DREAMCATCHER tells the story of four longtime friends who go hunting in the Maine woods every year. They have quite a past, these fellows. When they were young they saved a mentally- challenged boy named Douglas from bullies. They grow close to the boy, called “Duddits,” and the special man invests in them something…powerful. Each man has some sort of odd ESP. One can see “a line” to missing objects. Others get flashes of the future when they close their eyes. Needless to say, Duddits is not your average mentally-challenged young kid, and the day they saved him — the day they were “meant” to find him — changed their lives forever.
The friends — Jonesy, Beaver, Henry and Pete — each have some sort of dilemma coursing through their adulthood existence. Jonesy (like Stephen King) was in a life-shattering car accident. Beaver is estranged from his wife. Henry (a shrink) is deeply depressed and contemplating suicide. Pete is drinking more and more and is a gossamer-strand from alcoholism.
Jonesy is sitting in a hunting stand, watching for deer, when something catches his eye. A swatch of brown, with an oily-black eye. A deer. He levels his gun — and stops. It’s not a deer but a man. Jonesy was a trigger-twitch from killing him. The man is gibbering about being lost in the woods for a day. When Jonesy gets him inside their cabin, he finds out that the guy lost the rest of his group and wandered the entire night. The man, who talks like someone in FARGO, is more than a little odd: for one thing, he burps loud enough to shake the rafters, and his explosive farts are foul enough to peel the paint off the walls. Not only that, but they figure out from what he says that he’s been missing for days — and he has no start of a beard, no signs of dehydration or starvation, no obvious effects from the cold. It’s just plain weird.
Henry and Pete are out at the store. While driving back in the heavy snow they see a woman sitting, catatonic, in the middle of the road. They swerve to avoid her and flip their car. Henry and Pete are injured but alive. The woman, who they came within an inch of, hasn’t flinched. She’s in some sort of shell-shocked state.
Back at the cabin the farting guest makes it to the bathroom and is yelling about how bad he has to move his bowels. Jonesy and Beaver peek into the bed the man was sleeping in and see it’s covered in blood. Fearing the man is dying, they bust down the bathroom door and are greeted with the sight of a blood-filled room and a dead man on the toilet. When the poor bastard falls off the bowl, they find out just what was inside of him: an alien!
When a helicopter flies by, screaming about the area being quarantined, everything snaps into focus: aliens have landed here, infested humans, and the government has shut down the roads to contain it.
The military is led by a madman by the name of Curtis (Kurtz in the book) who has one objective in mind: kill everyone and everything and make sure the alien infection doesn’t spread. He rounds up all the living humans and locks them up.
Jonesy, meanwhile, has run into a grand-poo-bah alien known as Mr. Gray. Mr. Gray has taken over Jonesy’s body. But since Jonesy’s “special,” he can communicate with Mr. Gray. As Mr. Gray uses his body to murder and escape, Jonesy is stuck in his “memory warehouse” (literally a room filled with boxes), trying to keep Mr. Gray from learning important things — about Duddits and his friends.
Henry finds out what’s going on and, while cross-country-skiing away, gets locked up by the government. Luckily for him, there’s a military man with a conscience on the team — a man named Underhill — who helps him flee and track down Mr. Gray/Jonesy.
The crazy Curtis, betrayed by right-hand-man Underhill, follows behind them.
And the race is on! Mr. Gray intends on infecting the entire planet (by doing something I won’t reveal). Jonesy fights it out with the amused and angry Mr. Gray, who can’t understand why Jonesy is so powerful. Underhill and Henry get to Duddits, because he is the key to the whole thing.
Goldman and Kasdan have done something magical here: they have seemingly taken the book scene for scene, in some cases word for word, pared it down to screenplay length, and without a sense of huge loss.
