Dreamcatcher - King's Corner Review
Welcome to King's Corner. A recurring series of reviews based on the Film and TV adaptations of Stephen King's novels, reviewed and released in order of the original source material publishing date.
On 19th June 1999 Stephen King embarked on one of his routine 4 mile walks. On these walks he would usually read a book and on this occasion there was no exception. With a copy of 'The House of Bentley Little' in his hand he would know when to lower the book to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic. What he didn't count on that day was the negligent driving of Bryan Smith in his dodge van. Distracted by his dog who was busy nosing at a cooler of raw meat Smith steered onto the hard shoulder of the road where he hit King. The impact was so hard that King's glasses ended up on the front seat of Smith's van. As a result of the accident King suffered a series of life threatening injuries to his lungs with further injuries to his collar, scalp, hip and knee. Initially King feared that he would never be able to write again due to his chronic pain but as soon as he was fit enough to hold a pen again his writing followed suit. The first novel he produced in the wake of his accident was 'Dreamcatcher'.
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Damien Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Donnie Wahlberg, Tom Sizemore
Written by: William Goldman, Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by: Charles Okun, Lawrence Kasdan
Cinematography by: John Seale
Original Score by: James Newton Howard
Friends on a camping trip discover that the town they're vacationing in is being plagued in an unusual fashion by parasitic aliens from outer space.
Between November 1999 and May 2000 King wrote the first draft of the novel by hand on ledgers. The idea for the novel (like so many of his ideas) came from a single image from a dream. In this case it was of a hunter who accidentally shot a person, mistaking them for a deer which is quite unusual given the way the story panned out. Although he admitted that the writing of the novel was cathartic in helping him overcome his pain from rehab, the main takeaway he had from the process was in how beneficial he found writing it by hand. In the notes section of the novel he said that writing freehand, "put me in touch with the language as I haven't been in years". Time wasn't as kind on the novel from King's perspective as he denounced it in a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone magazine saying, "I was pretty stoned when I wrote it, because of the Oxy, and that's a book that shows the drugs at work."
Despite these criticisms from King and critics alike, a film adaptation from Castle Rock productions went ahead. The 90's proved to be a golden era for the company producing films like 'Misery', 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'The Green Mile' but all of this success ground to a halt with 'Dreamcatcher'. The rights to the novel were purchased for $1 million and the company opted to option it prior to its release based on King's name alone. Legendary screenwriter William Goldman was brought onboard to pen the script but once Lawrence Kasdan (a great screenwriter in his own right) was brought on to direct he worked alongside Goldman writing draft after draft with him until he was left on his own to write the shooting draft of the script.
With this wealth of talent on hand to develop the film a talented cast including the likes of Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane and Timothy Olyphant were attracted to the project but the warning signs were there from the beginning. In an interview with The Loser's Club podcast Thomas Jane spoke of how the end of the initial table read led to Morgan Freeman to look around the room bewildered asking what it was all about. After watching the film I'd like to know myself.
From the very beginning Morgan Freeman's sentiments ring true as what sounds like a bizarre trip hop version of the 'Goosebumps' theme tune courtesy of James Newton Howard plays over the opening credits, which is baffling for a man of his talent. The story begins with each of the four main characters being introduced one by one. The first is therapist Henry (Thomas Jane) who uses some form of mind reading to help treat a patient's eating disorder only to anger them more than anything else. Distraught by the burden of his special ability (or at least that's what is inferred in the poorly constructed scene) he takes a gun out of his desk drawer and attempts to commit suicide only to stop at the last minute thanks to the telekinetic intervention of his friend Jonesy (Damien Lewis). Only a few minutes in and we are already confused over the tone and shot compositions Kasdan implements setting a precedent for everything else that is to happen.
Next up we find out Jonesy is a professor in a brief scene where he decides to give a student a second chance. This is followed by car salesman Pete (Timothy Olyphant) who tries to get a date with a woman by using his abilities (similar to Henry and Jonesy) but it comes off as creepy (which is hard to tell if that is intentional or not). The friend group is rounded off with the introduction of the toothpick obsessed Joe "Beaver" Clarendon (Jason Lee) who is drinking alone at a bar. In a case of art imitating life, the first act ends with Jonesy getting hit by a car after being drawn to a vision of the group's childhood friend, Duddits Donnie Wahlberg).
We then move six months into the future where the group (including Jonesy who has made a remarkable recovery) meet up for their annual hunting trip at a lodge in the Jefferson Tract. In these scenes they exchange guttural banter lifted straight from their teenage years which is compounded by some truly cringe worthy dialogue. You sit in disbelief wondering how the writers of 'The Princess Bride' and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' could come up with this kind of drek. On top of this the chemistry between the four actors is almost non-existent as you don't buy for a second that they were friends from childhood. It isn't helped that the actors themselves look visibly confused over some of the dialogue they're saying. The next day the group split up with Henry and Pete going to a local store for supplies while Beaver and Jonesy remain at the lodge. Jonesy goes hunting and comes across a sick man called Rick (Eric Keenelyside) with a mysterious illness who he brings back to the lodge. His unknown ailment causes an unusual amount of flatulence that leads to the introduction of one of the most infamous creatures in all of King's work, the shit weasel. Memorable for all the wrong reasons it is essentially a poor man's version of the chestburster from the 'Alien' series only its point of exit is from the nether region of Rick's body.
