The 1980s saw an uptick in horror cinema devoted to dreams/brain activity, following 1980’s release of Ken Russell’s Altered States. Films like The Incubus (1982), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – and its subsequent sequels, Dreamaniac (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987), Paperhouse (1988), The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), Bad Dreams (1988), Silent Night Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out (1989), Nightwish (1989) all were released throughout the decade, with the trend even returning in the late 90s with bigger, studio films like In Dreams (1999), The Cell (2000) and Vanilla Sky (2001). And somewhere in there, Joseph Ruben’s fantastical trip into dream logic, Dreamscape, was released – going on to develop a cult following on video, despite rarely being seen in its uncut version. Now, over thirty years later, it’s getting an HD release in a Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory. Does it hold up?
The answer is pretty well. Dreamscape actually has lot in common with the aforementioned The Cell, in that it features the ability to enter someone else’s dreams – and then it gets all weirdly political, which makes it feel a lot more timely than it should right now, all things considered. The cast here is all in top form, especially Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer with Dennis Quaid turning in a solid lead performance and Kate Capshaw doing the same. Dreamscape has tonal issues – going from horror to fantasy to political thriller and even some (maybe unintentional) comedy as well, with Quaid really pulling heavy duty in making it all work. Some of its politics (especially those related to gender) haven’t aged well, but it’s all harmless in its PG-13 mid-80s fun way. Which is also to say that, no, this is not the R-rated cut. You do not get the nudity you have heard about here and, honestly, I’m not all that sure that it needs it. The sex scene already feels out of place in the movie, as is, and making it more explicit would only further that. But, I can also understand the importance of having work preserved in its original form and that it isn’t here will be a cause of concern for some, so proceed with caution if that’s something you feel strongly on. For everyone else, this is the Dreamscape that you’ve likely come to know over the years and if you’re already a fan – this isn’t going to change that.
Scream Factory are bringing Dreamscape back to Blu-ray (it was released previously by Image in 2010) and the results are an assured improvement – which doesn’t necessarily say much. Dreamscape has never been a pretty film and this new 2K scan doesn’t really change that. The colors here look more faithfully represented and the blacks are most certainly more black, but there is a strange tendency for things to change from scene to scene with quality being a bit inconsistent. Grain structure is intact throughout and the lighter scenes definitely look better than the darker ones, with this being the best that Dreamscape has looked on home video. Just don’t expect as clean of a presentation as SF have delivered on other titles – which may very well be an issue with the source(s) used, rather than the scan, which aren’t made known anywhere on the packaging here. Audio fares better with 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks, with the latter being faithful to how the film was originally released and should be the default here. It sounds great, with no balance or damage issues present. The 5.1 track is awkward with the channel separation not feeling all that thought out and the music and effects sounding strangely low. All things considered, this is a solid presentation from SF that should please fans.
Supplements on this Collector’s Edition start with a ported over commentary track from the Image release featuring writer David Loughery, producer Bruce Cohn Curtis and special effects artist Craig Reardon. It’s a fairly lively track with the three participants sounding chummy and providing a lot of anecdotes about Quaid and Ruben, who are sorely absent. Also recycled are some tests for the “snake man” and a photo gallery. For new content, we start with the hour long “Dreamscapes and Dreammakers” which is a well produced short doc covering the production and reception of Dreamscape, this fills in a lot of gaps in the commentary and should be welcomed by fans. We get a fifteen minute interview with Quaid, which is casual and informative. He is clearly fond of his work on the film. After that we have a twenty three minute interview between Bruce Cohn Curtis and Chuck Russell, which is fun but over-long. Lastly we have “Nightmares and Dreamsnakes”, a twenty three minute piece on the special effects in the film which features all sorts of practical work and should be a treat for fans of that kind of thing.
Dreamscape undoubtedly has its fans and they should be very happy with Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition. Unfortunately, it is still not presented uncut but the video and audio are improvements on the previous HD edition and the supplement package is as good as it’s likely going to get for this one. Recommended.