Dreamscape - Special Edition Blu-ray Review
The result here, folks, is not good. Encoded via MPEG-4 at 1080i, the film is bound to look, to those used to the splendours of many typical hi-def examples, like little more than its poor grade DVD or even, lordy-lordy, its original VHS tape. The thing is, folks, that Dreamscape, was a very soft, very grainy, very worn looking movie to begin with. This has never looked sharp, detailed or vibrant. A hi-def makeover, sans restoration, can only reveal its inherent shortcomings all the more. But the fact has to remain that this does contain stronger colours, a richer, more detailed picture and a tad more depth to accentuate things like little Buddy's dream staircase drifting off into the formless dark, the zombie gatherings on the apocalyptic train and the ravaged, scarlet-tinted wasteland of burning miniatures.
Image may make a little more information available with this 1.78:1 frame, but granting the film a 1080i transfer, and neglecting to bestow it anything of a restoration is only to going to cause consternation and, possibly, a few rants over what could have been.
However, the transfer is nothing if not extremely faithful to its source, but the inescapable fact is that this print betrays its vintage for all to plainly see. The image is soft, the picture stippled with grain. Pops and flecks of damage still appear quite frequently and there are some dodgy contrast fluctuations that can, on occasion, prove a little distracting. Of course, you have to keep in mind that this is a film from the early 80's and that it will have always looked ropey. It most certainly has on every edition - from VHS to its DVD debut - that I have ever seen and, although this should not mean that it could never look a whole lot better than it does here, it does make this rather ramshackle, rough and grizzled image somewhat easier to sympathise with.
Colours aren't that bright, but they are consistent. The hellish vista for the President's nuclear-blighted dreamscape is thickly saturated but doesn't present any unsightly banding. Primaries don't leap from the screen at any time. Skin-tones are muddy and grubby, but totally in-keeping with how they appeared in a great many movies from the period. Detail, unavoidably, is not brilliant, I'm afraid, but I can imagine that it is the best that it can look until a full-bore restoration takes place - and, let's face it, that isn't likely to happen any day soon. Machinery, electrodes and whatnot offer little visual intricacy. Clothing and vehicles even less. Landscapes, be they in dreams or in the sunny locales of the institute and the race-track, are muted and soft. Backgrounds, though consistent, drift away without any clarity. Close-ups won't stand-out with any vividness, no matter how much you may beg them to. But, as the old mantra goes, this still looks stronger and more detailed than it has done previously. Though this isn't saying much. Depth and dimensionality, despite the lack of conviction with backgrounds and overall detail is actually not that bad. The crowd that Quaid and Wendt try to secrete themselves in to avoid some nasty government agents, the precarious activities on top of the high-rise and the zombie-like passengers seated down the carriage of the train that I mentioned earlier all offer elements that seem deeper and more engrossing than before. Considering the softness of the picture, in general, this is something of a bonus.
Basically, this doesn't look like a hi-definition transfer, despite being better than any home video edition that has come before it. People who remember the film from its theatrical run and are well-acquainted with how movies from the era had a tendency to look will not be shocked or surprised at how rough Dreamscape looks on this disc. Newcomers, and those more used to the pristine detail and gleaming sheen of much more modern Blu-ray fare will, no doubt, have more problems with this transfer. Personally, I am disappointed that it didn't get anything of a restoration. But I am happy that it has made its way on to BD, regardless.
But, realistically, this can only garner a 5 out of 10, at best, despite its visual .
If the picture is consistent with the film's age, then the new lossless track just anchors the era all the more.
