In the directors chair is Oscar-winning screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. Lawrence Kasdan is the writer/director of the celebrated likes of Body Heat (1981), The Big Chill (1983), Silverado (1985), The Accidental Tourist (1991), Grand Canyon (1991), Wyatt Earp (1995) and French Kiss (1995). Kasdan of course won his genre stripes by starting out as a screenwriter for hire for George Lucas, turning out the scripts for The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Return of the Jedi (1983) and later returned to pen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015). Kasdans solo work has developed a fine ability to draw out excellent performances from his cast, even in small parts, and comes with a welcome intelligence above the films of most of his peers. Body Heat, for instance, is one of the finest examples of a modern film noir. On Dreamcatcher, Kasdan is helped out by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman, who was responsible for the scripts for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), All the Presidents Men (1976), Marathon Man (1976), Rob Reiners The Princess Bride (1987), as well as the aforementioned adaptations of Misery and Hearts in Atlantis.
Dreamcatcher met with a mixed audience response. Though he is the most popular novelist in the world, Stephen King is never an astoundingly original writer. His plots, if you strip them down to bald synopses, rarely ever read as more than B horror movies. The effectiveness of his writing comes all in the characterizations, the wry and witty prose and his understated twists of the plot. That is the problem with Dreamcatcher. Throughout the last three decades, Stephen King has travelled through most horror themes the plot of Dreamcatcher is the occasion where he essentially revamped Alien (1979) and the genre of slithery-nasty-hunts-people plots. Grafted onto that is a backstory about four childhood friends coming to confront a menace in adulthood that Stephen King had visited before in It (1986) and of course the novella The Body (1982), which became the basis of Stand By Me. The story also features a character that is a variation on the psychically gifted intellectually handicapped boy/man that appeared in The Stand (1978). All of this works far better in the original King novel. The film has essentially stripped it away to a handful of scenes, none of which gel together on the screen. What is missing is the entirely captivating second half of the book where King creates a suspenseful journey to stop the alien inhabiting Jonesy with multiple parties tracking each other across Maine using a telepathic connection, as all the while the alien begins to find itself becoming prey to the emotions and desires inside its human host. As much of this was dependant on being relayed by telepathy, shared thoughts and inner battles, it goes by the wayside in favour of the most overt and outward scenes.
On screen, the story seems ungainly there is a standard-issue nasty alien menace that is awkwardly combined with a backstory about psychic powers. The film also visits the plague outbreak genre in fact, Dreamcatcher is often similar to Outbreak (1995), which notedly also had Morgan Freeman playing a role not too different to the one he plays here. William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdans very faithfulness to the book ends up with some uneasy devices on screen. Stephen King is a master of the internal voice but the scenes with Damian Lewis arguing with himself in a British accent seem silly when transliterated to the screen. Other devices like the literal depiction of the metaphorical Memory Library seem oddly out of place in an otherwise straightforward horror story. Morgan Freemans character is serviced by some sharp dialogue but is ultimately no more than a cliche out-of-control military officer he seems to behave in a vacuum and we are given no insight into why he is going crazy, or how it is he and his people know so much about the aliens the way Stephen King wrote the part, you are almost certain he had R. Lee Ermey in mind but Morgan Freeman seems to mellow and nice for such a dangerous role.
Dreamcatcher has certainly put together with an impressive technical flourish. There are some beautifully photographed snow-laden (British Columbia) exteriors, while Industrial Light and Magic deliver an impressive range of creature effects in particular, the uncanny appearance of a grey alien to Damian Lewis. Lawrence Kasdan generates a fair degree of suspense in places but Dreamcatcher feels too expansive as a story with too many ungainly literary devices attached to it to come together as a whole.
Dreamcatcher has a surprising number of similarities to M. Night Shyamalans Signs (2002), which was released seven months earlier. Both are films with ordinary people confronting the arrival of an alien menace in the countryside. In both Dreamcatcher and Signs, the eventual means of defeating the aliens is in the protagonist(s) realization that a supernatural force had somehow foreseen this confrontation and has left them with clues and abilities that they have to now draw together to defeat the alien. Both films in odd ways seem to reflect the moment in Star Wars (1977) where Luke Skywalker realizes that he needs to trust in the supernatural agency of The Force in order to destroy the Death Star. Dreamcatcher, for all its faults, tells the same story more credibly than M. Night Shyamalan did in Signs.
Other Stephen King genre adaptations include:- Carrie (1976), Salems Lot (1979), The Shining (1980), Christine (1983), Cujo (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), Children of the Corn (1984), Firestarter (1984), Cats Eye (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), The Running Man (1987), Pet Semetary (1989), Graveyard Shift (1990), It (tv mini-series, 1990), Misery (1990), a segment of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), Sometimes They Come Back (1991), The Lawnmower Man (1992), The Dark Half (1993), Needful Things (1993), The Tommyknockers (tv mini-series, 1993), The Stand (tv mini-series, 1994), The Langoliers (tv mini-series, 1995), The Mangler (1995), Thinner (1996), The Night Flier (1997), Quicksilver Highway (1997), The Shining (tv mini-series, 1997), Trucks (1997), Apt Pupil (1998), The Green Mile (1999), The Dead Zone (tv series, 2001-2), Hearts in Atlantis (2001), Carrie (tv mini-series, 2002), Riding the Bullet (2004), Salems Lot (tv mini-series, 2004), Secret Window (2004), Desperation (tv mini-series, 2006), Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (tv mini-series, 2006), 1408 (2007), The Mist (2007), Children of the Corn (2009), Everythings Eventual (2009), the tv series Haven (2010-5), Bag of Bones (tv mini-series, 2011), Carrie (2013), Under the Dome (tv series, 2013-5), Big Driver (2014), A Good Marriage (2014), Mercy (2014), Cell (2016), 11.22.63 (tv mini-series, 2016), Geralds Game (2017) and It (2017). Stephen King had also written a number of original screen works with Creepshow (1982), Golden Years (tv mini-series, 1991), Sleepwalkers (1992), Storm of the Century (tv mini-series, 1999), Rose Red (tv mini-series, 2002) and the tv series Kingdom Hospital (2004), as well as adapted his own works with the screenplays for Cats Eye, Silver Bullet, Pet Semetary, The Stand, The Shining, Desperation, Children of the Corn 2009 and Cell. King also directed one film with Maximum Overdrive (1986).
(Nominee for Best Cinematography and Best Makeup Effects at this sites Best of 2003 Awards).