In my opinion, this is probably the best adaptation of King’s work ever. Even MISERY, which Goldman also wrote, toned down the book and made it conventional. Kasdan and Goldman take all the highlights from the book, roll them out, cutting down on some of the character stuff, but without losing an inch of the power. All the great moments are here to feast on — the scene with the man who wanders in from the snow, the woman in the middle of the road, the two battles with the “shit-weasels,” the escape from the detainee camp, the scene where the military attack the aliens’ ship — and somehow Goldman and Kasdan were even able to cram in the two important flashbacks to the friends’ youth. And the flashbacks don’t feel awkward or lazy. They simply fill in the blanks of the characters.
DREAMCATCHER the novel was cinematic. It had plenty of cool, swaggering action scenes and all that ALIEN stuff going for it. But Kasdan and Goldman were not blinded by this seductive material and smartly kept the more character-driven portions of the book, involving the relationship of the friends and their bond with Duddits. They basically change very little of King’s book (he’s practically a screenwriter here) and whether it was out of necessity or faith in its audience, I like that Kasdan doesn’t shy away from the weirder and less commonplace elements — the “memory warehouse,” and the idea of Jonesy being taken over by Mr. Gray. In these scenes we’re watching Jonesy’s body, but we’re really seeing Mr. Gray (which people are smart enough to attune to, but studio heads rarely believe simple things like that).
DREAMCATCHER, matching the tone of King’s book, is exciting, rousing, swift, smart, and tons-a-fun. I had a great time reading the book, jouncing along as it drove over the edge, and the script does a nice job of matching that. I feel Goldman and Kasdan did as good as can be expected in translating such a long book. Reading it gives the impression that you are actually reading the novel — it’s that close — but that’s a testament to how slyly the writers have pared down the story (a dialogue snip here, a character gone there, a reduction here). But it’s King’s work, through and through and undiluted by Hollywood standards, and I think King fans — who, like myself, cringe at a lot of the movies made from his books (HEARTS IN ATLANTIS included) — are in for a welcome surprise.
Remember I said they killed the ending? Well, it’s a hard truth, but for as good a job as Kasdan and Goldman did, they erased my favorite part of the book. Curtis, who was named Kurtz in the book, was a raving madman who had clearly lost his mind somewhere in the wars he fought. King never hid the fact that it was an homage to HEART OF DARKNESS and APOCALYPSE NOW. The problem with Curtis/Kurtz in the script is that they have reduced this character so much, and have leveled him out such a great deal, that he just doesn’t come off as crazy. King had him spouting mountains of absurd dialogue. His head was like a big egg with a crack running down it. You simply don’t get that sense in the script.
My favorite “set piece” in the book was when the three groups were following each other — Jonesy and Mr. Gray, Henry and Underhill, and Kurtz, an underling and another army guy Kurtz hated. This last car has been totally deleted in the script, which is a shame, because it was gold material. In fact, this whole section of the book is what really got a beating to make the story shorter. In the book Mr. Gray stops to eat and learns the joys of bacon (later eating it raw and vomiting it up). He talks to Jonesy like a child, trying to figure out earth, and mostly throwing up his hands in consternation. (My favorite part, no longer around, is how Mr. Gray accesses Jonesy’s “curse-word file” and starts to scream things like “Jesus-Christ-banana” and “Kiss my bender!” when he gets angry.) I think the story is somewhat weakened and devitalized with the excising of Kurtz and his car ride. The army guy in the car with them is “pregnant” with a shit-weasel. The young guy driving the car, who is a loyal army man, is utterly sickened by the pregnant man (thanks to the farts and the smell, etc.). Kurtz is the mother to this bizarre group: calming one, using the other, and keeping the pregnant man alive because, thanks to the alien inside him, he can telepathically hear Henry’s/Jonesy’s thoughts.
What the writers instead due is have Curtis/Kurtz spontaneously act loco and take a helicopter to the spot everyone ends up at (again, I won’t give it away). In a scene out of the jaunty airiness of INDY JONES, Curtis and Underhill have it out. After reading this excellent script, with its intelligence and unassailable instincts, you ask yourself, “What the hell is this?” The scene is horrible and if this is all they could come up with to get Curtis/ Kurtz there, why include it at all? In fact, why bother having the Kurtz character now? The whole point of it was to give Underhill a motivation to help Henry. Having no time to establish Kurtz renders him useless, and his idiotic last battle — helicopter versus man! — leaves a foul taste in my mouth.
