King’s World and Welcome to It
Even if you didn’t know this was a Stephen King thing, you’d know it was King. Dreamcatcher is a veritable stew of all the things King loves: preternaturally talented kids, ESP, bodily invasion, childhood friendships cemented by traumatic experience, secret government projects, all drenched in really gross and gory entrails. And it’s as compelling and confounding and compulsively enjoyable as any of King’s writings. It’s not classic King, but even at his worst, he’s still pretty damn good.
Lawrence Kasdan — who adapted King’s book with William Goldman (Hearts in Atlantis) and directed, too — is responsible for one of my favorite underrated movies of the last few years. Mumford, a genial little dramedy about secrets and lies, took a few unexpected turns and made them work, and Kasdan puts that same talent — the ability to make the unlikely seem inevitable — to good use here. There’s a lot going on here, disparate stuff that a lot of geeks who’d normally be into these concepts separately might say don’t “belong” together. Like aliens and ESP — they’re kinda at opposite ends of the speculative spectrum, and you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to sit nicely next to each other… too much potential for oogy-boogey silliness. But Kasdan makes King’s chancy proposition work, and the movie is all the richer for it.
Sounds almost silly to say — at least to someone who doesn’t buy into the supernatural or alien visitors apart from a cracking yarn — that juxtaposing the two makes for a more realistic tale. On the one hand, we’ve got four childhood buds, à la Stand by Me, now all grownup and still the best of pals, who share a talent for reading minds that surely has something to do with their experience, as kids, of rescuing a retarded boy from bullies. That’s archetypal King, weaving the stuff of the legends of our childhoods into something a little magical. On the other hand, we have an alien incursion in the remote woods of Maine, all Alien-like crawlies that incubate in human bodies and big, nasty Greys and a crash site with a big-ass saucer half buried in the dirt and wary, weary government types who’ve been fighting the ETs for decades. And when you drop these four friends right into the middle of this — they’re vacationing together in a cabin in those woods, smack at ground zero of the alien strike. It almost makes it feel as if characters from a Stephen King novel have been plopped into the “real” world — take your pick as to who the King characters are and who the “real” people are. It’s almost as if the supreme preposterousness of an invented universe in which both ESP and invading aliens exist is too much to accept, so one aspect or the other must not be invented. Dreamcatcher is like an alien-invasion movie from an alternate universe in which ESP really exists… or an ESP movie from an alternate universe in which aliens really have invaded.
Another reason Dreamcatcher works so well: No horny teenagers. Man, does it get old watching kids have sex and then waiting around for them to be killed gruesomely as punishment. The four guys are actual grownup men with some believably — and not excessively — juvenile tendencies, which is what you’d expect from a bunch of guys who’ve known each other since elementary school. And they’re portrayed by actual actors who understand the actorly concept of conveying emotion: Thomas Jane (The Sweetest Thing, Under Suspicion), who is so close to breaking out as a star that he can probably taste it; Jason Lee (Big Trouble, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), and who’da thunk that a Kevin Smith rep player would turn into a decent actor; Damian Lewis (Warriors), who looks so much like that Dickless guy from Ghostbusters that that in itself is terrifying; and Timothy Olyphant (Rock Star, Head Over Heels), and here’s hoping he avoids the easy path of cashing in on his movie-star looks and stays interesting. Donnie Wahlberg (The Sixth Sense, Ransom) as the retarded kid all grown up continues his streak of fascinating performances. The X-Files-y government guys are Tom Sizemore (Pearl Harbor, Red Planet), in one of his more restrained roles, and Morgan Freeman (The Sum of All Fears, High Crimes), always a god and fascinatingly complex here.
Dreamcatcher isn’t likely to appeal to the audience it’s aimed at — teens’ll be bored, probably, with the circuitous plot and meandering characters. And non-geek adults will be turned off by the gore and the decidedly geeky stuff. It’s a shame, but this’ll be one of those films that cultish fans discover on DVD after missing it on the big screen.