Nightmares & Dreamscapes (DVD)
Directed by Rob Bowman, Mark Haber, Brian Henson, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, Mike Robe, Mikael Salomon
Distributed by Warner Home Video
Stephen King and television have been hit or miss for many years. The man himself cannot be put to blame. Sometimes great ideas can never be translated into any other media outside of print. It takes a special breed of high powered Hollywood mutants to make a King project break out of forgettable TV special hell and into the core of the audience's brain. Does Nightmares & Dreamscapes deliver that kind of mind invading punch?
The short answer is “yes.” However, it is a slightly stressed “yes” with a side order of lip biting. Nightmares & Dreamscapes takes several of King's short stories and attempts to bring them to life without using the standard format associated with many of his other mini-series TV adaptations. Right off the bat it is easy to notice that the production values and effects, for the most part, catch the eye just right. In some cases (which will be detailed later) it is easy to forget you are watching anything that was made for the tube. This is one of the series’ many good points. It’s easy to watch even some of the lackluster stories just because of how beautifully they were shot and assembled.
The first story served up the audience is “Battleground.” The whole episode is played through with no dialogue spoken by any of the characters. The most we get is a grunt or yelp of pain. While this feature alone may not sound interesting, the way in which director/Muppet master Brian Henson constructed the episode makes things fit quite nicely. Jason Renshaw (William Hurt), an assassin for hire, has just murdered a beloved toy maker. Renshaw is quite the bad ass. He takes out guards like Sam Fisher and has a cool multi-tasking gadget like Bond. Nothing seems to faze this man until small things from his most recent kill start popping up on his trip home. Various toys from the company he just invaded begin to appear here and there. Even a package of little green army men arrives at his door.
It could be a coincidence or his employer fucking with him. Oh, wait, the little green army bastards are alive?! Oh yeah!!! These guys aren’t friendly at all; they are out for blood and even fire real scale bullets from their machine guns. Looks like their anti-aircraft gun works as well! Things get ugly between the giant and the emerald brigade. Most of the effects shots work out really well and are only hindered by a few noticeable CGI helicopters. For such a loony premise the episode is very tense and is easily one of the best out of the whole mini-series.
“Battleground” is a great way to set up a series. In one episode you get to see King’s strange ideas, tension, and odd sense of justice. There are a few more examples of how well this works, but then you unfortunately have a handful of stories that never seem to click into place to make the whole machine run smoothly. Another example of great storytelling is in “Umney's Last Case” where William H. Macy plays both a writer and the writer’s main character in a cartoony 1930’s private detective story that goes from fun to depressing with a dash of “holy damn, that is strange.” The other stories that work well are "The End of the Whole Mess” and "Autopsy Room Four.”
I hate bringing up the negative parts, but it has to be done. Like it has been said before, not all of King’s stories translate too well when brought to the small screen. The first case this is noticeable on is "Crouch End.” There was real potential for this story if it had not lingered so long on its main characters enjoying the nice parts of London. When there is finally a bit of terror and spark of evil ancient gods, the story is nearly over and the only thing left is puzzlement and a hatred of that damn grey, washout filter.
This same sort of overall “meh” feeling leaks onto "The Road Virus Heads North.” One may notice that some of the stories are metaphors. Some of them are blatant and a couple are hidden. "The Road Virus Heads North" is about as subtle with it as having a piano dropped on your privates. Tom Berenger plays a horror author who is possibly dying and is making his rounds to make sure his loved ones are OK before he bites the big one. The plot thickens when he purchases a painting that morphs as he travels. The painting depicts a devilish looking chap driving a beautiful old black Pontiac. BAM! Get it? The painting is death following him. Sigh … the story just never worked out right. The suspense never raised its head, and it was hard to care about Tom’s character or anyone else associated with him. Flesh him out a little more, and this could have been a fun romp instead of a flaccid bore.
"You Know They Got a Hell of a Band" also falls into the same trap by giving us characters that are hard to relate to or connect with emotionally. It is a true pity because the idea of a hidden rock & roll hell populated by Elvis, Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin, to name a few, dripped of ooey-gooey Stephen King goodness. All of the actors were pretty spot-on with their impressions of late famous musicians, but the lead characters never did anything more than look scared or happy. You’re stuck in a rock & roll hell, for fuck’s sake! Don’t just give up and accept your fate so soon after you crash in the Jimi Hendrix bus! Arm yourself with ham sandwiches, pills, and model airplanes and fight those dead dicks!
OK, so there are good and bad points. It happens with all TV shows and series. Luckily the good outweighs the bad thanks to the number of special features. Each disc has more than a couple , usually one or two assigned to each episode; the problem is they are all too vanilla. A standard format is pretty much what is set for the interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Usually one or two of the main actors will explain the story and the director will give you a look at the visual effects. Nothing is ever very in-depth, but if you are a technical nut, it may settle that itch if you were wondering how some shots were done.
Otherwise you are better off scratching yourself.
Oh, the ride has been fun, Mr. King. Sure there were some downers and the occasional toothless carney fixing the ferris wheel with a bandage and two toothpicks, but the journey through your latest carnival of terrors has been mostly enjoyable. I really do hope for another mini-series from you similar to this one now that we’ve gotten a taste of that sweet pie that so much work was put into. Don’t leave us hanging for another slice!
Eight episodes on three discs, including one unaired extended episode
Behind the drama of Nightmares & Dreamscapes
"From the Mind of Stephen King" featurette
"Page to Picture" featurette
"The Inside Looks" making-of featurettes on six episodes
Interviews with series stars
Battleground special effects featurette
4 1/2 out of 5