I've always been fond of movies whose topic is about dreams because it provides room for filmmakers to be unpredictable, imaginative, and inventive, both visually and thematically. While Joseph Ruben's Dreamscape carries the oft-used plot of a shadowy government conspiracy regarding a dangerous bureaucrat with powerful ties whose plan is to kill the President of the United States because of fears that he'll weaken our country due to his desires to start nuclear disarmament talks, I thought the movie's bread and butter is the many dream sequences where we go inside the night terrors which plague certain human subjects.
Achieving the power to enter the dreams of troubled people who have become so deeply affected they aren't able to function normally in society or in life in general, Dr. Paul Novotny(Max Von Sydow)recruits powerful telepaths to work in his "dream chamber" in an attempt to help those in need of rescue. Alex Gardner(Dennis Quaid) is such a telepath, incredibly gifted and intelligent, but lacks the motivation or care to use them towards the greater good. Reluctantly committing to Novotny's experiments, Gardner finds that helping others recover from the nightmares that haunt them is an exciting, wonderful ability which he gradually embraces and finds rewarding. Meanwhile Bob Blair(Christopher Plummer), responsible for funding Novotny's project, prepares to murder the President(Eddie Albert), believing he's weakening our country due to how he's allowed his nightmares to affect his conduct as the nation's leader. Blair intends to use a psychopathic telepath, Tommy Ray Glatman(David Patrick Kelly in one of his customary smarmy creep roles)to kill the President inside his dream. It'll be up to Alex, and Jane(Kate Capshaw), Novotny's assistant, to stop Blair or else risk equipping a tool of destruction into the hands of dangerous people willing to exploit it's power. A horror novelist, Charlie(George Wendt)risks his life getting vital information to Alex, motivating his cause to upend Blair and his nefarious schemes.
I personally found the whole political intrigue rather ho-hum, really enjoying the angle of the ability to enter the dreams to help those in need instead. Alex uses the term "cerebral voyeurs" as their title which I thought was an apt description of us, the viewers, as well. I particularly found the journeys into the nightmares of a little boy tormented by a killer snake man, and the President's nuclear holocaust where the world represents destruction and ruin(..with diseased and dead asking why they were victimized)rather harrowing and thrilling. This, I felt, was where the movie really hums. The sub-plot, however, allows the horrifying idea of how such abilities can be used negatively in the wrong hands, where, initially, the project was for the betterment of the human race. Plummer is the perfect choice to portray a governmental sociopath in a suit and tie, more than willing to kill whoever in order to see that America remains the way he thinks it ought to be. Eddie Albert, albeit a small role, has a pivotal part as the President, particularly when he and Alex are protecting themselves against Tommy, who has become a major threat since being given a place to practice his homicidal tendencies. Quaid is a young hunk, with a charming smile, and has a likable air about him, despite his cocky reckless behavior, with the on-going crisis asking him to grow up and get serious about the developing situation. Capshaw, in a rather thankless role, has the part of attractive love-interest who helps Alex in their mission to stop Blair(..her train car fantasy with Quaid gets quite steamy, interrupted before they get busy). Max von Sydow is the disappointed scientist who thought his work offered the world a benefit, saddened that Blair had other plans for the dream project, with designs on using it to kill instead of heal.
When Alex enters the dreams of subjects, we witness a path through a type of multi-colored wormhole. Most of the dreams are shot using soft focus light, with Ruben often incorporating odd angles, creating a disorienting atmosphere that projects a unique universe for which Alex operates within the subjects he wishes to help. The conclusion is nice and tidy, rather predictable, those with malevolent intentions getting their just desserts.
You can really see why Quaid became a star, with his looks and talent on display.
Review by Scarecrow-88 from the Internet Movie Database.