Adapting Stephen King books for the screen can be a tricky and/or unmanageable task. King writes massive novels, filled with plenty of characters that are often put on a collision course with each other and at least a couple things to scare his constant readers.
I’m a huge King fan. “The Stand” is my favorite book of all time and “It” is close behind. But King’s books rarely become good films. For every “Shawshank Redemption” or “The Shining”, there are four “Firestarter”, “Thinner” or “Maximum Overdrives”.
When DREAMCATCHER came out in 2003, it inspired hope for a new classic. The book was stuffed full of genre bending themes, the screenplay was adapted from King’s book by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride). It’s directed and co-written by Lawrence Kasden (The Empire Strikes Back, Body Heat, Raiders of the Lost Ark).
The result is never less than interesting, but often askew, leaving you hungry to ponder just how good it COULD have been with all this talent.
Four young boys bond with each other as they come to the defense of a mentally challenged boy they nickname Dudditz. Dudditz rewards them with a very powerful gift that haunts and serves them through the years. Now adults, the friends decide to hold their yearly get together in the snowy woods of Maine.
Henry (Thomas Jane), Beaver (Jason Lee), Jonesy (Damian Lewis) and Pete (Timothy Olyphant) barely get their weekend started when a sickly and very gassy stranger wonders into their cabin and proceeds to give birth to the most interestingly disgusting alien creature since the chest-burster in “Alien”. The orifice this giant gross thing decides to come out of somewhat sets the tone for very dark humor that played well on paper, but just plays revolting on screen.
The special effects are first rate though. Unfortunately. This is not something you necessarily need to believe you are seeing.
The friends are split up and begin using their gift with each other to plan an escape and a warning for the rest of the world. At this point, the film pivots from a “Stand By Me” friends film to a full on alien invasion story.
Morgan Freeman is a Colonel who is either a military mastermind or a raving lunatic. Tom Sizemore is his right hand man, Owen, who is either a loyal soldier or a man watching his mentor lose his mind.
In another tonal shift, we literally see inside Jonesy’s mind as he seeks through stacks of memories and history to find a way to attack the body shifting alien presence.
The sound design of the film is excellent. The voices inside Jonesy’s storehouse of a mind as the alien being begins to invade him through his friends mental connections are spooky, clever and well done.
The boys discover that Dudditz, now all grown up (and well played in what could have been a very insensitive performance by Donnie Wahlberg) has a role to play in the invasion event.
Lewis is terrific, Lee is a blast, Freeman emotes like a beast and Sizemore is, for once, not the craziest dude on screen.
There are some great scenes in the film. The animal exodus, the strangers in the road, the boys friendship in the flashbacks. But oh my, there are some real problems here too.
The book was able to play out the scenes in which Jonesy tried to hide things in his mind from alien telepathy with style and suspense. When those scenes are translated so literally that our hero is dumping ledgers into a wheelbarrow and running them around a circular library looking to hide them, I’m afraid the translation to film is somehow too literal and too obscure at the same time to carry any emotional weight.
Kasdan and Goldman are two of my favorite film writers in the world. King is one of my favorite authors. On paper, this should have been the greatest King adaption of all time.
Sadly, it rates as a fascinating failure. Not without laughs, not without suspense, but devoid of coherence, DREAMCATCHER needs a filter and suffers without one.
I highly recommend the novel. Alas, the film version only gets a C.