"It's a dream, Alex. You can do anything you want in here. Haven't you figured that out yet?"
Those words may be remembered by those alive in 1984 watching television. It was the hook line for the second PG-13 film to be released that summer (after Red Dawn.) After all the controversy generated by families horrified over the violence in Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the MPAA must have felt obligated when they saw the next film to feature both a man getting his heart ripped out - and - Kate Capshaw.
In light of all the talk this week about dreams manufactured by Christopher Nolan's end-all, be-all masterpiece on the subject, Inception, we thought its time to give the kids another option. Dreamscape actually wasn't the only out-of-control excursion into sleep that year. Others might be quick to point out that Wes Craven's original A Nightmare On Elm Street also invaded theaters, 26 years before the folks at Platinum Dunes would destroy it. The more family-friendly PG-13 Dreamscape with its scenes of point blank assassinations, infidelity, child endangerment, nuclear annhiliation and heart extractions actually arrived on the scene three months prior to Freddy Krueger. And it had a more terrifying entity - David Patrick Kelly.
Yes, the guy who taunted The Warriors and generally found himself exposed as a wuss and outnumbered in Walter Hill films was now a real heavy. Or, at least, a henchman puppet with the necessary skills to kill the President of the United States. We're getting ahead of ourselves though. Just like Inception, technology has been created that allow people to enter the dreams of others. The researchers responsible seek out young prodigy, Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) to aid in their growing experiments. He reluctantly agrees to help out an old mentor and meets the cocky rival with the serial killer name of Tommy Ray Glatman. Naturally a high-ranking covert official from Washington has plans for the dream technology and is none too pleased when the President wants to pull off a quest for peace with the Russians. And it's up to Alex to save the day.
The film was directed by Joseph Ruben, three years before his masterful 1987 horror film, The Stepfather and co-written by Chuck Russell who would make his directorial debut on the third Nightmare on Elm Street film, Dream Warriors: Come Out and Play-yay. Dreamscape is much cooler than the Freddy sequel. With all the names fit onto the Inception poster, Dreamscape almost runs out of room itself. Having just come off his role as "the greatest pilot you ever saw" in The Right Stuff, Dennis Quaid was probably second only to Harrison Ford as the coolest dude this nine year-old had seen at the time. Ming the Merciless himself, Max Von Sydow, was now playing a good guy. Christopher Plummer was warming up his campaign against goodness and normalcy as the heavy. Say that's Green Acres' Eddie Albert as the President whose screaming nightmares rival that of Bella Swan's. Is that Cheers' Norm Peterson lurking around the college campus with an interest in our hero? Plus it was nice to see Kate Capshaw relaxing and not screaming her way through a film like she did earlier that summer. And you may want to hit that pause button during her love scene with Quaid. (If you have your hands on the European version.)
Dreamscape turned out to be a pretty nifty hybrid of science-fiction, horror, political conspiracy, action and Quaid's charm translating into some welcome humor. The great Maurice Jarre's score perfectly mirrors the frequent change of tones (a sense you get durinng the opening credits alone.) It may be a somewhat forgotten relic of the '80s (the special effects certainly have a dated quality to them) but one can have a blast tying it into any number of memories, both past and present. The opening shot of the film eerily connects a nuclear blast with the Twin Towers. The Snakeman creature playing a pivotal role might drudge up nightmares fighting the red dragon in Atari's Adventure game. The mystery writer's novel was named Stab well before the film-within-the-film in the Scream series.
Overall though, a look back will have people comparing it to Inception. Christopher Nolan vastly improved on many of the ideas and he focused more on the subconscious state than the nightmares and fantasies of Dreamscape. You may get a chuckle hearing Eddie Albert say he can't wake up because "they gave me a sedative" (not a sedagive.) While you wonder if Dileep Rao's Yusuf was responsible, you will be thinking back on the President's nightmares planting the disarmament idea in his head. Was there a Cobb back then? Maybe not, but if you're looking for an interesting triple feature from the '80s, start yourself with Dreamscape, move on to Elm St. and then doubleback and throw Brainstorm into the mix. Good ideas have to begin somewhere.