Dreamscape (1984) 3.14/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 67.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 99 mins
Director: Joseph Ruben
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer

There have been many attempts to get the dreamscape scenario right in film and television (including some much vaunted and ridiculously overhyped recent efforts) but this obscure little sci-fi thriller from the 80’s has probably come the closest. Dennis Quaid is a charming young psychic who has left a life of experimentation where he played guinea pig to a group of curious scientists to instead use his abilities to make a quick buck. Convinced to return to the program to help out with a government funded project involving “dreamwalking”, he finds himself tied up in a national conspiracy involving psychopaths and sinister CIA operatives.

Despite its relatively flat dialogue, the characters and the actors who play them along with some perceptive direction raises Dreamscape above most of the low-budget sci-fi thrillers of its time. Quaid is a great lead and full of his usual charm and personality while David Patrick Kelly is deliciously creepy as the villain. Kate Capshaw is a vibrant co-star while Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer add some welcome gravitas to the lineup. Furthermore, director Joseph Ruben ensures the dreams are caught in a wonderfully hazy style that mimics the randomness of the genuine phenomenon (far from the slick contained and utterly unrealistic dreamscapes of Inception). Better still, the more nightmarish scenarios are really quite terrifying reinforced by some nasty incarnations of fear and Kelly’s cleverly written and nicely played character. Moreover, rather than some clumsy notion of dream purgatory, the jeopardy within the dreams is realised much more directly as it becomes the fear itself. Of course, they do also fall back on the life-death reality-dream conflation but even here they work it into the plot centrally so that it seems more reasonable than it has in the countless Star Trek and Inception like attempts where it was always an indirect possibility that was tacked on to compensate for a distinct lack of drama that their pretext for dreamscaping produced in the first place (i.e., helping a colleague overcome a deeply rooted and life threatening conflict and spying on the dreamers’ innermost secrets).

Ultimately, the best thing you can say about this one is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It just sets out to be a good thriller and doesn’t get caught up in deluded notions of cleverness. After all, dreamscape scenarios are themselves always teetering on the comic book end of the sci-fi spectrum and don’t suffer earnestness too well.

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2 thoughts on “Dreamscape (1984)”

    1. Hi Vic, actually that’s a nice observation. There is a rawness to it that marked many of the great early sci-fi thrillers.

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