Feelin’ Spooky: Dreamcatcher (2003)

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By Christian DiMartino

So, once upon a time, I owned Lawrence Kasdan’s Dreamcatcher on DVD. The film was included in a Stephen King 4 pack that includes Cat’s Eye, Creepshow, and Delores Claiborne– none of which I’d seen at the time. With the plethora of talent involved in Dreamcatcher though, one would suspect that it might be good. Clearly, I did not receive this memo. So I plop this movie into a portable DVD player on a two hour car ride to an airport, and let me just say that the film before me was so stunningly awful I really wanted to jump out of the car. Watching Dreamcatcher, even though this isn’t literal, you can practically see the film bursting into flames the further and further you get into it. I didn’t end up finishing the movie for another week, because of our trip to Florida. Yet when I returned home, I took the film out of the DVD player, and I threw it in the middle of the street. Let me just say that watching this film get ran over by multiple cars felt like payback for having two hours of my life taken from me.

At the time, I believed Dreamcatcher to be among the worst movies I’d ever seen. Something compelled me to revisit it the other day though. Perhaps it’s because I’m switching up my scary movie routine this month and seeking out movies that I’m not 100% familiar with. Plus, I figured that Dreamcatcher would make for some interesting writing material, so alas, here we are. Dreamcatcher is the 10-megaton bomb I remembered it to be; a film that begins interestingly, but with striking flaws, and then falls apart more and more the deeper you get into it. Having said that, upon a re-watch, I will say that it isn’t quite one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, simply because there are times when it’s absolutely hysterical.

When it comes to something like Dreamcatcher, is it such an awful movie because it’s such an awful movie, or is it such an awful movie because a group of very talented people joined forces to make such an awful movie? The film stars Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore, Jason Lee, Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, and Donnie Wahlberg. Not to mention, it’s directed and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, whose screenwriting credits include Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, and whose directing credits include The Big Chill and Body Heat. It’s also co-written by two time Academy Award winner William Goldman (All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). What the hell happened? Well, in the early scenes, this film has a glaring problem in the form of its screenplay. The further you get into it though, the movie has another major problem, and I’ll give you a hint: it involves the “s**t weasels.”

The film revolves around four friends (Jane, Olyphant, Lewis, and Lee) who all share telepathic powers. These powers were gained, somewhat mysteriously, from a mentally challenged childhood friend that they call “Duddits.” Where did they grow up? Derry, Maine, of course. Ah, can’t you just smell the Stephen King? Well, there’s something else you can probably smell fuming from the screen, but it isn’t completely there yet. Not completely. This setup is interesting enough I suppose but it suffers from a major issue: the dialogue is completely horrible. I haven’t read the novel by King, but I have read a few of his books and he’s a great writer. Some of the time though, certain things just don’t translate to the screen, and this is one of those times. Watching Dreamcatcher, I felt certain that it was a faithful adaptation, but sometimes things just sound better on paper.

What do I mean? Well, these characters spout dialogue that is almost painful to listen to. Particularly Jason Lee, who is given the thankless role of trying to make so many of these lines land. His character is constantly spouting these expressions and it’s as if he, and Kasdan and Goldman, expected these to be catchphrases that caught on. “F**k me, Freddy!” is a popular one among this group. “F**k-a-roo” is another. At a few points Lee spouts out “Jesus Christ bananas!” It almost sounds like they’re children trying to sound cool. Oh, and speaking of children, they also say stuff (and this is actually in reference to when they were children) like, “Here I come to save the day, Mighty Mouse is on the way!” and “Scooby Dooby Doo, we got some work to do now!” But not only do they say these things, but they say them as if they’re completely serious, and as if what they’re saying is of some deep significance. It’s horrible to listen to, but it’s also kind of hilarious to witness such talented people try their best to sell this material.

Alright, so, back to the plot. The four friends decide to go to this cabin in the middle of a snowy winter. At one point they all part ways for… reasons, and this is when the plot begins to really kick into gear. And burst into flame. Lee and Lewis stay behind while the other two go somewhere (they ultimately crash their car because some weirdo is sitting in the middle of the road). A stranger knocks on the door and Lee and Lewis let them in. He looks sick, but they let him in because it’s freezing (they don’t look that cold though when they’re standing in the middle of the snow screaming at a helicopter, but I digress). Soon though, they begin to wonder what is really wrong with this guy, as his stomach balloons and he (I kid you not) begins belching, burping, and farting. This… was intended to be scary right? Supposedly, but wait, there’s more.

So they put the big guy in bed and leave him be. Shortly after though they find that he’s left his bed and gone to the bathroom, leaving behind a trail of blood. Here is where maybe the film’s biggest miscalculation arrives, and that’s saying something. They find him sitting on the s**tter, and when they lift him off, they find that this guy has literally pooped out an alien… yeah. Again, maybe READING this would be effective but, bringing this to the screen, they really require a major leap from you to take this seriously. So Lee tries to contain it but he drops his toothpicks and because he… really needs one (?) he lets the butthole alien out of the toilet and soon the spirit of the alien leader, named Mr. Gray, takes over Lewis’ body. I’m pretty sure Lewis is actually English, but his performance takes on an English accent that, mixed with his facial expressions, make the performance a hoot. That and Mr. Gray comes fully equipped with sound effects, when he lifts his hood, and when he turns his neck. It’s kind of amazing. Meanwhile, Olyphant and Jane also do battle with the ASS-tra-terrestrials (eh, a stretch) and soon Jane begins to wonder if Duddits has given them all these powers for something larger than they ever expected. All the while, the government is in search of these aliens, and a government agent (Freeman) who finds himself going a bit nutty, is really after them.

So the first 40 minutes or so of Dreamcatcher doesn’t really work because of its atrocious writing. Then aliens start crawling out of people’s a**holes and the movie completely loses its mind. Not to mention, the horrendous dialogue accompanies it, so it’s like a double whammy of awful. The film keeps going and honestly it just gets so over the top and ridiculous and stupid that you just have to sort of laugh at it. It’s also not even remotely scary, because honestly, you’re probably too busy giggling at the idea that it’s kind of difficult to find it convincing. I’ll say, Lewis and Lee aside, the performances aren’t too bad, but they’re all in service of material that is vastly beneath them. I’ll also say that the movie is filmed well. The cinematography is from John Seale, whose work includes The English Patient and Mad Max: Fury Road, so no wonder.

Dreamcatcher is still though, quite a trainwreck. It’s a laughable, disastrous movie that I imagine everyone involved in it deeply regrets. Goldman only wrote one more screenplay before his death, and it wasn’t for another 10 years or so. Kasdan also said that the failure of this movie made it very difficult for him to get any projects off the ground, and he didn’t return to the director’s chair until 2012’s Darling Companion (which was also, unfortunately, crap). Dreamcatcher is horrible, and probably for more reasons than the ones I’ve already described, but if you’re in the right frame of mind and you have a glass of beer or two, it might be good for a laugh.

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