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What Dreams May Come(1998)
Chris and Annie Nielsen's children are both killed, and then a few years later Chris himself dies in an accident. Chris goes to heaven, a place built of his imagination, and the paintings he loved in life. He discovers from an angel that Annie has committed suicide, as she is bereft without her family. Chris determines to search for her, but as he has gone to heaven and she to hell, he must endure great hardships to find her.
For more about What Dreams May Come and the What Dreams May Come Blu-ray release, see What Dreams May Come Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 5, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Vincent Ward
Writers: Richard Matheson, Ronald Bass
Starring: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Annabella Sciorra, Max von Sydow, Rosalind Chao, Lucinda Jenney
» See full cast & crew
What Dreams May Come Blu-ray Review
“Stick around, chief. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 5, 2011
No matter how many times I sip from the waters of What Dreams May Come, I walk away parched and unsatisfied. Richard Matheson's 1978 novel of the same name is a far more fulfilling journey into the afterlife, and not just because the classic horror maestro's book avoids the sort of syrupy sentimentality that gums up the gears of screenwriter Ronald Bass and director Vincent Ward's 1998 adaptation. Matheson's heaven isn't a sterile, storybook dreamscape, nor is his hell anything less than an unspeakable, nightmarish assault on the senses; his prevailing philosophy, enigmatic as it is, doesn't fall victim to Hollywood's ever-comfortable, quasi-religious dogma; and he doesn't clutter his narrative with character after character, or pen such a slippery, convoluted narrative. When asked what he thought of the feature film, Matheson replied: "I will not comment, except to say that a major producer in Hollywood said to me, they should have shot your book. Amen. I must add though that producer Stephen Simon tried to get my script filmed for many years, so I can't fault him for finally having to go the route he did in order to get the film made."
Drastic departures from the book aside, Ward's film still isn't an easy pill to swallow. Long stretches of evocative, at-times haunting imagery resonate on a profound level, Joel Hynek's visual effects are inventive and suitably surreal, and the cast's performances are excellent all around. Unfortunately, each one is undermined by the brief but jarring bursts of humor, tightly wound heartstrings, patchwork plotting and nagging gaps in logic that lie in wait. Don't misunderstand: there's a lot to love about What Dreams May Come. But Hollywood should have stuck with Matheson.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die, to sleep, no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause – there's the respect that makes calamity of so long life.
When Dr. Christy Nielsen (Robin Williams) and his wife, Annie (Annabella Sciorra), lose their children -- Ian (Josh Paddock) and Marie (Jessica Brooks Grant) -- in a tragic car accident, their marriage and lives nearly come undone. But they recover, at least for a time. Years later, Christy is killed in a second accident and Annie descends into a deep depression. Christy lingers near his distraught wife, trying to reassure her his spirit is alive and well until a visit from his long-dead medical school mentor, Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.), convinces him to let go and cross over to the other side. He awakens in his own personal heaven, an oil-painting paradise in which anything and everything is possible. Before long, he reunites with his daughter, explores the greater heavenly nexus and discovers its wonders. Annie, meanwhile, continues to spiral downward and, in a fit of hopelessness, takes her own life; an act that leaves her soul trapped in Hell in a state of eternal denial. Refusing to accept his wife's fate, Christy convinces Albert to help him. Albert, in turn, introduces Christy to an experienced tracker (Max von Sydow) willing to lead the doctor into the depths of hell to find Annie, even though he insists it's impossible for a suicide victim to escape their own sorrow. But Christy remains unconvinced, and braves the darkness to find his soul mate and lead her out of a hell of her own making.
Unfortunately, while Bass and Ward's afterlife is certainly intriguing, it isn't fascinating. Christy's heaven takes the form of a painting that swirls to life: his feet slosh through watery fields, he stares as brush-stroked clouds swim across the sky, and he inhales a warm, summery breeze as the trees bend from the weight of the painted flowers blooming on each branch. At its center, countless souls gather to live in peace and harmony, to be reincarnated if they wish, and to spend their days without fear or longing. A beautiful world, to be sure. But once the painterly, Academy Award-winning visuals become more commonplace, there isn't anything to tether the viewer to Bass and Ward's paradise. There is no judgment, despite the fact that someone or something is responsible for sending innumerable souls to hell; there are no rules, other than those that conveniently present themselves the moment someone decides to defy them; and the dead live in perfect happiness, except when they're unceremoniously told a loved one has been damned to hell. Rather than piecing together a cohesive, compelling heaven -- even one that doesn't adhere to any single faith -- theirs is a hodgepodge of notions, beliefs and philosophies from every religion, and a watered down one at that.
