Review: Dreamcatcher (2003)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #712

Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 21, 2003
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $68,000,000
Box Office: $75,700,000
Running Time: 133 minutes
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Producers: Lawrence Kasdan, Charles Okun, Mark Kasdan
Screenplay: William Goldman, Lawrence Kasdan
Based on Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
Special Effects: Joel Echallier, Céline Godeau, Rob Hinderstein, Toby Lindala, Ryan Nicholson, Christopher Mark Pinhey
Visual Effects: Mark Freund
Cinematography: John Seale
Score: James Newton Howard
Editing: Carol Littleton
Studios: Castle Rock Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures, Kasdan Pictures, NPV Entertainment, WV Films II
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Stars: Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee, Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore, Donnie Wahlberg, Mikey Holekamp, Reece Thompson, Giacomo Baessato, Joel Palmer, Andrew Robb

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Ben E. King “Stand By Me”
[2] James Newton Howard “Main Title”
[3] James Newton Howard “End Title”

Ah, to be young and carefree again. It’s one of life’s little inevitabilities that we’ll reach a point during our existence when we grow weary of the challenges adults are forced to face on perpetual loop and find ourselves reminiscing over “the good old days”. It’s called selective memory, as while nothing even vaguely distressing happened back then, at least not in our recollection. Indeed the only real concern was whether or not we’d have our underwear hoiked up our ass cracks or be slightly less endowed than the other kids in the locker room. Outside of that, it was pretty much plain sailing all the way right?

Of course it wasn’t, being a kid wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and entailed being ill-equipped to cope with even the most trivial of pursuits without crying out for mommy. That’s where friends came handy, as while they may not have possessed all the answers, at least we weren’t required to suffer in silence. Graze your knee during a jump rope incident and chances were that your good pal Timmy Simmonds would suffer a nose-bleed soon after or that cute Lacey Turner from around the way would shit her knickers just to share the burden of embarrassment.

Legendary author Stephen King knows precisely where I’m coming from as a number of his vast literary oeuvre have incorporated prepubescents. In the great man’s own words – “As children we tend to live in this kind of dream state and because I equate that sort of dream state with a heightened sort of mental state, I make this easy cross-connection between childhood and strange powers, paranormal powers or whatever, and it has been successful as a fictional device.” One of the reasons why King’s prose is held in such lofty esteem is that he never forgets to forge a basic human connection with his characters and kids come without all that cumbersome emotional baggage associated with adults, giving him a more open playing field to work with.

Two stellar examples would be novella The Body (which Rob Reiner translated masterfully to film as Stand By Me) and terrifying page turner It (later the subject of Tommy Lee Wallace’s flawed but flavorsome miniseries of the same name). Another is Dreamcatcher and we thank Lawrence Kasdan to thank (or thump) for bringing this curious little number to the silver screen. Generally regarded as a “likeable disaster”, Kasdan’s adaptation was ridiculed by critics and cinemagoers alike, barely breaking even at the box-office.

Not only was it too batshit crazy for most to even attempt to fathom but it tinkered with the source fiction, particularly during its goofy final act, and that didn’t go down with King’s legion of tough to please fans. I had no desire to judge it but interestingly it has taken well in excess of a decade to dust it down and give this “likeable disaster” a look-see. Just to be clear, I can now fully appreciate why it received a raw deal. That’s not to say it isn’t a whole barrel-load of slip slide shenanigans but even I can only defend so much.

Meet Henry Devlin (Thomas Jane), Joe “Beaver” Clarendon (Jason Lee), Gary “Jonesy” Jones (Damian Lewis), and Pete Moore (Timothy Olyphant) – four buddies from way back who are about to head off on their annual hunting trip in Maine. While they look fairly run of the mill on first impression, in fact, this quartet are anything but. You see, one day on their after school travels, they rescued a mentally handicapped boy from neighborhood bullies and their brand new friend, Douglas “Duddits” Cavell, repaid them in a manner most extraordinary. All four possess telepathic powers that assist no end with getting ahead in both business and pleasure and these yearly get-togethers allow them to exchange notes and feel a little less unique for a few days. Friendships have been known to fade over time but where Henry, Beaver, Jonesy and Pete are concerned, these gatherings are akin to slipping on a nice comfy pair of moccasins.

