Worth A Look: 17.98%
Pretty Bad: 11.8%
Total Crap: 38.2%
12 reviews, 106 user ratings
by David Hollands
Thirty minutes into Dreamcatcher would suggest that it could turn out to be a very good film indeed. When one realises that another hour and a half were to follow from a storyline this thin, one would assume that disaster most definitely was waiting around the corner. One would be correct in this assumption.The fact that this film was taken from one of Stephen King's worst novels wouldn't be a good sign either; the even more disturbing fact would be that William Goldman, perhaps the most overrated screenwriter in the business, was penning the film. Total chaos? Sadly so.
"King, Kasdan, Goldman - What the Hell did you expect?"
Jonesy, Beaver, Pete and Henry have special talents - Jonesy and Henry can read minds, Beaver has a slight second sight, and Pete can locate almost anything anywhere with a single movement of his finger. All four are best friends, and had received their powers from a mentally retarded individual known as Douglas Cavell (who refers to himself as Duddits). They head to Hole in the Wall, a cabin deep in the forest, every year to spend some time together in the winter. This year though, an alien force has come to Earth and landed in the very forest in which they are currently spending time. The military soon shows up to quarantine the zone, and all Hell breaks loose in the most boring way possible.
With two editors employed for the film, how could this possibly have come out this slow? The useless subplots that Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman try to retain from Stephen King's novel would be one reason. Not only do the filmmakers use flashbacks to tell a part of the story that the audience had already figured out five minutes in, but it also wallows in molasses speed scenes of the military in charge of handling the contagion for what seems like years. At least forty-five minutes of pointless exposition could have been easily scrapped.
Kasdan has unfortunately kept the tone serious (a flaw that was also found in King's novel), and since every scene in the film is laughable to the extreme, there's definitely some conflict there. Consider what Kasdan attempts to have the audience take seriously here: a creature that grows in the stomach and bursts out one's "there sure as Hell ain't no light here" region; a phone call that's answered when a guy uses a gun as a receiver; Morgan Freeman doing his worst Colonel Klink impression; a villain who speaks with a British accent; lots of 1950s-esque movie sound effects dubbed over poorly rendered special effects. I could go on all day here.
The film attempts to portray a lot of the plot elements from King's bloated novel, but they've committed a grave sin: they've tried to adapt the text word for word, scene for scene. Anyone who has read the book won't be in for many surprises here, but even those who haven't will feel that things look and sound a little dull. Since film and text are two very different forms of art, it's pretty impossible for something that may have sounded good on the page sound passable on the screen. Most of the dialogue from King's novel, already sounding pretty horrible on the page, has not been changed. It constantly sounds stiff and false. The four friends here who have been together for at least twenty years also speak as if they are constantly trying to remind each other that they have been together all that time. They constantly refer to events in the past by saying "Do you remember?", and they then follow up by describing the event.
Also suffering is the military subplot. When one examines it, there is no point to it being in the film at all. Having the military appear in the movie over scales it too much. Sure, it does serve a small plot purpose (it provides the heroes with a means of transportation later in the film), but that could have easily been solved some other way. I believe the other reason why the military subplot just doesn't seem to belong is that it shifts the film way too much in tone and structure. For most of the movie, everything centres on the friends and how they deal with the alien invasion. Suddenly, in comes the military, and the whole view of the film shifts into a poorly handled action invasion movie, with a few sprinkles of the previous plot littered throughout. The shift is handled too abruptly, and I must say it is disappointing that the movie didn't stick to its original plot, that of the friends, as it is easily the more interesting (and judging how terrible it already was, that's pretty sad) of the two.
The main botch here is that director Lawrence Kasdan can't handle suspense worth a damn. He can definitely compose his camera angels pretty well. In fact, there are a few rather striking images in this film. Yet Kasdan just can't make anything scary. Whenever an opportunity comes when he could make the audience jump a mile out of their seats, he telegraphs the scare by allowing the audience to know where the monster lurks way too soon. He also shows the creatures almost at all times, and they look terrible.