Bass and Ward's hell is far more effective. It isn't as sleepy or sappy as Christy's heaven, and its vile vistas, sprawling seas of screaming souls, and wastelands of buried bodies worm deeper into the brain than the most beautiful streets of glory the filmmakers conjure up. The mechanics of their inferno still don't make any more sense than those of their paradisio -- Bass and Ward do whatever they please, dropping everything from "there are no rules" to "you just have to accept the rules" whenever either sentiment is called for -- and tend to change as Christy is overwhelmed with more and more memories of the mistakes and strides he made in life. Even so, it's his oft-times free-flow memories that make for some of the film's most captivating encounters. As Christy winds his way into the bowels of hell (rather quickly I might add), he returns to events from his life in a magnificently constructed non-linear stream of consciousness that ties the world of the living to the world of the dead. Williams, Sciorra and Nelson are at their best during these painful exchanges, and their collective work almost immediately emerges as Ward's greatest asset. Williams will bring tears to any father or husband's eyes, no matter how sticky some of his scenes become. Sciorra remains sympathetic and redeemable, even when consumed with selfishness. And Nelson forges a bond with Williams that feels all too real, regardless of how conventional their relationship can be. It's just a shame the script and story don't match the actors' moving performances.
For every touching encounter or heart-piercing sacrifice, there is an unnecessary deluge of exposition. For every engrossing flashback, there is a clumsy plunge into the afterlife. For every gorgeous visual, there is a strange derailment waiting just around the bend. And for every shocking development, there is a contrived twist or turn that must be endured (the film's bait-n-switch race-swapping is as needless as it is distracting). Ultimately, What Dreams May Come has a lot to offer, including squandered potential and wasted ideas.
What Dreams May Come Blu-ray, Video Quality
Universal has been slowly but surely releasing its entire HD DVD catalog on Blu-ray, and What Dreams May Come marks one of the last high definition stragglers to wash up on Blu shores. Unfortunately, the studio hasn't elected to remaster the film, meaning the 1080p/VC-1 transfer that graces this release is identical to the one that first appeared on the 2007 HD DVD. Edge enhancement poses a problem, mild to moderate ringing haunts several shots, minor contrast inconsistencies are prevalent, and some fleeting print nicks and scratches briefly flutter into view. But hold onto hope. Colors are both lush and lively, and primaries are absolutely lovely; so much so that the film's rich, painterly backgrounds all but swirl to life on the screen. Contrast stands firm far more often than it relents, delineation is decisively decent, and black levels are inky on the whole (barring a few problematic sequences in which crush or muted shadows rear their hellish heads). Detail wavers a bit on occasion, but any resulting softness is tied to Eduardo Serra's photography and Ward's visual effects sequences; nothing more sinister. Fine textures flourish, object definition is pleasing, and the film's faint veneer of grain is intact. Moreover, significant artifacting, banding and aliasing are held at bay, and the transfer renders the standard DVD irrelevant. What Dreams May Come isn't as gorgeous as it could be, but it comes close enough to warrant an upgrade.
What Dreams May Come Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is quite a step up from the 2007 HD DVD's Dolby Digital-Plus mix. For one, rear speaker activity is more lively and engaging, and takes fuller advantage of the entire soundfield. Directionality is fairly effective, pans are eerily transparent, Michael Kamen's score eagerly envelops the listener, and the soundfield is warm and inviting when Christy is in heaven, and chaotic and distressing when he descends into hell. LFE output is more powerful and precise as well, and the roar of burning freighters, the rush of Stygian waters, and the thunder of a bottomless vortex make their presence known. Dialogue isn't as reliable -- some lines are duller than others -- but voices are generally warm, intelligible and well-prioritized. And while there are other minor oddities, all of them are attributable to the film's original sound design. All in all, What Dreams May Come isn't going to sweep anyone away, but it will please those willing to embrace Ward's most harmonious and dissonant visions of the afterlife.
What Dreams May Come Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of What Dreams May Come doesn't offer any new bonus features, nor does it pull back the proverbial curtain as much as it could. Worse, Ward's commentary is fairly flat, a trio of featurettes are too short to satisfy, and the entire supplemental package is presented in standard definition.
What Dreams May Come Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
What Dreams May Come will continue to divide audiences. Religious viewers may take issue with its accessible-to-all ideology, cinephiles will take issue with its more melodramatic beats, and visually oriented filmfans will continue to sing its Academy Award-winning special effects' praises. Not many people will fall in love with everything Ward's journey into the afterlife has to offer and the film will remain a flawed favorite of only the most diligent aficionados. Universal's Blu-ray release is also a mixed bag. Its video transfer, though strong, is outdated; its DTS-HD Master Audio track is the highlight of the disc; and its supplemental package, while blessed with a director's commentary, falls short. Search your heart and choose wisely.
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