Dreamcatcher (2003) a (very belated) review

Another oldie but goody, from July 2011.

When I first heard about the movie Dreamcatcher, it was about to be released into theaters back in 2003.

First, though, an admission: I have never been a big fan of Stephen King’s novels.  I’ve read a few, though they were “OK” at best, but found more enjoyment out of some of his short stories.  As far as Dreamcatcher was concerned, I had no awareness at all about the book until the film was released.

Nonetheless, the commercials had me intrigued.  For, while I freely admit to not being a terribly big fan of Mr. King’s novels, I cannot dispute the fact that there had been some very good movies based on his works, including, but not limited to, The Shining (my favorite), Carrie, The Dead Zone, and Salem’s Lot. Sure, there have also been many pretty bad adaptations (including the awful Stephen King himself directed Maximum Overdrive), but I was curious to give the movie a try.

Unfortunately, I missed the film’s original theatrical run yet remained interested in seeing it despite some withering reviews.  Last night, I had the chance to do so, nearly a full decade after the original release.

Before I get to my reaction to Dreamcatcher, let me point out the film was written by Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman.  It was directed by Mr. Kasdan. William Goldman, for those who are unaware, is a living legend in the movie business.  His screenplays include the wonderful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Harper, All The President’s Men, The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man, etc. etc.  Mr. Kasdan, however, is hardly a slouch when it comes to movie history.  He wrote the screenplays to The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, etc. etc. and directed such notable films such as the aforementioned Body Heat, The Big Chill, Silverado, and The Accidental Tourist.

So the idea that these three individuals, Mr. King, Mr. Goldman, and Mr. Kasdan were behind Dreamcatcher was, to say the least, a potentially fascinating mix. In front of the camera were some at the time strong up-and-coming actors such as Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee, and, as the movie’s chief (human) antagonist, another screen legend, Morgan Freeman. With that much talent both in front of and behind the cameras, what could possibly go wrong?

Quite a bit.

Now, the movie’s direction is pretty good. The scenery/location is nice. The effects are quite good, even if some of the computer graphics show their age (this is hardly a knock as computer graphic technology has progressed considerably in the years since its introduction). The acting by all the principals is also for the most part good.

Which leaves the story.

man oh man that story…

For the third time: I’m no huge fan of Stephen King’s novels. I never read the book this movie was based on and therefore don’t know how faithful/unfaithful it is to Mr. King’s novel. But even assuming the movie was a very radical departure from the book, the bottom line is that the plot of Dreamcatcher, the movie, is a mish-mash of story ideas and concepts seen far too many times before in the works of Stephen King himself and other, far better sci-fi and horror films.

What you have with Dreamcatcher is a movie that features elements of Stand By Me in a shotgun marriage with Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Alien/Aliens. It is a mess of a film that moves from the present to the past and never really builds up enough steam to get us involved in almost everything that’s happening. We get the typical King flawed childhood characters grown up: In their youth, they were a “gang” of misfits who swear a lifelong pledge to be friends. They get into some scary mischief (in this case, they stop a trio of bullies from beating up a mentally disabled boy) and, as a result, find there’s more to their new-found friend than meets the eye. Despite his mental challenges, the beat up boy has a psychic gift, of sorts, which he shares with the other four boys who save him from the bullies (why he does this, given the movie’s final revelations, is a mystery that is never really resolved. Suffice to say, there is no real reason for this boy to be…a boy).

Fast forward twenty some years later and the four boys, now equally damaged grownups (one is suicidal, one is a drunk, one appears to have no real job, and the other is *gasp* a student counselor), head out to a hunting lodge for their annual “mischievous boys turned into damaged men annual hangout”. They miss their childhood and they miss their childhood friend (is he dead? We’re not certain…at least yet). They hang out and eat cooked ground beef and hunt (although they never are shown firing so much as a shot at any animal). Things are going hunky dory until the alien invaders show up.

Yup, alien invaders.

These invaders are both spores ingested through breathing or worm-like creatures with very, very sharp teeth. Soon, the military cordons off the forest and the entire surrounding area, and the man in charge, Colonel Kurtz (Morgan Freeman) reveals he’s been fighting alien invaders for over twenty years now and intends to wipe out every contaminated human and animal in the “zone”.  Given the character’s name, an obvious shout out to Heart Of Darkness, it should come as no surprise that the man is more than a little unhinged.

Now comes the really sick/stupid part: The people infected by the alien spores at the onset of their condition start to get really gassy.  Really gassy.

They burp and fart and their stomachs swell up grotesquely. When the alien spore within them finally emerges as a sharp-toothed worm, it does this by explosively emerging…from the victim’s ass.

You read that right: The worm explodes out of the victim’s ass.

There are times I fantasize walking into an agent or movie studio executive’s office and pitching a story concept and hoping against hope that the pitch will result in a green light. I’m a nobody to the movie industry…I have a few books out there which I think are pretty good and one of my stories, The Dark Fringe, has spent the past few years being shopped around the studios by the people behind Cowboys & Aliens and might, if I’m fortunate enough, get made into a film one day. At this point in time, however, I’m a nobody to the studios and for all intents and purposes my fantasy of movie glory remains just that.

So I’m thinking:  If Stephen King had never written a novel called Dreamcatcher and I was the one who came up with the concept of the story and pitched it to an agent or movie studio executive, what would the results have been?  I strongly suspect that by the time I got to the point of saying “…and the alien worms come out the victim’s asses…” they would call security and have me thrown out of their offices. Hell, if I were them, I’d certainly do so!

Further, I wonder what would happen if I had stepped into a time machine and approached Mr. Goldman circa 1968, when he’s hard at work on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and tell him that one day in the future he’ll be credited with writing a screenplay about alien creatures who explode out of people’s asses…and the film is meant to be a horror movie and not a comedy, I suspect he might well have called the cops on me too.

But because we’re talking about a movie based on a book by Stephen King and written by Lawrence Kasdan and William Goldman and directed by Mr. Kasdan, reputations, I strongly suspect, precede the work itself. Getting a movie like Dreamcatcher financed and off the ground probably involved studio executives looking at the names associated with the project rather than the project itself.

I just can’t believe anyone in their right mind would read the screenplay or hear a pitch to this movie and decide to go for it. Even as a lark.

And when one of the film’s biggest “suspense” sequences involves one of the characters sitting on a toilet and thus holding the lid down to keep one of those killer worms from escaping (Can you imagine Alfred Hitchcock working on something like this?!), and the character, knowing full well his life is in mortal danger, is nonetheless tempted to leave that lid for just one second because he has to get a toothpick from the ground to chew on.  Because, you know, it’s perfectly logical that when your life is in mortal danger you just have to do something that stupid…

At least in the Friday the 13th films, the cannon fodder teenagers risked their lives for something much more worthwhile…getting laid!

The only people I could recommend this film to is the MST3K crowd. You may be able to get more enjoyment out of laughing at -but not with– the film, if nothing else.