Tag Archives: 80s cinema



Format: DVD (Region 1 + 2) + Blu-ray

Director: Joseph Ruben

Writers: David Loughery, Chuck Russell, Joseph Ruben

Based on the play by: Kenneth G. Ross

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Kate Capshaw, David Patrick Kelly, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert

USA 1984

99 mins

A few months before Freddy Krueger began stalking the sleep of American teens in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and almost three decades before Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape used the world of dreams as a battleground. Where A Nightmare on Elm Street subverted the slasher genre and Inception was an inverted heist movie, Dreamscape was a sci-fi thriller in which the very future of the planet was at stake. Very loosely based on a treatment author Roger Zelazny wrote of his novel The Dream Master (1966), Dreamscape touched on an issue very much in people’s minds at the time. With fears of the possibility of nuclear Armageddon at their height, Ruben’s movie posited a scenario in which a trained dream-assassin would murder the president in his sleep, thus killing him in real life and halting his plans to bring nuclear proliferation to a halt.

Shady government agencies, compromised scientists and powerful psychics scheme, betray and fight in both the real and dream worlds. Dennis Quaid’s Alex Gardner, an affable but wayward psychic, is coerced into assisting on what is ostensibly a government-funded project to cure people of their nightmares. The programme’s star pupil and covert dream-assassin, Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly) – brash, egotistical and deeply troubled – is the Yang to Gardner’s Yin. Glatman’s damaged psyche makes him a dangerous weapon, easily able to terrorize the minds of those around him. Kelly gives a memorable performance as the proto-Krueger; turning dreams to nightmares, shape-shifting and even sporting blades for fingernails at one point. Gardner, by contrast, reconnects with his conscience and moral values as he is charged with stopping Glatman from carrying out his mission. The equally apposite, and equally manipulative, figures of Doctor Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) and the project’s overseer, CIA operative Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer), are the older reflections of Gardner’s naïve protégé and Glatman’s malleable prodigy. While Novotny wants to use the psychic’s abilities as a force for good, Blair’s crooked agent is bent on stopping the President’s plans, believing they will hand the initiative in the Cold War to the Russians.

Blending action movie tropes with horror movie imagery into a science fiction narrative written as a thriller gave Dreamscape a fresh feel and cross-genre appeal. Visions of monsters conjured up in the imaginations of psychologically scarred children, and post-nuclear wastelands in the president’s tortured mind, are as fittingly nightmarish as could be realised on screen by special effects teams at the time. The theme of dream and inner worlds, alternate realities and what-if scenarios seen in many later science fiction and horror movies, from Brainstorm to Source Code, Dream Demon to From Beyond, proved an enduring and endlessly recyclable one. The fact that the ‘enemy’ in Dreamscape comes from within, literally and figuratively, leaves the viewer in no doubt that Ruben and screenwriters David Loughery and Chuck Russell understand that sometimes those guarding our safety can do as much to endanger it as any perceived external threat. That the president is seen as a figurehead to be maneuvered and toyed with marionette-like by those agencies also speaks volumes for their views on the true locations of the power bases in American politics.

Somewhat under-appreciated, possibly due to a superfluous romantic sub-plot involving Gardner and Kate Capshaw’s research assistant Jane DeVries, Dreamscape nonetheless remains an important step on the evolutionary road for science fiction cinema. Alien, Blade Runner and the Star Wars franchise may be the era’s science fiction titans, but Dreamscape, along with Brainstorm, deserves more recognition for delving into inner rather than outer space in its futuristic what-if narrative.

Neil Mitchell

Rumble Fish

Rumble Fish

Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 27 August 2012

Distributor: Eureka (Masters of Cinema)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writers: S.E. Hinton, Francis Ford Coppola

Based on the novel by: S.E. Hinton

Cast: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane

USA 1983

94 mins

‘Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. You see, when you’re young, you’re a kid, you got time, you got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years, a couple of years there… it doesn’t matter. You know. The older you get you say, “Jesus, how much I got? I got thirty-five summers left.” Think about it. Thirty-five summers.’ – Benny

Rumble Fish is a film dominated by time. Clouds race across the skies, shadows drip from walls, clocks slice through the seconds in the foreground, hang on every wall and a soundtrack by Stewart Copeland ticks and bangs with the percussive anxiety of time running out. ‘Biff Wilcox is looking for you Rusty James, says he’s gonna kill you,’ Midget tells Rusty James (Matt Dillon) at the beginning of the movie. Rusty James is trapped in the wrong time, missed his moment. The gang fights he’d love to bring back finished when he was 11 years old. Then his older brother, the Motorcycle Boy, was a gang president and local hero, but the Motorcycle Boy is gone, leaving a younger brother with a hankering for former and imagined glories, getting his kicks from his girl Patty (Diane Lane) and hanging out with his pals. The fight is a rare moment of interest, a re-enactment, and Coppola has it choreographed as a dance scene, giving Mickey Rourke, as the Motorcycle Boy, an entrance to kill for. With Motorcycle Boy’s return to the family home - complete with a beautiful performance from Dennis Hopper as the ‘lawyer on welfare’ sot of a father - Rusty James hopes for a return to the good old days, but he’s been wounded by Biff and his life looks to be falling to pieces as he realises his own limitations and, more poignantly, the limitations of his obviously damaged brother.

But how has time treated Rumble Fish? My friends and I, as teenagers, watched and rewatched Rumble Fish so many times that if Mickey Rourke was ill one day and couldn’t make it, we could have played the role. Of course, we knew we were actually Rusty James wanting to be Motorcycle Boy, and we feared that in actual fact we were Steve (Vincent Spano), Rusty’s goofy nerd friend who harbours a rage against the Motorcycle Boy: ‘I don’t know why someone hasn’t just taken a rifle and blown your head off.’ When we watched it, I remember being uncertain of when the film was set. The black and white (and the sound design) take their cue from the Motorcycle Boy’s colour blindness and intermittent deafness - ‘like watching black and white television with the sound turned down’ - but it also has the effect of making the film seem like something from the 50s or 60s. The glimpse of a Casio keyboard or a modern motorcycle jars. The film is a dream vision, smoke and fog drift across the screen and nothing is ever quite what it seems, with hallucinations and out of body experiences. Watching it now I realise it’s actually an ageing man’s view of youth. Youth is not exhilarating and carefree; it is already in a process of deterioration. Poor Rusty James can hardly walk by the end of the film, he’s so battered and beaten. All that he’s got going for himself is his wilful ignorance against Motorcycle Boy’s experience: ‘he looks really old, like 25’. Rourke’s otherworldly performance, his quietness that had the technicians dub the film ‘Mumble Fish’, his occasional willingness to use vicious violence, his brilliantly delivered ponderings - ‘Even the most primitive societies have an innate respect for the insane’ - creates that most elusive thing: a convincing portrait of cool.

Given what happened to Rourke through the subsequent two and a half decades, not to mention Coppola, who is currently capping his career with a horrendous so-bad-it’s-sad Val Kilmer piece, watching Rumble Fish persuades me that time … time is a very peculiar item.

John Bleasdale