American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Dreamcatcher" begins as the intriguing story of friends who share a telepathic gift, and ends as a monster movie of stunning awfulness. What went wrong? How could director Lawrence Kasdan and writer William Goldman be responsible for a film that goes so awesomely wrong? How could even Morgan Freeman, an actor all but impervious to bad material, be brought down by the awfulness? Goldman, who has written insightfully about the screenwriters' trade, may get a long, sad book out of this one.
The movie is based on a novel by Stephen King, unread by me, apparently much altered for the screen version, especially in the appalling closing sequences. I have just finished the audiobook of King's From a Buick 8 , was a fan of his Hearts in Atlantis , and like the way his heart tugs him away from horror ingredients and into the human element in his stories.
Here the story begins so promisingly that I hoped, or assumed, it would continue on the same track: Childhood friends, united in a form of telepathy by a mentally retarded kid they protect, grow up to share psychic gifts and to deal with the consequences. The problem of really being telepathic is a favorite science-fiction theme; if you could read minds, would you be undone by the despair and anguish being broadcast all around you? This is unfortunately not the problem explored by "Dreamcatcher." The movie does have a visualization of the memory process that is brilliant filmmaking; after the character Gary "Jonesy" Jones (Damian Lewis) has his mind occupied by an alien intelligence, he is able to survive hidden within it by concealing his presence inside a vast Memory Warehouse, visualized by Kasdan as an infinitely unfolding series of rooms containing Jonesy's memories. This idea is like a smaller, personal version of Jorge Luis Borges' "Library of Babel," the imaginary library which contains all possible editions of all possible books. I can imagine many scenes set in the Warehouse--it's such a good idea it could support an entire movie--but the film proceeds relentlessly to abandon this earlier inspirations in its quest for the barfable.
But let me back up. We meet at the outset childhood friends: Henry Devlin, Joe (Beaver) Clarendon, Jonesy Jones and Pete Moore. They happen upon Douglas "Duddits" Cavell, a retarded boy being bullied by older kids, and they defend him with wit and imagination. He's grateful, and in some way he serves as a nexus for all of them to form a precognitive and psychic network. It isn't high-level or controllable, but it's there.