On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the entertaining but total misfire adaptation of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher!
An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Dreamcatcher tells the story of four childhood friends who were gifted strange abilities by a special needs child they saved so many years ago. Now grown men on their annual winter retreat to a cabin in the woods, the four finally learn the true purpose of their gifts when they come face-to-face with the alien menace known only as Mr. Grey.
SWING AND A MISS
Dreamcatcher, from director Lawrence Kasdan–the director of movies like Wyatt Earp and the writer of classics like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark–is, without question, a wonderfully cast film that also happens to be utter garbage.
King’s novel isn’t exactly a masterpiece that holds up well to any scrutiny. It was admittedly written while King was
recovering from an accident that nearly killed him, and the influence of drugs in his system is clear from beginning to end. But like the best of his works, the characters and relationships in his original story were present and almost makes up for the absurdity, meandering pace, and frustrating moments that plague the rest of the novel.
Unfortunately, while Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, and Timothy Olyphant are perfectly cast in their roles as four childhood friends, the movie doesn’t pay them enough attention. Instead, the movie focuses on the paper-thin plot of a not-so secret alien invasion headed by Mr. Grey. And as the four friends attempt to survive their battle with Mr. Grey, they’ll also have to contend with Morgan Freeman’s cartoonishly psychotic Col. Abraham Curtis, a man set on exterminating every last trace of aliens from the face of the Earth.
These were the least interesting and the least coherent parts of King’s novel. The plot is simultaneously over-the-top and generic. The motivations are unclear to the point of being contrived. And while it makes a beeline for the finish, the story constantly gets distracted with the far more interesting character moments shared between its four leads.
The movie, however, strips away so much of these quieter moments between friends so as to streamline King’s massive tome for a two-hour runtime. And while such a trim was needed–and even welcomed–it feels as if they cut all the wrong parts.
ATTACK THE HEART
This is very much supposed to be a sentimental story about four friends spending what turns out to be their final days with one another. Of four brothers unknowingly enlisted from childhood into a war of the worlds. We’re introduced to each character separately in a cold open that almost insists that you have read the book to get the point. Each man receives about three to five minutes to highlight their general personality, unique gift, and their current lot in life. We see that these four men do indeed know each other via quick phone calls that connect these otherwise unrelated scenes.
Now in the book, these are all extended scenes that dig into each man’s emotional state of mind and reinforces just how much they need each other. No matter how much they’ve aged or drifted on a day-to-day basis, with their lives and careers taking them to different parts of the country, their bond transcends everything.
So almost immediately, the heart of the movie’s conflict is hacked away entirely. These are now just four grown men who sorta miss their old friends…rather than four brothers missing a part of themselves.
Now, the few moments in which the main cast is gathered together feels like a family reunion. They quip and bicker and laugh together in a way that feels like these four men have known each other all their lives. That they would die for each other.
But just when the movie finally gets them all together, it also then rushes to get to what it believes is a fascinating plot about aliens invading and a military that won’t stop till their enemy is dead and buried in a shallow, unmarked grave. These four men caught in the middle of it all are second bananas to the chaos around them.
So much is cut, in fact, that the flashbacks to their childhood feels entirely out of place. These key scenes are not just
stripped of sentimentality but also dramatic weight. They’re pivotal to the plot just as much as they are to the characters. But it’s all compressed down to a few minutes of lazy exposition.
The end result is a heartless sci-fi thriller that is constantly distracted by characters we’re not given a chance to care about.
It’s as if two entirely unrelated scripts were mashed together. One was an alien invasion movie, the other a heartwarming bro-mance about friends gathering together after the near-death experience of one of their own. Either would have worked fine enough on their own, maybe. But together in equal measure? It’s just a waste of two stories.
These two drastically different halves ultimately play nice together in the novel–quality of writing not withstanding, of course. But that’s because novels have all the time needed to do so. A two-hour movie is something Dreamcatcher was never destined to be.
That all said, Dreamcatcher may be well-cast enough and absolutely crazy enough to keep you hooked from start to
finish. You might end up questioning your decision to do so after the fact, yes. But you won’t exactly feel as if you’ve wasted your time by doing so.
The quality of the CGI and the simple notion of anything called a Shit-Weasel may be as questionable as Morgan Freeman’s psychotic George C. Scott impersonation. But somehow that actually makes the choice to CHILL with Dreamatcher all the easier.