Dreamcatcher is a fascinating film from first to finish. I’ll give it that. As terrible as it is, it deserves some sort of praise. Check this out: I’ve seen the fucking thing twice. I haven’t even seen Gone with the Wind twice. When you take the director of The Big Chill, the writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and adapt a book by one of the hottest writers of the twentieth century, you don’t expect to have a bad time.
Lawrence Kasdan said the film damaged his career. Directing a Hollywood film must be one of the most stressful jobs in the industrialized world. All it takes is a single hiccup to turn a hot director into a director nobody wants to take a chance on. On top of that, these guys have to deal with assholes like me who talk shit about their hard work. The fact is they can’t change that, and neither can I for that matter. These things need to be discussed—that’s just integral to the creative arts. If there’s no risk of harsh criticism, what’s the point?
And man, I hate being negative. That doesn’t change the fact that Dreamcatcher is one of the worst horror films ever made, but also one of the most expensive. It’s the Cleopatra of horror films. Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m glad they made Dreamcatcher. The best art is always teetering on the edge of failure. You just can’t make a classic film unless it takes huge risks. Dreamcatcher is one of the movies that fell over the line, but where else can you see what is essentially a big budget splatterpunk novel on film? And let it be known I usually have nothing but praise for the guys who made it. Usually. These are some of the best actors alive and yet some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen.
Seriously, have you ever seen Morgan Freeman so… terrible?
I finished reading Stephen King’s novel the same day I watched Dreamcatcher. While most of us complain about all the stuff a movie adaptation left out, this time my mind is boggled by the amount of stuff they left in. In some places they even added stuff. In the book you don’t see all four of the main characters interacting nearly as much as they do in the unnecessary scene towards the beginning of the movie. There the characters discuss, ironically, movie cliches. I have a feeling there’s a reason you don’t see the characters together as adults much in the book, but I can’t quite put my finger on why King chose to write it this way. The movie seems to confirm that whatever King’s reason was, it was a good reason.
Instead of adapting the book into a screenplay, William Goldman just reduces entire chapters to one-minute (or less) scenes. This makes for one of the most jumbled paces I’ve ever seen. It’s all choppy. Nothing seems to flow. Without flow, you can’t have any expectation of true terror. But even though they crammed too much into it, there are places where they left too much out. My favorite scenes in the book were flashbacks to the mentally challenged kid who the main characters befriend when they’re children. I liked the children. I liked the mother of the mentally challenged boy. Yet, even in the book it seems like a retread of familiar King material and he’s done it better in the past. Still, I wish the movie had focused more on that.
Then there’s the memory warehouse. This part is hard to explain, but I’ll do my best. See, the filmmakers wanted a way to show what was going on in one character’s mind when he was possessed by an unforgivably typical movie alien. So they invented a method of loci gimmick where the camera can visualize his mind as an actual place. The character can even gaze out the window of his memory warehouse and see himself. Which kind of doesn’t make any sense. Actually, when they first introduce the memory warehouse (to the tune of Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou) I liked that aside a lot. Initially, anyway. Like so many other scenes in the overproduced film, it brushes brilliance just before it overstays its welcome.
There’s also the lack of restraint Stephen King is known for, which doesn’t translate well to the screen. The book is very much about cracking his brain open like an egg and spilling the contents across the page. In other words he lets his imagination run wild. Going back to what I said about risk-taking, this is sometimes a good thing. I haven’t read much more than a third of his bibliography, but even the book is one of King’s weaker efforts so I wonder what drew the filmmakers to it. Perhaps it was the fact most of his other stuff has already been made into movies? I get the feeling the book was so sub-par for King, even the made-for-TV producers who tend to get a hold of his work passed on this one.
If any one thing sums up how stupid this movie is, let it be the scene in the bathroom. I don’t care how much you set up a character’s eccentricities, I will never believe that even the most addicted of crackheads would have made the same mistake for a fix that one character makes for a fucking toothpick of all things. And we all know it’s going to happen, too—a slow-motion shot erases any doubt of that. So where’s the suspense in knowing what’s going to happen?
As terrible as the movie is, I can’t recommend you don’t watch it. I wasn’t being facetious when I said it’s fascinating. And no, it’s not funny-terrible like the movies the MST3K guys rip on, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t unintentionally funny moments. How ’bout the part when a character is skiing very slowly and falls down for no apparent reason whatsoever? Or when Morgan Freeman’s character, Colonel Curtis, sincerely tells Tom Sizemore, “Okay, you just drove over the Curtis line!” I think my favorite part is when one character answers a pistol like a phone and talks to his friend via telepathy. That’s funny.
And now, a word about the ending: What the fuck was that? One gets the feeling that, in typical Hollywood fashion, the filmmakers decided the book’s ending was unfilmable. What they come up with, however, turns out to be even less filmable. And yet they filmed it anyway.
Then: cue credits abruptly. No time for explanations.