is particularly essential to an encounter in adult life). But I’d hazard that, if It had featured an alien creature that infects its victims through anal penetration and incubates through making them fart prodigiously, it wouldn’t have become one of his most iconic works.

Dreamcatcher more closely resembles an X-File as “satirised” by South Park. Or possibly, if Kevin Smith had made an SF movie, these would be exactly the aliens he’d come up with (an entirely derivative razor-toothed but anally-invasive worm entity; while the picture’s cinematography is pretty good in a snowy way, the creature effects are pretty awful). The Smith vibe makes it appropriate that Jason Lee (called, wait for it… Beaver) is in here, playing what is, essentially a Kevin Smith character replete with entirely lowbrow tastes and sense of humour (Lee had appeared in Kasdan’s previous film Mumford).

Lee’s also the first of the four to exit, in a particularly messy sequence following their arrival at a cabin in the Maine woods for their annual hunting trip. The entire movie is atypical of anything else Kasdan has done; it’s a bit like Barry Levinson making The Bay, when directors who wouldn’t normally give horror a wide berth decide desperate times are called for… The opening sections are at least intriguing, cluing us in to their shared psychic gift and how it links them to savant Duddits Cavell (played in adult form by Donnie Wahlberg). Thomas Jane is a kind of iffy shrink, Damian Lewis a kind of decent college professor, and Timothy Olyphant kind of sleazy (which is presumably why the alien savages his cock – the material is that subtle). However, by the time Morgan Freeman shows up as Colonel Kurtz (he was Kurtz in the book) Curtis, possessed of a pair of baffling eyebrows, the movie has well and truly gone off the rails, leading to a “special child is an alien is defeating the alien” denouement that doesn’t even stand out for how risible it is.

There are a few scenes of note that are at least interesting; Lewis is infected by the alien (they’re lazily called Ripleys, but for no identifiable similarity to Alien) but is able to retreat mentally within the walls of his “memory warehouse”, visualised as an actual library, while his external, possessed self has turned into Dickie Attenborough on a cocaine binge. At one point, all the animals run past the cabin, many of them infected, but given the CGI involved, it isn’t as peculiar as it probably should be. Yet it does elicit the line “Even the bears are scared”. Tom Sizemore is an army captain somehow persuaded by Jane to help him and manages to appear the soberest character in the movie, which is saying something. By that time, though, the movie has become an out-and-out slog.

Bad movies can be quite watchable despite themselves, but this is a self-serious bad movie, with polished production values and earnest intent, once you get past the potty-minded premise, and it means Kasdan is well and truly sunk. It’s notable that there were a couple of King pictures that did okay – Secret Window, 1408 and just barely The Mist – after Dreamcatcher but then no major adaptations outside of TV until It and The Dark Tower in 2017. One can’t help thinking the ignominy heaped upon Dreamcatcher deterred studios from taking a big chance for so long.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas