This may get you arrested, but the next time you're in a family clothing store, wander over to the children's section and try to squeeze into a pair of pants. This will give you an idea of the challenge a screenwriter faces when they attempt to adapt a massive novel for the screen. Certain elements of the story must be kept, while others have to be sacrificed. Does a literal translation guarantee a good movie? Dreamcatcher is a very faithful adaptation of the Stephen King novel, but that simply means that the movie has inherited all of the flaws from the novel.
As with any work derived from King, Dreamcatcher has a multi-layered story. Four life-long friends, Henry (Thomas Jane), Jonesy (Damian Lewis), Pete (Timothy Olyphant), and Beaver (Jason Lee), convene at an isolated cabin to hunt and reminisce. Though they have since gone on to lead different lives, this quartet shares a very special bond, for, as children, they befriended a boy with mental retardation named Duddits, who endowed them all with psychic powers. Their quiet weekend in the woods is interrupted, when a stranger wanders into their camp. This sickly man is infected with an alien parasite, the result of a nearby spacecraft landing. As the group of friends attempt to deal with the extraterrestrial monsters, the military, led by Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman) and Owen (Tom Sizemore) arrive. Curtis is determined to destroy every living creature in the vicinity in order to ensure that the aliens can't infect the general population. Will our four heroes be able to survive?
In theory, Dreamcatcher should have been a good movie. With films such as The Big Chill and Grand Canyon, Lawrence Kasdan has proven himself to be a fine dramatic director. The screenplay adaptation was done by Kasdan and Hollywood legend William Goldman, who had previously adapted King with the great Misery. The cast of the film is littered with familiar and talented faces. So, what's the problem? The problem is that no matter how much talent is behind the camera, it can't overcome the fact that Dreamcatcher simply doesn't have a compelling story. The novel is certainly one of King's weakest works of late, as it combines elements of his previous works, such as It, The Tommyknockers, and The Body. Anyone who's read King knows that his talent lies in the fact that he can take a seemingly familiar story and make it his own. But Dreamcatcher never felt like more than a typical alien-invasion story combined with King's trademark tales of smart-ass kids.
All of these problems find their way into Dreamcatcher the movie. To Goldman and Kasdan's credit, the first 90-minutes of the movie is an incredibly literal adaptation of the book. But, by sticking to King's story, they have kept all of the contrivances of the book. The companionship of the four friends feels forced. The alien invasion story is lame and never feels original. The military angle is very hackneyed, and the casting of Morgan Freeman was a mistake, as he simply doesn't come off as evil. By attempting a literal adaptation of the novel, Dreamcatcher also brings in some aspects which seemed unfilmable. Much of the third act of the story takes place in the mind of one of the main characters. This, combined with some of the supernatural elements which creep into the film's conclusion, seemed silly in the book, and they come off as laughable here. The final nail in the coffin is that Stephen King's odd dialogue just sounds dumb when it's spoken aloud by actors. Dreamcatcher is a well-made film that can't overcome its clunky source material.
Dreamcatcher invades DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film is being released in separate full-screen and widescreen editions. For the purposes of this review, the widescreen release was screened. The DVD features an anamorphic widescreen transfer and the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. The image is very sharp and clear, showing very little grain, despite the fact that most of the film takes place in a completely white, snowy setting. These settings give the film a very mono-chromatic look, which has a great deal of definition. There is some slight compression artifacting at times, but there is little edge-enhancement and no visible defects from the source print. The framing appears to be accurate, as the image is never squeezed or warped. Overall, a fine trasnfer.
The disc offers a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue, and no evidence of hissing or distortion. The stereo and surround effects are plentiful, and the film's sound design creatively exploits the helicopter and alien sound effects. And, while the surround and stereo effects are good, they could have been better. For example, during one scene where a voice is clearly meant to go from speaker-to-speaker, it lazily circle the room, as if the engineers didn't want to add more effects. Also, the dynamic range is questionable at times.
Presumably due to the film's box-office failure, the Dreamcatcher DVD doesn't carry many extras. "DreamWriter -- An Interview with Stephen King", is a 7-minute interview with the author, in which he discusses the origins of the novel. Despite the fact that we're informed that King has seen a rough-cut of the film, he doesn't really comment on it. "DreamMakers -- A Journey Through the Production", is a very thorough 19-minute making-of featurette. This segment features a slew of behind-the-scenes footage, as well as interview with the principal cast and crew. "DreamWeavers -- The Visual Effects of Dreamcatcher" (8 minutes) gives visual effects producer Jeff Olson an opportunity to discuss the film's major special effects sequences.
There are four "lifted" scenes, one of which feels more like an outtake. The original ending is also included here, but this 8 1/2 minute segment only features about 1 1/2 minutes of alternate footage, and doesn't change the meaning of the finale seen in the finished film. Finally, the "teaser trailer" is included, but at 2 1/2 minutes, this feels more like an official trailer.
For years, there has been the apparent mentality in Hollywood that everything Stephen King writes must be adapted for the screen. Dreamcatcher proves that this isn't a very good idea. The movie is well-acted and directed, but the story is cliched and much of it comes off as silly. And, at 134 minutes, it wears out its welcome very soon. Even King fans should avoid this one and re-read It