The poster looks like something out of Indiana Jones. As Dreamscape was released in 1984, in the middle of the Indy era and the same year as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, perhaps it’s not surprising that the producers of the film decided to try and catch some of that enthusiasm. On the other hand, it is a little surprising considering the film has very little in common with that franchise. This isn’t an homage to 1930s-1950s pulp action heroes, it’s a science-fiction film about adventures in the mind. The poster even prominently features a “kid sidekick”; the kid in question has about ten minutes of screen time, though they do contribute one of the film’s most memorable moments. It’s definitely a stretch to ride the coattails of a more successful film.
On the other hand, the movie does feature Kate Capshaw as the love interest, so it does have that in common with Temple of Doom. She’s not as screamy here.
Snake-men. Why did it have to be snake-men?
The film is directed by Joseph Ruben, who also co-wrote the screenplay with David Loughery. The story is allegedly inspired by the Roger Zelazny novella He Who Shapes and its expanded novel The Dream Master, but there is little in common with the Zelazny work, and Zelazny’s name does not appear in the credits. (There are rumors that he asked to have his name taken off, but no definitive statement has ever turned up.)
In Dreamscape, a young psychic (Dennis Quaid) is recruited by his former mentor (Max von Sydow) to take part in an ongoing experiment in dream research. They are working on projecting people into other peoples’ dreams, to evaluate their nightmares and hopefully determine the underlying cause and so treat their psychological issues. Quaid is recruited because as one of the most powerful psychics von Sydow has worked with, he is expected to be able to better handle the projection process than some of the other candidates, one of whom loses his mind shortly after Quaid’s arrival. (Quaid’s character is also supposed to have telekinetic abilities, but this angle is dropped immediately after its introduction). The benevolence of Quaid and von Sydow is contrasted with another psychic who appears sociopathic (David Patrick Kelly) and a government operative with ulterior motives (Christopher Plummer).
Plummer wants the team to go into the dreams of the President himself (Eddie Albert). The President has been having nightmares himself, nightmares of a nuclear apocalypse, and Plummer is concerned that this will unduly affect his judgment.
I don’t know, this seems like a perfect reasonable thing for a president to have qualms about.
The plot isn’t going to come as a surprise to anybody. This is a film that plays with its cards face up; every character’s basic nature and motivations are essentially open from the beginning. The special effects are acceptable for the age, and though the dialogue isn’t good enough to allow for any great performances, all the actors are good enough to at least make it work. It’s a cheesy film, like most 1980s science fiction. But for fans of the genre, it’s worth checking out.