Close Your Eyes And The Adventure Begins. Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) is a man with an incredible psychic gift… but for years has used it solely for personal gain. Reuniting with his old mentor, Dr. Novotny (Max von Sydow), Gardner joins a government project in which he learns to channel his abilities in order to enter peoples' subconscious through their dreams. As his powers grow, the young psychic soon finds himself in a living nightmare of conspiracy and murder… and the only way out is to go back in. A sleeper hit on its initial release, Dreamscape's reputation as a classic of '80s genre entertainment has only grown over the years. From its impressive cast – including Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, Eddie Albert, David Patrick Kelly, and George Wendt – to behind-the-camera talent such as director Joseph Ruben (The Stepfather) and co-writer Chuck Russell (A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, 1988's The Blob), Dreamscape is a rousing mix of science fiction, adventure, and horror beyond your wildest imagination.
Decades before Inception hit the big screen, there was 'Dreamscape' – a movie with many of the same ideas as Chris Nolan's blockbuster hit, just with a much smaller budget and perhaps a concept about 25 years too soon for audiences to really grasp. But for whatever reason...it's become somewhat of a cult classic over the years, leading to this Shout Factory Collector's Edition of the movie, which fans should enjoy quite a bit.
The premise of 'Dreamscape' is that a group of scientists have discovered that it is possible for a human being to enter another human being's dreams – and actually influence what happens in them. However, the really neat idea this movie presents (and one that made me afraid to fall asleep for a while after I saw this film as a kid) is that if you're killed in your dream, you die in real life. That's not an idea that originated with this title (as they point out in the bonus materials, it's kind of an old wives' tale that's been passed down for generations), but this might be the first movie ever to explore that concept.
The film starts a young Dennis Quaid as Alex Garner, someone who has a history of impressive telekinetic abilities, but who has turned his back on those in the science field trying to help him develop those abilities and instead spends his days at the horse racing track picking winners (and getting in trouble with bookies). Alex is recruited into the government's exploration of dream manipulation by his old mentor, Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow), and also meets Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw), a doctor who is assisting Novotny in his research.
Of course, this is a 1980s movie, where all government agencies are shady, and sure enough a government agent named Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) wants to use another gifted, yet far more mentally imbalanced, young man named Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly) as sort of a "dream assassin". His first target? The President of the United States (played by Eddie Albert).
Alas, a great premise can't help a movie that only had a $6 million budget (low by even 1984 standards) and 'Dreamscape' suffers by not really being able to deliver when it comes to the dream sequences (although almost everyone who remembers the story claims to have been horrified by "Snake Man", the effect now comes across as bargain-basement cheese). Still, if you can look past the things that age this film, the premise is still very interesting and the acting here – while by no means Oscar-caliber – is certainly good enough that none of the actors involve need feel embarrassed by their participation.
Finally, a couple of notes about this release that potential viewers may want to take note of: First, 'Dreamscape' was Hollywood's second release (the first being Patrick Swayze's Red Dawn) to get a PG-13 rating. Second, and more notable for potential buyers is the fact that this version does not contain any nudity, something that appeared on European releases of the movie, thanks to the reframing of one dream sequence and the addtion of some deleted footage involving Kate Capshaw. Despite rumors to the contrary, the original U.S. theatrical version was always sans nudity, as is this Shout Factory release.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
This special collector's edition of 'Dreamscape' arrives from Shout Factory in a standard Elite keepcase that houses the 50GB disc. While new artwork graces the keepcase slick, the flip side contains the original theatrical artwork, with the back cover staying the same on both sides. There are no front-loaded advertisements on the Blu-ray, whose main menu features a still of the box cover image and menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Dreamscape' was shot on 35mm film and is presented here in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As you may or may not be aware, the previous Blu-ray release of this movie suffered from a lot of image problems, not the least of which was that it got a 1080i interlaced encode. This time around, Shout Factory has gone back to the original film elements for a brand-new 2K scan. And while this new transfer does have some problems, it's a huge leap up from the prior version.
Like many older films that get a new scan, the opening credits here have the most problematic issues, with stabilization and dirt on the print being the biggest two. Once the movie starts though, things become much more watchable – particularly an opening segment with Dennis Quaid's character at the race track that shows some real color and depth.
The biggest issue with this new transfer, however, is consistency. While some scenes look very good, some of the darker portions of the movie look very flat and noisy. Sadly, most of these worse-looking segments are the dream sequences. While the new scan is thankfully mostly free from any technical glitches, I did note one framed special effects sequence (where viewers are about to enter a dream) where there's a glaring bright line down the complete left side of the frame. Whether this reflects the original presentation (meaning it was always there) or whether this particular moment was framed incorrectly is anyone's guess. I also noticed some annoying shimmering in the background of the room where the dream tests take place (it's the same room as in the screenshot below with Dennis Quaid and Max von Sydow).
So this isn't the best transfer, but it's still a huge improvement over the prior Blu-ray release and probably about the best were going to get given the source material (yes, this is a 2K scan, but a 4K scan probably would have made matte lines and other F/X work even more obvious than they already are).
The featured track here is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is most likely the same as on the prior Blu-ray release. Most of the audio is up-front, with not a whole lot happening in the rears, aside from some soundtrack enhancement and the occasional ambient accompaniment to a scene (such as the clanking of glass-wear when Quaid and von Sydow have a chat in a bar). LFE use is virtually non-existent, despite some sequences where you think it might come into play. There are no glitches in the track that I noticed, including any problems with muddiness or dropouts. Some of the ADR use in the movie was a little more obvious because the track is relatively crisp, but that – of course – is no fault with the track itself and actually a complement to its quality and clarity.
In addition to the 5.1 lossless track, a new 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also available. Subtitles are an option in English SDH only.
'Dreamscape' probably isn't as good as your memory of it might be, and it's certainly not as scary, but it's still a solid 80s sci-fil thriller with some neat ideas and some quality actors involved. This Collector's Edition adds enough new bonus materials to make this one worth adding to your collection. Recommended.