ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 27, 2003
Several Stephen King novels have been made into films and TV shows shot in B.C., including the 1990 miniseries It, the ’93 feature Needful Things, and the current cable offering The Dead Zone. But none of them has been as suspenseful, horrifying, and engrossing—with an accent on gross—as the first half of Dreamcatcher. It’s a real shame that as soon as Morgan Freeman’s alien hunter/military commander turns up, a riveting movie starts morphing into a predictable villain-on-the-warpath action flick.
Before that happens, though, we’re treated to some real thrills and chills, most of which take place in and around a hunting cabin in the snowy woods of King’s home state, Maine. (Actually, it’s the woods of Prince George.) Four men who’ve been close friends since childhood gather there for their 20th annual reunion, where they act goofy, relive old times, drink beer, and toast Duddits, the mysterious figure who ties them all together. Turns out that when the four guys were kids, they rescued the mentally challenged Duddits from some bullies trying to force-feed him dog doo, and in return for their heroism he gave each of them special powers.
Psychiatrist Henry (Thomas Jane) is telepathic, carpenter Beaver (Jason Lee) has precognitive abilities, and used-car salesman Pete (Timothy Olyphant) has a radarlike talent for finding things that are lost. At this point in their lives, though, the “gifts” seem more like burdens, leading to feelings of self-doubt and isolation. But early in the film, the fourth friend, Jonesy (Damian Lewis) is lured into traffic by a vision of Duddits and hit by a car—Dreamcatcher was the first book King wrote after his own near-fatal encounter with a poorly driven van—and signs point to a deeper significance to their supernatural bond.
Soon after the four friends inhabit the cabin, one of them comes across a dazed hunter wandering nearby and brings him inside to recuperate. While thawing out, the thankful fellow lets loose a barrage of uncontrollable farts and belches, but something much nastier will soon work its way out of his bloating body. When the concerned Beaver and Jonesy follow a thick trail of blood to the locked bathroom, they bust through the door to find Mr. Stinky dead on the crapper, having just shat out an eel-like alien monster with razor-sharp teeth and a bad attitude.
As silly as all this sounds, director Lawrence Kasdan—best known for dramas like The Big Chill and Grand Canyon—wrings serious tension from the ensuing action. It doesn’t hurt that he’s working from a script by William Goldman, whose film credits include the superb thriller Marathon Man as well as the subtly sinister—except when sledgehammer meets ankle—adaptation of King’s Misery.
But while distilling Dreamcatcher’s 600 pages down to two hours of screen time, Goldman was obliged to keep in the part about the top-secret military task force, led by Freeman’s Col. Abraham Curtis. Curtis is bent on the eradication of all alien invaders, but after 25 unsuccessful years in that pursuit, he’s just plain bent. So we have to watch the crazed army vet shoot the fingers off an insubordinate soldier and blast away at his second-in-command with the guns of an Apache helicopter.
It’s way more fun to see one of those toothy turd things latch on to a tipsy guy’s penis while he’s writing his name in the snow.