Jonesy and Beavor discover Rick's bloody body on the toilet seat but soon realise they are not alone as something lurks in the toilet bowl and it isn't the remains of Rick's last meal. Hearing it move, Beaver instinctively sits on the toilet lid and attempts to flush the beast away but to no avail. Jonesy runs out to the shed in search of a weapon while Beaver remains on the toilet to contain the creature but the temptation to lift a toothpick he spilled onto the mess of a floor is too strong. Even the worst Italian 'Alien' rip offs would never attempt anything as stupid as this to advance a scene but then again none of them attempted to be 'Dreamcatcher'. Eventually Beaver falls off the toilet freeing the shit weasel which is nothing more than a snakelike monstrosity composed of poorly rendered CGI. The two tussle before the creature gets the better of Beaver and kills him. Jonesy returns to realise he is too late but behind him is one of the worst designs of an alien creature ever realised for a mainstream Hollywood film known as Mr. Gray. It bursts into a red vapour that is inhaled by Jonesy leading to him to become possessed. It is at this stage you realise that the film has reached the point of no return in how it is beyond saving. Even recounting this scene makes me feel like I've committed mass genocide to my brain cells as it is a series of bad decisions in every department that are worse than the last one.
The focus then shifts over to Pete and Henry. After picking up their supplies they get caught in a heavy snowstorm on their drive back to the lodge and instead of slowing down and taking their time to be careful they decide to speed up (especially in blind spots on the road). This causes them to crash their truck after they nearly hit a woman sitting in the middle of the road. When they investigate to see if the woman is alright, the image of her peacefully sitting in the middle of the road is quite creepy but any sense of atmosphere is broken up by a fart as we discover she is suffering from the same illness as Rick.
We soon learn more about the alien threat (known as "The Ripley") when we are introduced to the human antagonist of the film and master of exposition, Colonel Abraham Curtis (Morgan Freeman). With an eccentric appearance to match his personality he sports a crew cut and the bushiest eyebrows any on screen military personnel this side of R. Lee Ermey in 'Full Metal Jacket'. His role is to contain the alien threat. When you have an actor of the calibre of Morgan Freeman his presence lends a certain amount of gravitas to any film but here his ridiculous appearance and the insistence of the script dictating that he ends every one of his lines with the word "bucko" completely undermines his natural talent. Most of his scenes involve him barking orders at his right hand man Lieutenant Owen Underhill (Tom Sizemore). Together they commit an act of alien genocide in a sequence that looks like it was lifted from a cut scene of a PS2 game when they fire upon a group of Ripley's from their helicoptors. Again it is a clunky and poorly executed sequence that makes things more convoluted by removing the focus from the central group of friends.
Whilst possessed, Jonesy sports a toff English accent which is yet another ill advised decision in the films long list of ill advised decisions. It completely nullifies any sense of threat or menace to the character. Even when he kills Pete, there is no sense of shock as his schtick grows really tiresome, really quickly. Watching it you can barely even muster up a shrug of the shoulders. His plan is to infect humanity with a virus that would bring about the end of the world but given the world created by Kasdan in this film you start to think to yourself that maybe it isn't such a bad idea after all. The only person who stands in his way is the main group's childhood friend, Duddits.
We are first introduced to the character in a flashback where the four main characters come across him being severely bullied in a scene that feels like a first draft outtake from It. They save him from the bullies and their lives are changed forever as they are granted telekinetic abilities. To say that the character of Duddits is problematic is an understatement as he comes across as being every negative stereotype of a disabled person rolled into one. The decision to give him special abilities doesn't exactly give the writers a get out of jail card either in this regard as it infers he is nothing without them. The bizarre finale of the film though is the real cherry on the cake in terms of how they poorly mishandle a problematic character.
Henry seeks out Duddits (with the help of a rebellious Lieutenant Underhill) after finding out that he holds the key to stopping Mr. Gray. They make their way to the Quabbin Reservoir to stop him from polluting the water supply. Underhill dies in a shootout with Curtis while Henry and Duddits face off against Mr. Gray. Upon seeing Duddits, Mr. Gray leaves Jonesy's body and attacks Duddits. It is at this point Duddits reveals himself to also be an alien and sacrifices himself to kill Mr. Gray by cocooning the two together and blowing themselves up in one of the most brain-numbing conclusions to any Stephen King adaptation you are ever likely to see.
'Dreamcatcher' is a prime example of how having all the talent in the world can't produce a good film if you're working with some bad source material. The main problem with the adaptation is that it takes itself too seriously by trying to be some kind of prestige work along the lines of 'The Green Mile' or 'The Shawshank Redemption' when it would be better served going along the route of complete schlock. By leaning more on the arch elements of the story it could easily shift into the same wheelhouse of something like 'Creepshow' in terms of tone. Whether or not that would even work is up for debate but one thing that is certain is that the 2003 adaptation of 'Dreamcatcher' is easily one of the worst King related properties to make it to the big screen.
- Joseph McElroy