One of my favorite "big screen" films from the early eighties, BRAINSTORM is a brilliant concept delivered in style.
Louise Fletcher and Christopher Walken play scientists on the cutting edge of new technology that records people's experiences and replays them in every detail when wearing a special headset.
Director Douglas Trumbull expands the screen to Super Panavision 70MM when the recordings are replayed, which allowed theatre goers to surf in Hawaii, fly above the Golden Gate Bridge, circle Rio and drive a semi-truck off a California cliff, suddenly soaring above the coastline.
Michael (Walken) and Lillian (Fletcher) are furious when the military intervenes behind the scenes and begins to hijack the technology for war applications.
While telling this tale, the film also brilliantly weaves in one of the major characters having a fatal heart attack while wearing the recording device. This puts Michael on a separate quest to replay the tape (while intelligently disconnecting the heart rate and body inputs to avoid death himself). As he races to see the recording of life after death, the military closes in to shut down the project.
Natalie Wood stars as Michael's wife Karen, providing a core of the film revolving around their troubled marriage. The scene in which Michael records his happiest memories of their time together and replays it is a perfect mix of Trumbull's big screen photography, James Horner's powerful music and Walken & Wood doing great work.
Wood died mysteriously on a boat with Walken during the filming of "Brainstorm" and there are some signs of the story being tweaked a bit to work around her death during filming, but Trumbull brings the pieces together very well.
Trumbull was a special effects pioneer, having created the visuals for 2001, Close Encounters, Blade Runner and many more. The finale in which Michael experiences the afterlife is powerful and visually amazing. I remember seeing it on the big screen at the original Cine Capri and when anyone had the headset on and turned on the replays, the screen doubled in size to fill every inch and Dolby rocked the theatre.
Much of that is lost at home, but the sound effects and Horner's score still provide plenty of punch.
Writer Bruce Joel Rubin would explore similar territory in a different fashion seven years later with "Ghost".
BRAINSTORM is a good, old-fashioned sci-fi thriller with a big heart and an intriguing story. Walken and Fletcher are great and those "headset" moments are a lot of fun that earn the film a solid B.