As things (US and global economy, congressional gridlock, global warming, other ughhh things) continue to get grimmer and grimmer, thinking back to that wonderful decade that I spent all of eight months alive for becomes rosier and rosier. From what I can remember from being an infant, (memories supplemented, of course, by ample amounts of movies and music), the 80's was a time of stability and success, featuring kids with bad hair cuts skateboarding, awesome music from all genres, and a strong economy full of Gordon Gekkos.
Sure, the USSR was still kicking it back then, but “it” was so close to being “the bucket” that you had movies like Red Dawn fetishizing a Soviet invasion while a million Rambo knockoffs lonewolfed their way from the box office to Moscow and back. In fact, the 1980's seem so chill that a plot centered around nightmares being the number one concern of both the free world and the President of the United States is practically believable. Which, in the case of 1984's Dreamscape, is an extremely good thing, or else not a damn second of that movie could be taken without a shaker of salt.
Only joking! Of course nightmares aren't the number one concern of the free world. Only the President's nuclear holocaust ones are of any apparent threat to national security here!
Set at some point in the 80's and possibly taking place in California, Dreamscape follows the exploits of Alex Gardner, a 20-something psychic played by Dennis Quaid doing his best wise-guy routine. Though his only psychic abilities appear to be picking winning horses at the racetrack and guessing what color is on the back of a card, the audience is led to believe he's capable of much, much more.
How much more? Why, entering the dreams of others, for one! Or at least, he will be able to after he's trained to, which is exactly why a team of scientists decide to kidnap him. The fact that this kidnapping saves Quaid from a gang of horse gamblers in the process is fortunate to both Quaid's character and the audience.
After his rescue, the learning begins. Over a series of scenes that would have been better suited to a montage, Quaid jokes around as he goes through tests and lessons, falls in love with Kate Capshaw's hot young scientist character, and plays the saxophone. Of course, Quaid also begins to uncover a political plot as well, the details of which remain (perhaps unintentionally) murky until people start getting killed.
Typical 80's thriller fare, and none of it even particularly “thrilling.” In fact, nearly the only thing that manages to pluck Dreamscape from the list of movies set to be riffed on by the offshoots of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are the dreamscapes themselves.
Fun to watch and occasionally brilliantly shot, these dream scenes capture both the creativity and the authenticity of a dream in a way few movies have since. Forget the over stylized, BDSM and latex drenched dreams of The Cell and The Matrix (which, together with Inception, clearly owe a large debt to Dreamscape), the dreams here are the real deal. At once lucid and surreal, they venture everywhere from a child's nightmare to the wife of a middle-aged man cheating on him with practically every guy he knows. They only get better as the movie goes on, concluding in such an awesome way that I won't spoil it, even if it is pretty predictable. All I'm saying is that Inception wasn't the first to leave you hanging when it comes to dream movies.