Published on October 14th, 2015 | by Clint Davis
Summary: There is so much wasted potential in this sci-fi/horror gross-out flick that it tanked two established careers. A stacked cast and a gripping first act manage to get lost in the woods of one of Stephen King's most ambitious ideas.
R | 136 mins.
Director: Lawrence Kasdan | Screenplay: William Goldman, Lawrence Kasdan (based on Stephen King’s novel)
Starring: Thomas Jane, Damian Lewis, Morgan Freeman
Distribution: Warner Bros.
No living author has been as adapted as Stephen King. The man cranks out a new 600+ page novel every year and more often than not, they are turned into a celluloid version. When your canon is that deep, there are bound to be some misfires, or in the case of King’s adaptations, many misfires. In 2003, successful director Lawrence Kasdan and screenwriter William Goldman were tapped to bring one of the author’s most ambitious works to the screen — and it would be nine years before either would work on another film.
A bit of history behind Dreamcatcher: in June 1999, King was nearly killed when he was hit by a car while walking along a highway in his native Maine, after a long recovery and thoughts of retiring, he wrote a longhand-form manuscript of an angry novel tentatively called Cancer. The story dealt with a group of four childhood friends who had been granted powers of telepathy by a mentally handicapped boy named Douglas (or “Duddits”, as he says it), whom they had saved from a group of bullies trying to feed him poo…just one of the many scatological incidents in Dreamcatcher. The novel ended up being a painful, cathartic write for King and some executives at Warner Bros. decided to take on the movie rights.
The cast of this bloated film is stacked — Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant and Damian Lewis bring the story’s foursome to life while Donnie Wahlberg, in a performance eerily similar to his turn in 1999’s The Sixth Sense, plays Duddits. If that weren’t enough, add in Tom Sizemore and Morgan Freeman as alien-hunting military types (it may shock you which one plays the nutjob and which is more down-to-Earth!).
Dreamcatcher is a picture that frustrates me unlike many others. I keep going back to it once every year or two, get sucked in by its fantastic first act and ultimately let down again by its meandering plot. It’s like I keep thinking the film is going to be great each time, like it should have been — but I’m always left with the same pangs of disappointment.
As a director, Kasdan had made some great films in the ’80s including Body Heat and The Big Chill, he then stumbled through the ’90s but still was tapped with making big budget studio flicks like Kevin Costner’s epic western vehicle Wyatt Earp. Meanwhile, co-writer Goldman was a two-time Oscar winning screenwriter, penning classics like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men and The Princess Bride, which was adapted from his own novel. Then came Dreamcatcher, which only made about half of its $68 million budget back in American theaters and got a rash of negative reviews when it came out. As a result, Kasdan wouldn’t direct another picture until 2012 and Goldman’s name has yet to appear on another screenplay as of 2013.
The film’s four leads, “Jonesy” (Lewis), Henry (Jane), Pete (Olyphant) and “Beaver” (Lee) are emotionally stunted but a fun group of guys to hang out with. Yet in the course of this 2 hr. 16 min. story, we only get a single scene of the four pals hanging out as adults. The plot sees them taking an annual hunting retreat to their cabin in the Maine woods dubbed “Hole-in-the-Wall” but of course, this year the shit* (there’s that word again) hits the fan. What starts as an accessible story about foul-mouthed buddies with ESP getting together and talking about the old times suddenly turns into an overstuffed mix of The X-Files, environmental parable and cautionary tale about mental health issues.
This story came from a time when King was at an all-time low in terms of personal stability and creative output. The film’s screenplay plays out like literary diarrhea* — it’s like someone who is used to writing stories on a daily basis has been holding them in for years and is finally letting all of their backed-up ideas flow into one piece of writing. I defy you to not get lost while watching Dreamcatcher, it’s got so many clichés from so many genres all working at once that you can’t help but feel like you’re watching four King adaptations at once…the problem is, they are all mediocre films. You’ll see bits of coming of age flicks like Stand By Me, reunion drama like It and isolation horror like The Shining.
I’ve written before about how coming of age films are mostly at the mercy of how solid their young performers are — Dreamcatcher is no different. Large parts of the film’s plot take place in the world of the boys’ adolescence and those sections are torturous to sit through. I don’t like to sit around a rip kids but the actors they hired to play the young versions of the leads are so stiff that it’s painful. If only these sections didn’t have important character origin stories, I would recommend fast-forwarding them altogether.
In fact, just cut Dreamcatcher off at the point where a character Rick McCarthy stumbles into the cabin, farting up a storm — it’s all downhill from there.