Dreamscape (1984) Blu-ray Review

Director: Joesph Ruben | Run time: Second Sight | On sale 31st July

Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) is a talented young psychic who is frittering his gifts away betting on the ponies. That is, until he’s coerced by his old pal and mentor Dr Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) into taking part in a dream research project in which his psychic abilities make him indispensable. The project concerns “dreamlinking”, whereby talented individuals like Alex hook up via electrodes and project themselves into some troubled subject’s nightmares, in which they not only observe but participate in the dream, hopefully effecting some remedy. Alex is by nature a feckless guy, a charismatic scoundrel sporting a Cheshire cat’s grin. But he warms easily to his new role as dream-dwelling psychotherapist, having a core of decency. Not so his nemesis, Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly), a dreamlink prodigy and pawn of Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer), who runs the research project for the government (he’s described as the “head of covert intelligence”). Blair is worried about the President (Eddie Albert), whose nightmares of nuclear holocaust cause him to escalate disarmament talks with the Russians, much to Blair’s dismay, being your basic evil, slick, smarmy covert kind of guy. Turns out Blair’s real aim is to use the project to train dreamlink assassins, his star pupil being psycho Tommy Ray and his test case the President. Only Alex is there to stop them.

Coming to Blu-ray is eighties fantasy film Dreamscape, a movie that explores ideas that were only just beginning to be toyed with in American cinema at the time.

The psychic Alex, played by Dennis Quaid, exploits his abilities then joins up with a group of researchers on dreams and nightmares. Blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, Alex struggles with what he finds out. This is where the story turns into a pseudo political thriller come fantasy mindfuck flick. The research is being manipulated by the government and, well, that would be giving too much away. But for a film about people subconsciously forcing themselves into other peoples dreams Dreamscape becomes a tad unbelievable (yes, the whole plot is unbelievable of course) considering what the set up is.

It does have its moments, thanks to the direction of Joseph Ruben (who also co-wrote the script). The dream sequences are trippy and have hints of mid 20th century surrealism about them. Ruben toys with the ability the dreamscapes allow but stops short of really pushing the boundaries. They are complimented by strong cinematography by Brian Tufano, a man who has mainly worked in British television and feature films.

Ruben would go on to direct the excellent The Stepfather (1987), which a contrast to Dreamscape. Ruben has dabbled in ‘mainstream’ cinema in the decades since with the likes of Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and The Forgotten (2004).

Despite the failure to capitalise on a potentially excellent idea, Dreamscape has an impressive cast to make up for it. There is the legendary Max von Sydow as the veteran psychic and ‘mentor’ of Quaids character. Max really has appeared in a ride range of genres, hasn’t he? Horror and cult cinema fans will welcome the performance of Peter Jason, who has been in the likes of Trick or Treats (1982), Alien Nation (1988) and several John Carpenter films. Other notable talents include Christopher Plummer, David Patrick Kelly and George ‘Norm’ Wendt.

Around the same time another movie came out that tackled the idea of going into dreams and the possibilities within: A Nightmare on Elm Street. The fact Elm Street is celebrated all this time later and Dreamscape is a footnote in comparison says it all. Interestingly, one of the movies co-writers was Chuck Russell. He would become a director in 1987 by helming Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. This is not only considered the strongest of the Freddy sequels but it has moments that feel as if it were Dreamscape had Russell and Ruben pushed the envelope further.

Pick of the extras.

Dennis Quaid Interview (15 mins) – In a new interview, Quaid has aged well it should be noted, the actor talks about movies in the seventies, his real life strange dream experience on the set of Dreamscape, the loaded cast and reveals that this is one of the films he gets asked about the most.

Dreamscapes and Dreammakers (61 mins) – This is an excellent extra, packed with recent interviews with various cast and crew members. Ruben speaks about his fascination of the story, David Patrick Kelly tells how he did some in depth research for his role, Peter Kuran talks about his work in special effects and there is so much more in here. Great viewing. 

Nightmares and Dreamsnakes (24 mins) – This special feature examines the ‘Snakeman’ that famously appears in the main feature. Originally intended to be ‘Ratman’ the director changed it to a snake to match his own fears. The development of the character and the effort put into the make up and special effects is explained in depth with behind the scenes photos and concept art showing throughout. This is also test footage of the Snakeman elsewhere on the disc.

Order here.