‘…too violent for kids, and too silly for adults…’

‘They say if you die in your dreams, you really die in your bed…’ sang Bruce Springsteen, and that’s the high concept behind this prime slice of 80’s cheese, which imagines a world of counter-espionage in which agents seek to infiltrate the nocturnal fantasies of the president of the USA. So far, so Inception, but if you want to see what the result looks like if handled in a literal, unimaginative way, then Joseph Ruben’s dated techno-thriller has all kind of silliness to offer.

Amazon Prime have exhumed this 1984 film with a blurb that focuses on hero Psychic Alex, played by Dennis Quaid. Psychic Alex is gifted with various telekinetic powers, and spends his days hiding from unscrupulous authorities and winning big at his local race-course. Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow are bickering away at the top of a secret government organisation that’s seeking to enter the dreams of President Edward Albert, and they fancy Psychic Alex as their ticket to the party. Seemingly based on Stephen King, horror author Charles Prince (George Wendt, Norm from Cheers) warms Psychic Alex that he’s in over his head, but when Prince vanishes, Psychic Alex has to face down the suits and strike out for freedom.

Inception at least had a pile of eye-candy visuals to work through; as with Brainstorm, the dreams here look like very 80’s Chroma-key effects, and don’t dazzle the eye or mind. Ruben seems to be aiming for some kind of Hitchcockian gloss, notably when Alex sees a car hurtling towards him while trapped in a public phone-box, but bursts of dream activity come to a weird finale when Alex confronts the President in his own dreams and attempts to save him from an assassin.

Too violent for kids, and too silly for adults, Dreamscape at least shows what Inception would be like if boiled down to its bones. The manoeuvrings of the sinister government operation are predictable, as are Alex’s attempts to shake off his pursuers by getting help from his race-track adversaries. The usually reliable composer Maurice Jarre’s score doesn’t help, nor does Kate Capshaw’s romantic lead, but at least the final product is slick and well shot by Brian Tufano (Trainspotting). Dreamscape just about made its money back on release, but the flights of fancy undertaken here have been somewhat overwhelmed by today’s lashings of CGI.


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  1. Phew! That was a close one. I though you sprung a new remake on me! I have good memories of this. I think I’ve seen it once or twice after seeing it in theaters. #DeathToRemakesandReboots

    • It’s certainly watchable now; I think it’s been easy to cannibalise the dream theme for other films, so Dreamscape may escape the endless reworking and rebooting. The old school Hitchcockian elements are still appealing.

  2. Vague memories of this. Compared to now of course the sfx would be seen as primitive but am sure it was adequate back in the day. But good sfx rarely saves an ill-conceived project – witness the Gemini Man.

  3. In Lit 101, dream sequences are frowned on–cheap exposition trick. In movies, Hitchcock made marvelous use of dreams IMO (Spellbound’s hello Dali and Vertigo…). In TV Serling turned dreams into a Twilight Zone popular attraction. This movie was made the year PG 13 ratings were introduced, so you raise a good point ‘too violent for kids, too silly for adults…’ However, it’s not too silly if you pair it with the exposure of US Gov’s MKULTRA (wet dream) programs, which were FOIA revealed in 80’s, were about this very unfunny subject. Were we getting a message from Hollywood because we ignored the craziness of Wiz of Oz & Clockwork Orange? Are we still getting clues via movies like Altered State, Vanilla Sky, Carnival of Souls, and Mulholland Drive–or should we just lean back in our theatre rocking chair and ‘dream a little dream’ of us in someone else’s dreamscape? Or should we borrow writer Gibson’s Simstim and do a little virus free Oneironautic dream traveling? I just picked some mugwort for my dream pillow…but what weapon can I bring? In a larger sense, isn’t that what filmmakers do–dream something to life and if the film’s very good, it follows us into our dreamscape?

    • Don’t get me wrong, I love dreams and I do love a dream sequence, even if film-makers often use them for padding. But you are correct to suggest that government programmes have looked into remote vision and dream manipulation; if only there were so concerned about more obvious barbiarians massing at the gates. Funnily enough, also hd some mugwort in my hands today. A nibble of cheese usually enhances my dream life, although mostly it doesn’t need enhancement. I saw my whole life as a Studio Ghibli film the other night. Ideally, I’d get Salvador Dali to visualise my dreams and save me the effort. But with a film like Dreamscape, I just feel that the film-makers showed a real lack of imagination; no one’s dreams should be as vanilla as this….

    • I noted Halliwell describing this film as complex; casting actors in cliched roles creates anything but complexity, Its probably as well old Halliwell didn;t live to see Inception.

      Psychic Alex is a good name for a character for sure.

  4. I like the Indiana Jones’ish cover but the rest of review definitely gives me pause. I really liked Inception so if you’re comparing this to it as a barebones versions, I’d probably end up watching this and doing nothing but comparing instead of trying to enjoy it.

    • That poster really only represents the last, dreamy section of the film. But I certify this film as suitable for Bookstooges.

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