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Dreamcatcher - Preview

Preview by: Jack Foley

THE term 'based on a Stephen King' novel can be enough to strike fear into any cinema-goers' hearts, given the mess that has been made of some previous novel-to-screen translations.

For every classic, such as The Shining or Misery, there are three or four stinkers just waiting in the wings. So it is with trepidation that anyone should approach any King-inspired movie - particularly given the year that Warner Bros is having.

Yet Dreamcatcher, which opened in America on Friday (March 21, 2003), could well be among the better efforts, featuring a stellar cast and a quality director, as well as the usual, intriguing scenario - this time involving aliens.

The story concerns a group of men, who have been friends since childhood, who go on a hunting trip in northern Maine. When a stranger arrives at their cabin, the four pals (who became telepathically connected to one another after performing a heroic act during their youth) battle the horrors of an invading alien force that takes over people's bodies.

It stars the likes of Tom Sizemore, Morgan Freeman, Jason Lee and Thomas Jane and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, from a screenplay by William Goldman, who has previously penned the aforementioned Misery for the big screen, as well as Hearts in Atlantis.

Dreamcatcher is based on the first novel King completed after his near-fatal car accident in 1999 and, according to Kasdan, it starts out as a character story 'and then goes off into spaceships and weird stuff'. "It's a real creature feature," he adds, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Co-star, Lee, an actor not usually associated with effects-driven blockbusters, also felt attracted to the project because of the quality involved, stating in an online interview that it was less different than he thought 'because there was that element of working with a good actor's director, as they say – in the midst of everything'.

"When you get a good director like that and you can handle it so it doesn't feel intense, it doesn't feel over-the-top, it doesn't feel chaotic or hectic."

That said, Lee had to spend a lot of time with blood running down his body and maintains that the film is suitably creepy - a feeling borne out by the tense trailers which have lent the film a strong advance word.

For the record, the dreamcatcher of the title refers to a tradition followed by the native peoples of North America, who devised a hoop of twigs, woven with an intricate web of sinew, which, it is believed, enabled good dreams, floating in the night air, to pass through the hanging web and flow down the dangling feathers to the sleeper below, but nightmares were caught in the web and held until they perished in the first light of day.

But back to the film and Kasdan, who co-wrote the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, has this to say about it: "I think science fiction, fantasy and horror are at their most powerful if you believe in and care about the people involved.

"In my movies I've always tried to find the most potent metaphor, and one of the things Stephen King does really well is find interesting, extravagant metaphors for things that embody our deepest fears.

"Dreamcatcher is about controlling the fear of the chaos that's out there, whether it's somewhere in the universe, outside in the dark, or in your body as it begins to rebel against you. Then there are all the things I've tried to deal with in my other movies, the relationships between characters, friendships, issues of loyalty and redemption; but as with a lot of King's writing, they're married to an exotic, horrifying action story. That's something I've always wanted to try."

What the US critics had to say...

Unfortunately, Dreamcatcher has failed to capture the imagination of critics States-side, who have been more negative than positive in their reaction towards it.

Perhaps the most damning verdict came from the Northwest Herald, which described it as ‘the worst big-budget science fiction disaster since Battlefield Earth. And at least you could laugh at Battlefield Earth."

While LA Weekly wrote that ‘somewhere between King's novel, the screenplay by William Goldman ... and Kasdan's shooting script, both character and metaphor have gone to the dogs, leaving a slew of fart and burp jokes’.

Variety wrote that ‘this overlong and unwieldy grab-bag of vintage monster-movie elements starts intriguingly as a snowbound deep-woods chiller, but gradually dissolves into a mess of other-worldly invasion and military counter-offensive’, while Hollywood Reporter said that it is ‘simply all over the place, at once a movie about a plague, an alien invasion, a perfect storm, a terrible worm, a body snatcher, a mad colonel and an idiot savant’.

Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, awarded it only a C- and felt that ‘Kasdan can create scenes of banter and menace, of everyday Maine community and gut-gushing F/X, but he can't wrestle this production into a coherent movie experience’.

While the New York Times felt that ‘everything here is so clumsily handled that the creepy sensation of dread that infuses the early moments is quickly washed away on a tide of space slime and wearying exposition’.

The Chicago Tribune dismissed it as ‘the kind of story that probably would have worked better as a four-hour miniseries’.

There were some positives, however, with the Los Angeles Times leading the way by declaring that ‘no matter how often parts of Dreamcatcher make you wince or turn your stomach or both, you are not about to leave without finding out what happens next’.

While the Philadelphia Inquirer felt that, while ‘the elements don't hang together… Kasdan delivers real scares, and real hoots, in the midst of the mayhem and madness’.

Film Threat, meanwhile, awarded it only two out of five, but declared that ‘Dreamcatcher is a triumph of big and slimy monster effects and a disaster of screenwriting, and yet it's so silly and unintentionally funny that I was never totally bored’.

The final word, however, goes to Slant Magazine, which awarded it two out of four and concluded that it ‘never really escapes from the toilet’.

The film is due to open in the UK on April 25.

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