Alas the boys are about to receive one helluva reality check after Jonesy rescues a frostbitten man from the thicket a few clicks from their cabin in the woods. Being the stand-up guys that they are, this curious stranger is donated the obligatory hot meal and hard mattress while he recovers from the semi-catatonic trauma that grips him so. What they fail to comprehend in all their child-like naïvety is that this hapless sap isn’t travelling quite as light as it first appeared. Nothing taking a nice thorough dump wouldn’t fix right? Negative and you probably shouldn’t mention that to Beaver as it’s something of a sore subject at present.

It turns out that Beaver was the kid who couldn’t resist parting his legs on the latrine just to ascertain the girth and texture of his latest depth charge. Old habits die hard and if only the same could be said for the curious kitten on inspection detail. Bottom line, the cat is out of the bag so to speak although I believe the term “mischievous extraterrestrial” better describes this particular unwanted visitor. Perhaps if it were allowed to phone home, then our illegal alien wouldn’t be so hell-bent on fucking up their itinerary. However, rundown shacks in the middle of nowhere never were all that hot on interplanetary telecommunications. Shitstorm inbound fellas and I’ve not seen hide nor hair of Dick Halloran or his snow plough since that long cold winter at the Overlook Hotel so I reckon you’re on your own.

Of course, how foolish of me. You can always bank on the military to bail us out in the event of impending alien invasion and they’ve turned up right on cue so it seems we won’t be needing that panic button after all. That said, there’s something ever so vaguely shifty about this lot, particularly their top dog, Colonel Abraham Curtis (Morgan Freeman). Perhaps I’m being paranoid here, but his eyes seem to cry out “nuke ’em” and his chapped lips appear to be limbering up to deliver some decidedly blunt direct orders. With the skies ablaze with chopper blades and E.T.’s second cousin twice removed currently preparing for an encounter too close for comfort, it’s time to drag poor terminally ill Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg) off his death-bed for one more group hug for old time’s sake.

For the first act at least, Dreamcatcher has all the makings of a vintage King adaptation. Jane, Lee, Olyphant and Lewis share a wonderfully organic connection and it’s nothing less than a joy to kick back and sink a few cans with them. Unfortunately, once their four-way group dynamic is compromised, it all goes a little haywire and there really is no way back from there.

Things aren’t helped by a strangely off-color Freeman who gives one of his least inspiring turns ever as the swinging dick in this crash site. Tom Sizemore fares a little better as his right-hand man, Captain Owen Underhill, and Lewis crazies things up with plentiful verve as an AWOL Jonesy succumbs to cabin fever. But the dream state innocence has long gone and we’re left fondly looking back at what once was.

To be fair, it is something of a rip-roarer and the unhinged closing act could never be accused of being uneventful. Aside from a peaky Freeman, everyone else pulls their weight, and there’s almost $70 million dollars on display to help massage those aching hearts. It’s just unfortunate that things started so well and wound up victim of cinematic momentum at its most relentless. That said, it’s nowhere near as much of a travesty as some would have you believe and a “likeable disaster” is still likeable at the end of the day. I’ve watched a fair few “unlikable disasters” in my time and I know which way my peanut butter jelly sandwiches are buttered. You see, always down with the kids.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: What’s down the toilet Beaver? Is it a floater? Is that why your knuckles and face are white? Tell you what, why don’t we take a quick gander together, see what kind of battleships you sank?

Jesus Christ Beaver, that ones so gnarly it has dozens of dozens of regimented teeth, all of which are gnashing their intent rather dubiously. Flush it damn you! And don’t forget to wash your hands. What do you mean “Ha! Ha! Very funny”?

Read The Mist Appraisal
Read Children of The Corn Appraisal
Read The Shining Appraisal
Read 1408 Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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