However, you shouldn’t be too worried. Because before and after that the script is damned good. This is by far the best script venerable Goldman has been involved with in years. It’s sort of sad, really, that Goldman has become two things: the guy to call if you want to adapt Stephen King and an action-script rewriter. It’s great to see him credited with good material again. (The last thing he wrote of any wealth was a rewrite on the John Travolta flick THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER, and that was four years ago; before that, I think his last worthy script was MISERY.)
Kasdan, who is brilliantly diverse, is almost ludicrously perfect for this material. He knows how to do the whole alien-dogfight thing — he knows how to wrench drama from extraterrestrial doings (thanks to those STAR WARS gigs) — and he’s the master of the character piece. From THE BIG CHILL (which, admittedly, people think is a rip-off) to his recent MUMFORD. Kasdan, who’s a refreshingly smart guy, always colors his films with that aptitude, and though he’s sort of dropped out of the movie world for a while and might just have been forgotten, this is going to bring him back — with a Technicolor contrail of sparkling red across the azure sky. If the script I read is any indication, this is going to be a big, expensive movie with numerous shifts in tone. It’s a tremendous job, and if it was anyone but Kasdan I might worry…but I have no doubt he’ll handle it with ease.
Kasdan has assembled an interesting cast, made up of some of my favorite actors, but I can’t agree with everything he’s done.
First up we have Curtis, played by Morgan Freeman. Freeman is, bar none, the best living actor, and possibly the best actor of our generation. The man could make reading a laundry list intoxicating with that deep purr of a voice. He’s simply outstanding. But in this role? I just don’t see him. Freeman is about control and being unflappable and cool. I can’t picture him playing this role as written unless he’s bringing something radically different to the table.
The friends will be played by Thomas Jane (Henry), Jason Lee (Beaver), Timothy Olyphant (Pete) and Damian Lewis (Jonesy). Let me first say that Thomas Jane is perfectly cast. I have a feeling this will be the film that rockets his career stratospherically. Timothy Olyphant, who you’ve seen in GO and GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, is an underrated actor who will also get a boost from the film. I simply don’t know enough about Damien Lewis to envision him in the role (Kasdan must have been impressed by him, since he gets the biggest part). Now we come to Jason Lee, an amazing, natural actor who can do no wrong. But Kasdan hasn’t done him any favors here: Jason is too young. All of the actors are probably five or six years too young, but Jason still looks like a guy in his twenties. How can we accept him as a guy sitting around with his friends talking about Viagra? Lee, like Freeman, is astounding in everything he does — but they are in for a challenge in these roles.
Tom Sizemore (HEAT) plays Underhill. And Donnie Wahlberg will take on the adult role of Duddits. I’m guessing Kasdan saw Donnie’s haunting work in THE SIXTH SENSE and knew he had his man. I have no doubt Donnie can pull off this part. My problem, as it was in the book, is that Duddits is a woefully inaccurate character. He’s sort of this angelic, mumbling man- child. But who are we kidding here? This is just the latest “Hollywood cute” retarded person in a movie. People with Down Syndrome or people who are mentally challenged are not benefiting from these portrayals, and I really wish King, Goldman or Kasdan had done a bit more to make it accurate.
Kasdan and Goldman dream up some connections to things in the friends’ lives that I don’t remember from the book — especially about Duddits — and they work surprisingly well. So the script has a greater excuse for its Duddits behavior, but it’s still painful to see a mentally- challenged person mumbling “Scooby Dooby Doo, Where Are You?”
DREAMCATCHER was a great book, and it’s been turned into a damn good script. Goldman and Kasdan get everything right until the end, and they perfectly capture the freewheeling pulse of King’s novel. As a lifelong devotee of King’s work, I think the greatest, most laudatory thing I can say is this:
Goldman, Kasdan —
You didn’t screw up the book. Congratulations.
— Darwin Mayflower