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“Dreamscape” was made in 1984, and you have to take that date into consideration to fully understand its paranoia, which led to the movie’s main storyline: a shadowy government agency, led by the evil Christopher Plummer, plans to assassinate the President (Eddie Albert) using dreams. And why does Plummer want to kill the President? Because the President is having nightmares about nuclear war, and, supposedly, is going to scrap America’s nuclear arsenal because of fears that he might start the war and thus kill a whole bunch of people. You see, the President is way too nice for Plummer’s Evil Government Agent to let stand. (Which makes you wonder how America dumping its nuclear arsenal is going to make the world a safer place, considering that everyone else will still have their nuclear weapons, but I guess this question wasn’t interesting enough to be put into the screenplay.)
Now consider that the film was made in 1984 and that the current President was Ronald Reagan. For a town like Hollywood, which has never met a Republican it didn’t think was eeeeeeevil, a Republican (like Reagan) who spends money hand over fist to build up America’s nuclear arsenal is nothing short of the Evilest Man in the World. Nevermind that Reagan was battling the Soviet Union, then considered the greatest threat to America — i.e. its title as “The Evil Empire”. Or that the Soviets were just as obsessed with building up their own nuclear arsenal, and that it was this spend-spend-spend mentality that eventually led to their bankruptcy as a national economy, thus leading to the fall of the Soviet Union as a viable enemy. (And really, if as the movie posits and the President does scrap America’s nuclear arsenal, how exactly would this encourage the Soviets to do likewise?)
Since those of the Liberal Democrat persuasion find Republican Reagan’s attempts to outspend the Soviet Union into oblivion to be more than a little abhorrent (not to mention the fact that they didn’t think it could ever work (and of course they were wrong, but that’s another story)), and since Liberal Democrats run Hollywood up and down and all around, you get lots and lots of movies about a post-apocalyptic world that got that way by nuclear war — or one on the verge of nuclear ruins. The insinuation, of course, was that Reagan was going to lead us, and the rest of the world, to nuclear ruins. Those Evil Republicans and their Evil Intentions, sheesh.
I mention the above only because I find politics of the ’80s to be fascinating in hindsight, and because “Dreamscape” is a relatively simple movie. Nearly 15 years before “The Matrix” did it, “Dreamscape” was sending psychic Dennis Quaid (‘The Rookie”) into people’s dreams via a machine. Quaid plays Alex, a no-good gambler who gets a chance to use his gift for the good of his fellow human beings when he’s recruited by scientist Max von Sydow and fellow hottie scientist Kate Capshaw. Of course Alex doesn’t know that an Evil Government Agency plans on using the project for its Evil Intentions.
So Alex helps some people, figures out the plot to kill the President, and flees. All of this leads to some of the silliest portrayals of Evil Government Agents I’ve seen in a long time. These guys don’t just drive around in station wagons, but they have the worst taste in clothes, not to mention the intelligence of walnuts. Along the way, “Cheers” regular George Wendt shows up as a writer doing research on the dream project. I was waiting for someone to shout out “Norm!” each time Wendt appeared onscreen, but alas it was not meant to be.
And oh, even though the dream project is supposed to be super secret, that doesn’t stop it from having the most unreliable security guard ever. Apparently the government thinks so highly of their super duper secret project that they post one — count them, one — lone security guard to watch over the entrance into the movie’s super secret “Dream Chamber”. We see the guard sitting in his little stool once, during the introduction of the chamber, and then the guy doesn’t show up for work in any other scenes! Talk about unreliable.
“Dreamscape” features some pretty bad special effects, but that’s to be expected. Everything about the film is dated, right up to the clothes that the Evil Government Goons wear to Kate Capshaw’s wardrobe and — gasp — haircut. The movie features an interest premise and Dennis Quaid charms his way through the movie, but the rest of the film is hit and miss. The dream sequences are not always well done, although the one with the boy is the best of the lot, but that’s not saying much.
To be honest, I remember “Dreamscape” being better than it actually is. But a recent viewing proved this notion wrong.
Joseph Ruben (director) / Joseph Ruben, David Loughery, Chuck Russell (screenplay)
CAST: Dennis Quaid …. Alex Gardner
Max von Sydow …. Doctor Paul Novotny
Christopher Plummer …. Bob Blair
Eddie Albert …. The President
Kate Capshaw …. Jane DeVries