Stephen King was always kind of an author obsessed with sh*t. In Maximum Overdrive, many moments involved characters either spending time crapping in bathrooms, or crawling through feces along a sewer pipe. Having a film contain a bunch of scenes involving wallowing in the most disgusting thing a human being creates borders on the grotesque. It's also extremely juvenile, and quite pointless and un-interesting. Dreamcatcher continues Stephen King's obsession with bowel movements. The aliens in the movie grow inside one's stomach, resulting in the victim burping and farting. This, of course, leads to scenes in which horror is attempted. Horror revolving around burps, farts, and crap just isn't scary. Once it has grown in the stomach, it then comes out of an area I'd prefer not to mention...the audience, naturally, gets to see this in the film, along with the sh*t and blood that comes with it. Fun. Another moment has a character sitting on a toilet, trapping one of the newborn creatures. We hear strategically placed splashes that sound a lot like those one hears when one dumps his or her load. Yeah. In fact, when the heroes discover the monster by way of "splash" sound effect, they assume that the victim just did his business. This movie will have you reaching for the vomit bag for all the wrong reasons. The sh*t scares are gross, and are repeated so often throughout, that the movie essentially becomes an advertisement for curing constipation. Horror movies are meant to disturb, but when filmmakers literally forgo things like atmosphere and mood for sh*t, it feels lazy. One can easily see that the filmmakers were trying to get cheap reactions.
The cinematography by John Seale is dark, foreboding, and in some cases, looks fantastic. There's just something about it that doesn't fit, however. It looks too realistic for this kind of story. Grounding the absurd in reality can work (as it did to astounding success in Robert Harmon's The Hitcher, which Seale also photographed), but in a film this absurd, it doesn't. I will say that Seale tries his hardest to make certain sequences look a bit moody when the director obviously felt otherwise. This can be seen in the way there are a few shadows around the puppet creatures (which are few and far between in this film) here and there; it looks a lot like Seale was desperate to give at least some atmosphere and mystery to the creatures, but when the director of the film is on autopilot, any smart decision can be unfortunately overruled.
The musical score by James Newton Howard is good. Howard is something or a rarity in this day and age: a composer who actually knows what the Hell he's doing. Instead of creating a typical horror film soundtrack, he tries his best to give the actions onscreen some kind of weight. It doesn't work, but you really can't blame Howard for attempting the near-impossible. During the film's set-up, the music is moody, and works in getting the viewer into the film. Its subtle notes and character pieces work nicely to introduce the situation, and where the film will be heading. When the movie turns into an action/adventure movie with horror elements at its midway mark, Howard really has no choice but to change the music accordingly, and that's when everything goes downhill.
The performances are okay. The standouts are Timothy Olyphant as Pete, and Damian Lewis as Jonesy. While the other performers are boring, these two appear to be having a lot of fun. Even when Lewis has to do the evil British voice when one of the aliens is possessing Jonesy, he does it with an over the top glee that at least gets some excitement out of the audience. Thomas Jane is a log, however, and Jason Lee is an endless black hole of nothing. Tom Sizemore is okay but he's basically playing the same role he always plays, and Donnie Wahlberg shows up as the adult version of Duddits in an unspectacular and typical performance.
Of all the performers, none fair worse than Morgan Freeman. As the psychotic military colonel, Freeman is so far out of his element, it's tragic. Even when the scene requires him to go over the top, he does so in such a stiff manner that one feels as if they're watching a mannequin attached to strings being guided by something else far away. Sad.
The special effects are the worst things about the whole film. They are horrendously bad. The filmmakers opted to use computer generated effects for most of the movie, and it's pretty easy to spot instances where a puppet would have definitely been favourable. In fact, it would have been a relief, as the usually trustworthy Industrial Light and Magic have really let themselves slip. The creatures are often too bright when put against their surroundings. Sometimes, they don't even appear to be in the scene, but rather pasted on top of it. It gets even worse when things like blood, slim, and ripping flesh are rendered in the computer. In one sequence, when one of the butt-bursting creatures crawls across a floor, the animators have appeared to have not even bothered adding the slim the thing should have been leaving in its wake.
Dreamcatcher is a major miscalculation that's so bad, it can't even be laughed at enjoyably. William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan have created a bland horror film that isn't in the least bit scary. It's predictable from the very first frame to the very last, littered with repetitive gross-outs that grow tired before the first one even shows up. The conclusion is the only part that strays from the novel in any considerable way, but it is such a horrible boondoggle, that the portion of Dreamcatcher that came before appears ten times better.Adapted from a horrible Stephen King novel in a gutless and obviously rushed fashion, Dreamcatcher can really only be exactly as the novel was: horrible. That's exactly what it turns out to be.
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originally posted: 12/30/04 07:40:55