In Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Stephen King wrote a yarn called "The Moving Finger" about a man's bathroom invaded by a multi-jointed, impossibly long finger living in the toilet. The victim, understandably shaken by this unwanted visitor, is forced to empty his bladder in the kitchen sink. The story works for scares because the bathroom is the last truly intimate, private room in the home. To have that sanctuary violated is truly frightening, for when that final safe haven is taken from you, where else is there to go? This personal invasion concept is revisited in the film adaptation of King's novel Dreamcatcher with entertainingly gruesome results. Unfortunately, there's little else that's truly original in this fun, but all-too-familiar alien invasion movie.
The opening of the movie introduces us to four lifelong friends: Henry (Thomas Jane), Jonesy (Damian Lewis), Pete (Timothy Olyphant), and Beaver (Jason Lee). They all share a common bond, and special psychic gifts, with Duddits, their mentally challenged but psychically enhanced friend. When they make their annual excursion to "The Hole in the Wall," their log cabin in the woods of Maine (complete with the titular dreamcatcher) they wind up smack in the middle of a violent extraterrestrial/military conflict. Heading up this covert operation are the power mad Curtis (Morgan Freeman) and the reluctant Owen (Mr. Heidi Fleiss a.k.a. Tom Sizemore), trying to stem the expansion of a fungus, codenamed Ripley (a nod to the Alien films, from which many aspects of the story seem to have been harvested). It seems Ripley is but one form of the protean alien forces. Their creepiest is the "ass weasel," a serpent with a vertical smile, dozens of teeth, and a habit of busting out, Alien-style, not through the chest but a little further south. This leads to the aforementioned bathroom encounter that impressed the hell out of me with its unbearable tension and shockingly gruesome outcome. This event leads to the alien possession of Jonesy, which gave Damian Lewis a definite acting workout, portraying both his confused earthling, and the jovially sadistic alien Mr. Grey, often switching identities within the same sentence. Mr. Grey needs to use Jonesy to travel to a reservoir in Boston to infect the water supply with a baby ass weasel, so as to spread more Ripley and completely overtake the population.
I will admit, certain aspects of the movie were simply amazing. Besides the blood-soaked bathroom discovery, we’re given a beautifully visceral air strike against the alien forces, some great acting on the part of most involved (special kudos to ex-New Kid Donnie Wahlberg, who plays the adult Duddits with surprisingly likeable results) and the Memory Warehouse. Some of the best scenes in the movie involve the inside of Jonesy’s head, laid out visually like a spiraling warehouse, his memories stashed away in boxes and drawers with some rather funny labels. The first time we’re introduced to it, we’re given some beautiful shots of Jonesy filing away to the strains of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” which were simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, these great bits don‘t overcome the fact that the whole movie just seemed so damned FAMILIAR. The gestating eel-like creatures, the waifish, big-headed E.T.s, the ship that looked like every other ship from every other movie, the paranoia aspect, they all have been done before, with better (and worse) results. Lawrence Kasdan’s direction, in particular, seemed the biggest culprit. While he used the frame to smart effect in some scenes, most made him seem like a poor man’s George Lucas, right down to the obnoxious screen-wipe transition. It’s understandable, as Kasdan co-wrote two of the original Star Wars movies, but it was rather disappointing nonetheless. The more original aspects of King’s story, with its tight character interaction and genuinely tense conflict seemed to have been tossed aside to make way for another CGI shot. The ending was also amazingly abrupt, leaving the audience scratching their heads, wondering where the hell the unpredictable, but lame plot twist came from.
Video quality was excellent, just like most recent releases. Blacks were rich and deep, colors well saturated, and damage nonexistent. Audio was a fantastic 5.1 mix, with the surrounds used quite well, and the dialogue was never questionable. Extras are fairly standard for Dreamcatcher, with a fistful of documentaries (which make Lawrence Kasdan look like a pretentious twit) some deleted scenes, the amazingly anticlimactic original ending (although it made more sense than the revision) and one of the best bloopers I’ve seen in a while.
Think about your favorite pair of “lounge around the house” pants. They’re unremarkable, but extremely comfortable. They look an awful lot like everyone else’s lounging pants. However, there’s something about them that makes you wear them. They’ve got a few good things about them that makes you, despite their wear and tear, like them. Dreamcatcher’s a lot like that. It’s unremarkable, but it’s got a few things going for it that makes the derivative flavor go down a little easier. While it may not be the best adaptation of King’s work...well, at least it ain’t Maximum Overdrive.