Stephen King continues to be one of America’s favorite novelists, and his books continue to be made into movies, even though the track record of adaptations is somewhat mixed. For every The Shining or Stand By Me, there is a Children of the Corn or The Mangler.
Dreamcatcher itself is a mix of good and bad qualities. It can’t decide what genre to live in, and it suffers from occasional bad dialogue and bad acting. But it’s also a dense, tight movie (even at 136 minutes). It’s a mess, but it manages to entertain for longer than many movies do.
R for violence, gore, language
Did You Notice?
The film introduces us to four men (Jason Lee, Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, and Timothy Olyphant), each with the power to read minds. It’s funny to see what careers they ended up in: two became psychologists and one became a car salesman.
A flashback resembling Stand By Me (but with worse child acting) tells us how they got their powers: back in grade school they saved a retarded boy, Duddits, from a bully. Afterwards, Duddits somehow endowed them with their power, which they used to find a classmate who had gone missing.
Now adults, these friends hook up for their annual winter trip to a cabin in the backwoods of Maine. They hunt, gamble, drink to Duddits, and generally male-bond.
Must Be Dreaming
But something is different this year. First, two of the friends save a lost hunter from a blizzard. Back in the cabin, the hunter has an embarrassingly graphic gas attack. Then, two government helicopters fly by the cabin and tell the men that they are quarantined for the next couple of days. Things really get weird when they see all the animals in the forest fleeing in the same direction, heedless of predator or prey.
(Caution: spoilers ahead. Skip to the next section if you don’t want to know any more than what’s revealed in the trailers.) It turns out that, inside the hunter, Alien-style, is a slimy, mutant worm with sideways jaws and scores of razor-sharp teeth. When young, these worms burrow into human hosts to feed and grow, exploding out through the guts when they mature. These are just one of an invading species here on the earth. Raspberry mold grows over the dead hunter and the worm’s later victims, and a huge, bipedal, slimy-gray alien makes an appearance.
We finally meet the military in the persons of Colonel Kurtz (Morgan Freeman, with the hair and eyebrows of an X-Men superhero) and Captain Underhill (Tom Sizemore). These men are part of a special unit that has dealt with these aliens before. Apparently, the visitors have been coming to Earth for quite some time — long enough for Kurtz to have made a career of fighting them.
These different developments and disparate factions seem so unlikely that the movie feels randomly generated. First it’s a movie about supernatural phenomenon (mind-reading), then it’s an alien-invasion science-fiction yarn, then it’s a government conspiracy movie. I found myself having to consciously change gears to maintain my suspension of disbelief.
And yet, over the years, Stephen King has surely learned something about telling stories. Somehow, this jumbled mess makes a compelling linear story, even though the whole seems implausibly stitched together from parts.
Writer-Director Lawrence Kasdan and co-screenwriter William Goldman make it easier to swallow by fleshing out all the disparate factions of characters. The mentalists, the military men, and the “bad guys” each have their own motives and their own strengths. They are three-dimensional enough to give us a sense of consistency between the shifts in time, place, and genre.
Dreamcatcher is a tangled, messy web of different stories and genres. The broader your view, the messier and uglier the film. But the fact that it held my attention for over two hours makes it hard to dismiss. Kasdan and King spin a wild yarn, and if you’re not too critical, you can get caught up in it.