November 4, 2003 -- “Dreamcatcher” is the latest in what seems to be an endless number of film adaptations of Stephen King (“Misery,” “The Shawshank Redemption”) novels. King fans will see a lot of similarities in this story and some of his earlier books and films, like “Stand by Me” and “It.” Like “It,” this story is about childhood friends with strange powers who remain connected for life.
Although the film begins in the present day, there are numerous flashbacks to those childhood days when their lifelong bond was cemented by strange events. This peculiar bond, symbolized by the five-circled dreamcatcher, is centered on the strange, gifted child Duddits (played as an adult by Donnie Wahlberg of “Band of Brothers”). Although Duddits has drifted out of the lives of the other four as an adult, he hasn't left their minds. The other four adults are Henry (Thomas Jane of “Magnolia”), Beaver (Jason Lee of “Vanilla Sky”), Jonesy (Damian Lewis of “Band of Brothers”) and Pete (Timothy Olyphant of “Rock Star”). The four are on their way to a remote forest cabin for their annual get together, when very odd things begin to happen. They soon discover they are under attack by aliens from outer space.
Two people show up who are “infected” by a snake-like alien organism. The four old friends soon find they are under siege from different fronts. There are snakes and at least two other forms of the menacing alien creatures, there are people who are under the control of the aliens, and there are gung-ho military types who plan to kill them even if they survive the alien attack because they might be infected. It all has the makings of a really bad day. The story is ambitious. You would expect everything to be confined to the cabin in the woods, but it has some big scale action scenes which amount to a war between the aliens and the military (sort of a militarized Men in Black operation). There are some nifty special effects using both puppets and digital animation techniques. I saw this film on DVD and there is a good feature explaining the effects in the film (the DVD review is below).
The actors help create some memorable characters. Wahlberg is especially good as the enigmatic Duddits. The child actors who portray the five friends in the flashback scenes are also good. Morgan Freeman plays Colonel Abraham Curtis, a character very similar to another military officer he played in “Outbreak.” Tom Sizemore of “Black Hawk Down” plays Owen, Curtis' friend, right hand man and protégé. Director-writer Lawrence Kasdan (“Mumford”), production designer Jon Hutman, and set designer Rose Marie McSherry come up with a stunning set which looks like a library. It represents the inside of Jonesy's mind. The set allows us to see the mental battle between Mr. Gray (the alien) and Jonesy in visual terms. Actor Damian Lewis also does a good job of showing the inner battle between the alien and Jonesy using facial expressions, and a weird British accent (Does this mean that extraterrestrials have taken over England, or maybe that they come from there originally?).
The story argues that large numbers of aliens invade the earth at regular intervals, but nobody ever hears about it because the Men in Black operatives keep it secret. They also manage to keep the aliens at bay, despite the superior abilities and technology of the aliens. It is way too much to swallow. The story is also so similar to other Stephen King stories it is pretty predictable. If you aren't a Stephen King fan, and you haven't seen any of the “Alien” movies, it might seem fresher. The movie is pretty gross, too. I don't know which is worse, aliens exploding out of people's chests in the “Alien” movies, or aliens coming out of people's butts in “Dreamcatcher.” The story also relies on a lot of coincidences, like the kids just happen to meet an alien when they are young, and they just happen to acquire telepathic abilities, which just happen to come in handy for another alien encounter years later. I also have problems with any movie that starts off with a suicide attempt (except for “Harold and Maud” of course). The gun to the head may have served a purpose in the book, but it serves no purpose in the movie.
The acting is pretty decent, especially by the largely no-name cast. The only big name cast members, Tom Sizemore (he with the recent legal troubles relating to Heidi Fleiss) and Morgan Freeman, have pretty one-dimensional roles. Freeman's character is crazy and Sizemore's character jeopardizes his entire military career on pretty flimsy evidence. This is not exactly a character-driven plot. Too often, characters act in inconsistent ways merely to advance the plot. This film rates a C.
The DVD is pretty good. I saw the widescreen version (anamorphic, aspect ratio is 1.85:1), and the image transfer was good. The 5.1 Dolby® surround sound was excellent (I listened to it on a Denon-based surround sound system). The DVD has some nice extras, too, including the film's original ending and four other deleted scenes. There is also an interview with Stephen King (in which he notes that the car crash scene in the movie is autobiographical) and two documentaries on the production and special effects. TV spots for the film are also on the disc. The disc is region one, with English and French soundtracks (both Dolby Digital 5.1). Subtitles include English, Spanish and French. The DVD rates a B.
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