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Dreamcatcher
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Lawrence Kasdan (director), William Goldman (screenwriter) and Stephen King (author)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   March 21, 2003
Review Date:   March 28, 2003
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)
That sound you hear is the shrieking of movie-goers who went to see Dreamcatcher with visions of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Hearts in Atlantis dancing in their heads. The ones who've only seen the kinder, gentler Stephen King. Sure, King's into friendships, Kodachrome portraits of days gone by, and the triumph of the human spirit over terrible circumstances, but King also has the heart of a little boy. . . which he keeps in a jar on his desk.

Dreamcatcher is a return to the type of King that's about the bond of friendship and blood on the walls and creatures with too many teeth to count. Dreamcatcher is gross, vile, and disgusting. King is a man who (if my vague memory from high school serves) created a death scene in which a person was wrung like a wet wash-clothe until the blood poured from the flesh like water. And in Dreamcatcher, King doesn't just go for the throat, he also goes for the. . . um. . . bathing suit area.

Bathroom humor is a well-recognized concept. But what about bathroom horror? King's been doing exactly that, and doing it well, for years. There's the short story of a man who finds that he's got more than plumbing problems when a finger-like appendage begins peeking its way out of the drain of his bathroom sink. Or the very regular man whose daily visits to the bathroom at work are disturbed by the appearance of a specter in stall number three. These are stories that are funny, but at the same time, the horror is more visceral, more flesh-crawlingly gritty. Because, as those of you who've seen Stand by Me know, finding a leech on your arms or legs is gross, but there are worse places. . . much worse places.

I really enjoyed Dreamcatcher, but based on what I've read, I may be the only one. The movie does have its weaknesses, and I'll be happy to point them out to you.

1) Some of the movie is (SPOILERS) a rip-off of Alien. But King knows that, and he winks at us. Aside from the obvious Ripley reference, one of the main characters is called Jonesy, which is the name of Ripley's cat. Pretty much anything that deals with a parasitic extraterrestrial organism is going to get tagged an Alien rip-off, so King beats us to the punch. Aside from that, King's aliens have some pretty interesting properties all their own. Was it my imagination, or was their entire ship made of that red fungus?

2) King is retreading his steps in Dreamcatcher, particularly with the "group of young outcast friends come up against a group of bullies" motif (as my brother pointed out, one of the kids always has to have that same pair of nerdy black eyeglasses). I also felt like the childhood sequences were glossed over too quickly. That said, if you're going to steal, steal from the best. And even Stephen King's retreads are more compelling than much of what other writers come up with the first time around.

3) The scenes that involve the army guys (Morgan Freeman and Tom Sizemore) often feel like they belong in a separate movie.

4) The usual logistical problems. (SPOILERS GALORE) If the General's been waging this secret war on the aliens for 25 years, are we to believe that, in all that time, they've always conveniently landed in an area that didn't alert the rest of the non-"secret army" world to their existence? And if the General is so confident that his security perimeter will manage to catch every infected deer, racoon and bunny wabbit for miles around, how is it that a guy on a snowmobile manages to make it past that perimeter? And, in 25 years, this is the first time that the aliens have thought, "Hey, we can infect their water supply." These aren't exactly plot holes. They're more like hazy plot areas. The book might have fleshed these out, but the screenwriter should have taken the time to clue us in.

5) The ending is weak. Not in a "ruined the whole movie" sense, but in the "inevitable end of the movie confrontation that's not nearly as cool as the rising action" sense.

So, after all that, why did I like Dreamcatcher? Part of it's because I haven't read the book, and so had no expectations. Part of it's because I've had King hardwired into my system since I first read It in junior high, so I grok King on an instinctual level. And part of it's because, in my role as your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer, I've sat through some truly limp, useless horror flicks, and so am grateful for a film with genuine frights and genuine characters. Our introduction to the four main characters is perfectly observed. The acting is good across the board, but of particular note are Jason Lee as Beaver and Damian Lewis as Jonesy. I spent part of the movie cringing in my seat, part of the movie laughing, part of the movie admiring nifty ideas niftily translated to film (the memory warehouse, for example), and part of the movie exchanging That was cool glances with the person sitting next to me.

Bonus Round:

1) Dreamcatcher isn't one of those movies in which the main bulk of scares and visuals fit into a 90-second trailer.
2) In the "more delight for your dollar" department, before the main attraction, you get to see the short computer-animated The Final Flight of the Osiris, part of Warner Brother's teaser campaign for The Matrix sequels. And it is sweet. Plus, since the "short" is pretty lengthy, there is the added entertainment of watching the confused rabble in the audience as they worry that they've stepped into the wrong theater.
In spite of Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers' love for Stephen King, he wouldn't rewatch The Tommyknockers, even if you threatened to wring him out like a washcloth.

 
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