Revisiting movies from your childhood is always a risky business. What may have seemed like the most imaginative and awe-inspiring stories to young eyes don't necessarily hold up years later. Power Rangers fight scenes suddenly seem far more hilarious than exciting. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don't look quite as real anymore. Technology changes. The world changes. Your expectations change. Yet sometimes there are elements of nostalgia and genuinely good stories that stand the test of time. Jurassic Park for example still manages to be a tense and beautiful movie to watch despite leaps in CGI over the years. Even ones like The NeverEnding Story and Jumanji still offer something special to audiences even now.
Dreamscape is one of the most "eighties" movies you could ever hope to watch. From the crazy electronic soundtrack to horribly dated special effects it really is like stepping back in time and watching something that no doubt seemed absolutely amazing at the time. Of course 1984 was a far different period for technology in Hollywood than what we have now so you have to keep that in mind when watching. Dreamscape seems to combine so many different ideas to form quite a complex and confused end product which is enjoyable but could be delivered far better. In fact the special effects are probably the real highlight and the ideas are too ahead of their time to really be presented on screen in a believable manner. When you reach the end of the movie you can't help but think this is a story that would work far better with today's technological advances than struggling to pull everything together decades ago.
Gathering quite the cult status over the years Dreamscape was an early career standout for Dennis Quaid who is still going strong to this day. As lead character Alex Gardner, Quaid brings a youthful exuberance and anti-authority stance that makes him someone the girls will love to stare at and the guys will want to be. Loveable rogue Alex is a special gifted young man with psychic powers of sorts and understandably quite the prickly character due to various people wishing to hunt him down and use him for their own gain. Quaid has quite the supporting cast including Max von Sydow as his former mentor Dr Paul Novotny and Christopher Plummer as the more suspicious government agent Bob Blair. Novotny still has a need to nurture Alex and his powers and wants to help the government to research psychic abilities and dream jumping and it's his presence along with Dr. Jane DeVries (Kate Capshaw) that keeps Alex around.
Inevitably things fall apart with Blair's involvement turning the project from something for medical good into something far more sinister. Alex and Novotny work together to look deeper into Blair's motives and what he's trying to do. This leads to Alex treating Buddy (Cory Yothers), a young boy with horrific nightmares, and we're thrown into a horror world involving a snakeman. This is almost where Dreamscape loses itself as between sci-fi, horror and even romance it's not quite sure what it wants to be. Alex even ends up in Jane's dream one time and they become intimate despite the fact he snuck in there without her knowing. It ends up a bit all over the place but manages to hang on to a satisfying final third.
Plummer turns out to be quite the villain, a world away from singing with the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music. Blair not only murders people he works with but even moves to eliminate the President of the United States by sending a psychopath in to his dreams. We're shown how the President has nightmares about his job and doubts and Blair isn't willing to let such a weak man be in a position of power. As we watch the dangerous Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly) carry out Blair's wishes it's clear that Alex has finally met his match against someone with powers even greater than his. This gives Dreamscape a much needed genuine threat and pushes Alex to embrace his abilities more than he ever has to a decent conclusion that leaves a few questions for the audience to ponder.
Dennis Quaid is as cool as he ever has been as Alex and the acting in Dreamscape is decent enough to carry off the various ideas that David Loughery and his writing team throw out there. It does feel genuinely scary in places and the Maurice Jarre soundtrack plays the chaotic angle very well. Is it as good as it could be? No but as an ambitious piece of science fiction from the early 80s it probably does as well as it could do considering the tools at their disposal. Capshaw makes for a good female hero too and doesn't take too much nonsense from Quaid's character. Overall you can see why Dreamscape is deemed worthy of its nostalgic cult status and while it may not look great to modern audiences you understand why it has a place in the hearts of many who grew up with it.
EXTRAS: There's a recent interview The Actor's Journey With Dennis Quaid (14:50), Dreamscapes And Dreammakers - Retrospective including interviews with Director Joseph Ruben, Co-Writer David Loughery, Actor David Patrick Kelly And other members of the Special Effects Team (61:50), Nightmares And Dreamsnakes Looking back at the Snakeman with Craig Reardon, David Patrick Kelley and others (23:23), In-depth conversation between Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis and Co-Writer/Producer Chuck Russell (23:31), Audio commentary with Bruce Cohn Curtis, David Loughery and Special Makeup artist Craig Reardon, Snakeman Test Footage (2:16), Still Gallery and Theatrical Trailer (2:13).