This entertaining mash-up of genres dives into the dangerous world of dreams, and there is no Christopher Nolan in sight. Dreamscape, from director Joseph Ruben, stars a young Dennis Quaid as Alex Gardner, a psychic recruited to link with others and enter their dreams to help cure insomnia, phobias and other mental ailments. Offering elements of science fiction, action, horror, drama and romance, Dreamscape features the similar-looking Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer in opposing roles. Sydow's Dr. Paul Novotny uses government funds for good, easing clients' minds during REM sleep with the assistance of psychics like Gardner, but Plummer's Bob Blair is more interested in mind control. At the heart of the drama is the President of the United States (Eddie Albert), who has frightening nightmares of a nuclear apocalypse. If nothing else, Dreamscape is a lot of fun. It also has big ambitions that it executes well on a trim, $6-million budget.
Gardner left Novotny's research nest years ago, and now uses his psychic powers to cheat at sports betting, which angers local racetrack goons. To escape a local gangster, Gardner agrees to join Novotny, scientist Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw) and arrogant psychic Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly) at the research clinic. He soon enters the mind of another, and finds the experience shockingly real. His perilous adventure atop the original World Trade Center ends when someone hits the reset button, but to Gardner the danger is very real. He meets a young boy (Cory Yothers) haunted by vicious nightmares, and helps little Buddy exterminate a snake monster and clear his head. He also aids a man restless over his wife's infidelity in one bizarre, memorable dream sequence. Gardner soon observes the power struggle between Novotny and Blair, and learns that Blair may be using the groundbreaking technology for a sinister purpose.
A Nightmare on Elm Street this is not, but some of the principles remain the same: You die in the dream, you die in real life. The film gets into some sticky territory when Gardner invades DeVries's sex dream, and she is unsure what indiscretions have been committed upon waking up. The link-up can also fry the mind of the psychic, a fact which Glatman gleefully reiterates upon learning Gardner has completed his first successful dream walk. The demons created by the subconscious are often frightening, and Gardner must fight danger both real and imagined. Ruben creates some fantastically entertaining sequences with the help of inventive practical effects, and the disc's bonus features reveal that the hand-crafted snake monster made its way into the nightmares of many young viewers.
The ensemble cast is surprisingly accomplished, and Quaid is particularly invested. His chemistry with Capshaw is palpable, and the pair flirts and pals around believably. Dreamscape is also notable for being only the second film released in theaters with a PG-13 rating, which it pushes here. Fellow cult favorite Red Dawn, the first film to be released with a PG-13 rating, reached theaters just a week prior in 1984. [Thanks to a reader who pointed out that The Flamingo Kid was actually the first film rated PG-13 but was released later.] I had not seen this movie prior to giving Shout Factory's new Blu-ray a spin, and I am pleased to have it in my collection. There is more than enough action, suspense and drama to go around, and the film proves an entertaining diversion that holds up surprisingly well.
At risk of sounding like a fanboy, which I probably am, I'm going to offer my unsolicited opinion that Shout Factory really answered the call to step up their game in the technical department. They've recently begun offering brand new transfers for most major releases, and Dreamscape is no exception. Shout provides a new 2K scan of the original elements, and this HD presentation looks largely fantastic. The opening credits suffer from some print damage and wobble, but the rest of the feature cleans up nicely. This is an ‘80s lower-budget release, so there are some source flaws. Darker scenes are grainer and suffer from moderate black crush, but that is no fault of this presentation. Brighter scenes offer excellent fine-object detail and color saturation. Clarity and depth and strong, too, and I was pleased to see a total absence of noise reduction and edge enhancement. Minor imperfections include brief aliasing and some dodgy effects blending, but this is an overall pleasing transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix offers moderate depth and some decent surround action. Dialogue is clear and without hiss and distortion. Ambient effects make use of the surrounds, and action sequences are given subwoofer and surround support. The musical score is reasonably deep and appropriately layered. An English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single disc "Collector's Edition" is packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover. The reversible cover artwork offers a newly commissioned image on the front, while the theatrical poster artwork adorns the back. Extras are stacked: First, you get an older Audio Commentary. Participants include Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis, Writer Brandon Loughery and Make-up Artist Craig Reardon. This is a decent listen but not essential. Dreamscapes and Dreammakers (1:01:50/HD) is a wonderful, newly created retrospective, with interviews from the cast and crew. Nightmares and Dreamsnakes (23:23/HD) dives into the "Snake Man" monster and how it was created, while Dennis Quaid: The Actor's Journey (14:50/HD) offers a newly shot interview with the career actor. Bruce Cohn Curtis & Chuck Russell - In Conversation 2016 (23:21/HD) is a chat with two of the producers, and the Snake Man Test Footage (2:16/HD) offers glimpses at the practical-effects monster. Things wrap up with a Still Gallery (2:32/HD) and the Theatrical Trailer (2:13/HD), which, in true ‘80s fashion, gives away too much.
This 1984 genre-bending thriller features a young Dennis Quaid as a psychic who ventures into the dreams of others to cure mental illness and other phobias. Entertaining, visually arresting and nicely acted, Dreamscape offers consistent entertainment. Shout Factory's "Collector's Edition" Blu-ray sports a new 2K transfer and some excellent bonus features. Highly Recommended.