Dreamcatcher (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner22/04/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 134 mins

A terrific cast and a great beginning, but this soon nose-dives into derivative horror fare. By no means unwatchable but still disappointing.

It is probably fair to say that for every good Stephen King adaptation (Misery, Stand By Me etc.) there are at least two bad ones. It is also probably fair to say that the two adjectives most associated with his more recent novels are “bloated” and “derivative”, and this is certainly the case with Dreamcatcher, the latest of his ‘epics’ to make it to the big screen.

On paper, it looks good – a terrific cast, a director skilled in the making of ensemble pictures (Kasdan) and William Goldman (Misery, Hearts in Atlantis) on board as screenwriter. However, the faults of the film lie squarely with the source material, meaning that, ironically, you’re more likely to enjoy Dreamcatcher if you’ve never read a Stephen King book.

Starts Brilliantly…Then Nosedives

It starts brilliantly. We meet four friends (Stand By Me, anyone?): psychiatrist Thomas Jane, salesman Timothy Olyphant, college professor Damian Lewis and slacker Jason Lee (typecast again). Each of them has a superb introduction scene where it quickly becomes apparent that they all have psychic powers of some kind (The Dead Zone, anyone?) Then, after one of them has recovered from a shocking car accident (much like that suffered by a certain author), they head off to A Remote Wintery Cabin In The Middle Of Nowhere (Misery or The Shining anyone?) for an annual weekend of hunting and talking about girls.

Gradually, we discover that the four men owe both their psychic powers and the annual ritual to A Childhood Incident where they befriended a strange boy called “Duddits”. However, their weekend is abruptly curtailed by the arrival of first, a pair of strangers with a nasty rash and a horrifying case of flatulence, and second, the military, led by Bonkers General Morgan Freeman, whom you know is evil because a couple of snowy caterpillars appear to have taken over his eyebrows.

It isn’t long, then, before animals are fleeing the forest and it becomes clear that Something Very Nasty Indeed is “out there”. (Tommyknockers, anyone?)

It wouldn’t really be fair to give away the nature of the Very Nasty Thing, since the most enjoyable part of the film lies in the build-up to that revelation. Sadly, however, you’re more likely to be disappointed than surprised. Needless to say, from that point on, it all gets more and more ridiculous. Oh, alright, if you really don’t want to know about the Very Nasty Thing, skip the next paragraph NOW.

Watch Out For The Spoiler!

Still here? Well, it’s aliens. That’s right, boring old, ripped-off-from-Alien aliens. The fact that the best name the movie can come up with for them is “Shit Weasels” should tell you everything you need to know.

What really saves it from being unwatchable is the quality of the performances, particularly Damian Lewis, who, on the strength of this, is destined for Bigger Things. At one point he gets to do something of a Gollum act with a mysteriously British occupying intelligence named ‘Mr Gray’ – it’s a brilliant, nonsensical, thoroughly off-the-wall bit of characterisation and he really makes it work.

There’s also great support from the rest of the cast, particularly Olyphant and Lee, who steals every scene that isn't nailed down. Thomas Jane, however, is unfortunately stuck with the blonde, square-jawed heroic role – the speech-making scenes he has with the equally underwritten Tom Sizemore character are the most embarrassing ones in the film.

As for Freeman, he presumably leapt at the chance to play someone other than a moral, upstanding citizen, but it definitely feels like Stunt Casting of the worst kind. (“Ooooh, look, it’s Morgan Freeman and he’s EEEEEVIL!”) He’s also saddled with some lines which are guaranteed to elicit giggles from the audience, whether intentional or not…

This isn’t to say that the whole thing is a disaster. The scary scenes are well-handled and there are some worthwhile shock moments. It’s also well-shot (some of the snowy scenes at the beginning are breathtaking), the effects, for the most part, are decent, and there’s a suitably atmospheric score from James Newton Howard. There are some nice touches, too, such as the conceit of Lewis’ ‘memory vault’, where he holes up to defend himself against ‘Mr Gray’.

The main problem is that the story is far too derivative and doesn’t really engage you, particularly after the brilliant beginning - you end up feeling that you’d much rather have seen a film that was just about the four friends. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with King’s work, it can just about be enjoyed on a ‘big budget trashy B movie’ level.

Film Trailer

Dreamcatcher (15)
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Content updated: 23/03/2019 07:37

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