Doing very little other showcase Jarre's now dated score with some nicely glistening synth throbs and a fairly decent spread across the front, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track lacks energy, punch, steerage and authentic rear support. The original DVD from Image, way back in 2000, had DD and DTS 5.1 flavours, but neither were wowing, so I suppose we shouldn't really be expecting much from this lossless incarnation either. Having said this, the stereo image isn't too bad. There is some directionality and width afforded the frontal array, though nothing too spectacular or extravagant. Some revving engines, the clatter as a car speeds through a telephone booth, a clout or two, the electrified frazzle of a nightmare-dog and the groaning of a gaggle of mutants populate the track with some activity. A couple of elements have been boosted for surround ambience, such as the hissing of the snake-man, some thunder and lightning strikes, the barking of the hell-hounds and various other sundry effects. But these don't sound particularly convincing to my ears, although I do appreciate the fact that some attempt has been made to widen and extend the original Dolby Stereo mix to incorporate the new channels.
Bass elements aren't stretched or taxed, with nothing deep or powerful to bolster any of the impacts, particularly the nuclear holocaust dream-sequence that kick-starts the film, but dialogue is clear enough for the most part even if it doesn't contain the resonance and clarity that you may be used to and can come across as a touch muted, or downmixed. But the important thing to bear in mind is that there is only so much that can be done with the limited soundfield that the film has to offer without the whole thing coming across as bogus.
So, much like the video presentation, Image's audio mix for Dreamscape is a little bit dated and the results, even with some tweaked embellishments here and there, somewhat lacklustre. But we'll be charitable and give this a lucky 6 out of 10.
This so-called Special Edition from Image doesn't actually offer us a great deal of bonus features. And what we do get is going to be familiar to those who have its R1 DVD release.
But, I have to admit that the joint commentary from Producer Bruce Cohn Curtis, Writer David Loughery and Special Effects Artist Craig Reardon is actually great value. We hear some story ideas, casting comments and conceptual ideas. There is some talk regarding the effects, the visual imagery and the violence, as well as the sexual content, and some good-natured reminiscence about the era in which the film was made and the political flavour of the plot. There are lots of laughs and a generally convivial attitude that make this track as entertaining as it is informative.
Then we a very brief behind-the-scenes glimpse of the FX-crew manipulating the big animatronic snake-man. Playing without sound, this snippet shows the creature in some evocative lighting and even wrestling with someone who could well be the young Craig Reardon ... or one of his assistants. Amusing, and good to see, although it doesn't furnish with any design ideas and character evolution regarding the beast.
We also get a 3-minute slideshow of production photos, which again focus mainly on the snake-man.
It is a shame that more material could not have been dug up for Dreamscape. A retrospective making-of would have great, obviously, but then the film has, inevitably, fallen into a little nostalgic niche that only a relative few will be smitten enough to explore.
Coming at a time of high-concept SF thrillers, Dreamscape was something of a breath of fresh air. It knew it couldn't be taken seriously and even if it wanted to deliver some scientific shenanigans and promote some wacky new possibilities, it also wanted to have some fun. Cheerfully episodic and unafraid to shovel some pretty bravura shocks into the mix, the film breezes along with charm and energy to spare. I get some degree of an impression that this could once have had vague pretensions at becoming a franchise, or even spawning that typical 80's conceit of a spin-off TV show. In fact the concept does have that potential even now, and, dare I say it, there is even scope for a return to Alex Gardner's dream exploits in the form of a remake or a bonafide sequel.
Something of a cult item, Dreamscape is bound to bother some of the more die-hard fans in that it hasn't received a better presentation on Blu-ray. Put quite simply, this looks far from impressive. Tired, aged and worn, this may well rekindle some nostalgia for the period - and it certainly couldn't be accused of being unfaithful to the source - but it makes for a less-than satisfying experience in hi-definition. Some boosted audio effects try to add vigour to the experience, but with only a smattering of extra features this release doesn't really cut it as a Special Edition. And yet it is great to have Dreamscape arrive on Blu-ray.
I wouldn't want to put people off this title at all, but there are many who won't be satisfied with it. Lower your expectations and appreciate a transfer that has, at least, been unsullied by judicious digital tinkering, and you may well enjoy one of the neglected gems from a decade that is so often ridiculed, yet actually provided the genre with so much of originality and influence.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £15.49
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