Having seen Dreamcatcher during it's theatrical run, I was surprised by how much I was drawn to actually going out and purchasing this title. After all, I wasn't exactly generous in my original review (giving it 2.5 stars), but something told me that Dreamcatcher, like many of the recent King adaptations, was something best viewed in the comfort of one's home. Perhaps it was the films 132 minute running time, or the "mini-series" vibe it conveyed, but that hunch proved correct, and, upon my second viewing of Dreamcatcher, I'd developed a whole new appreciation for the film.
Dreamcatcher is the story of four men who, as children, rescued a young mentally retarded boy named Dudditz from the clutches of bullies. Dudditz rewards the boys with unconditional love and friendship, as well as a share in his own telepathic abilities. Now in their 30's, the men converge on "Hole in the Wall", a remote cabin that serves as their annual gathering spot, to celebrate the recovery of Jonesy (Lewis) after a near fatal traffic accident. While Henry (Jane) and Pete (Olyphant) go into town for supplies, Jonesy and Beaver (Lee) happen upon a lost hunter in the woods. The hunter gratefully accepts their invitation to warm up at Hole in the Wall, until they can get him medical attention, but something isn't right with the man. He's burping and farting up a storm (something that tickles Jonesy and Beaver's funny bones something awful), and his stomach is blowing up like a baloon. When the man locks himself into the bathroom, Jonesy and Beaver break down the door to discover him dead on the toilet, while something in the bowl is very much alive.
Meanwhile, an elite army unit known as "Blue Group" have quarantined the entire area in response to a crashed alien ship. Col. Curtis (Freeman) is convinced that he must wipe out the population of the small mountain town to contain a potential outbreak, but his second-in-command, Owen (Sizemore), isn't so sure Curtis is still playing with a full deck after 25 years of hunting E.T.'s. As each hour passes, more locals become infected, and the number of aliens grows exponentially.
Oblivious to all of this, Henry and Pete head back to the cabin and narrowly avoid hitting a woman sat frozen in the middle of the road, crashing their truck and injuring Pete's leg. The woman is looking for the lost hunter, and seems to be suffering from the same symptoms that claimed his life. Henry hikes the nine miles back to Hole in the Wall, leaving Pete to watch over the sick woman, but, as he nears the cabin, he senses something wrong with Jonesy. Actually, he senses that Jonesy isn't Jonesy at all.
While watching Dreamcatcher in the theater, something just felt wrong. The film, which jumps around from the present to the past (in scenes that echo King's Stand by Me) and features such deep characterisations as to be more akin to reading a novel than watching a film, seemed too epic for the cinema experience. It's basically a very thorough adaptation of King's prose, and, as a result, is far more challenging than the typical one hour thirty popcorn flick.
The film is really three separate stories; An effective and fairly grotesque monster movie, a charming tale of childhood friends and wonderous experiences, and an oftentimes hilarious look at how, in the face of it all, the most important thing in this life is friendship. William Goldman's (who also adapted King's Misery and Hearts in Atlantis) screenplay is obviously a bit thinner than King's opus, but he manages to extract all of the important bits and, as a result, the film feels....well.... like a novel. We get to know each character intimately, from both narrative and simple allusion to their surroundings. For example, we learn everything we need to know about Beaver within the first minute he's on screen, with subtle hints of his personality and psychological make-up coming through in quick cuts to his personal effects, hair style, and goofy wide-rimmed glasses. It may sound over-analytical, but if you watch the film, and pay close attention to each character as they are first introduced, you can almost hear King's descriptive text being read to you in your mind. It's really quite a nice achievement, and Goldman, Kasdan, and this very nice ensemble cast deserve kudos for their work.
Sadly, however, it's all of this attention to King's detail that leads to Dreamcatcher's unraveling. While the filmmakers have pretty much nailed the characterisations, achieved the epic visual scale of one of the novel's larger "action" moments (in which Blue Group attack the alien crash site), and made us accept that the creature we are to fear most is called a Shit Weasil, they dropped the ball entirely with the film's ending. This is where the Home or Cinema debate should have begun and ended. As it stands, the finished cut features a punched up Hollywood ending that seems to fly in the face of the film's ultimately quiet nature. King's somewhat wishy-washy ending apparently didn't fly with test audiences, so Kasdan opted for a tacked on, effects laden finale that's just a tragedy. The DVD features the film's original, somewhat simpler ending, and it works better and packs more emotional resonance, even though it lacks cinematic punch.
The DVD features a nice assortment of extras, including the aformentioned original ending, an interview with King, a pair of making-of featurettes, and a few deleted scenes that I'd love to see reincorporated into the film (along with the original ending!) someday. There's also a laugh out loud funny "deleted scene" that you just have to stumble upon yourself, because I don't want to ruin the surprise.
Dreamcatcher is a film that is tailor-made for home viewing, and would have benefitted from the mini-series format given to King's other works. Much like the oft-maligned film, Needful Things, Dreamcatcher is a victim of the editing room, and it's final product pales in comparison to what it could have been with less studio meddling and a grain of salt approach to the test audiences. Kasdan and company set out to please the King fan, then opted to try to please everyone, which is where they ultimately failed.