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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 6/1/99

In Dreams
1999 (1999) - DreamWorks S.K.G.

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

In Dreams Film Rating: B-
In Dreams is an interesting, but at times melodramatic, phycological thriller. I wasn't expecting this film to be quite as dark as it is, but Annette Bening gives an interesting enough performance to redeem it.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A/C+
The anamorphic widescreen video quality is absolutely first-rate, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is equally well presented. Love these menus man - very nicely done. A couple of extras round it out.

Overall Rating: A-
The film isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but the disc packs enough premo quality to really please. If you like the genre, you'll not want to miss this one.

Specs and Features

100 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, production notes, cast & crew bios, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene access (21 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close Captioned


Claire Cooper has everything going for her in life - she's got a beautiful daughter, a devoted (if often absent) airline pilot husband, a gorgeous New England house, and a successful career as an author of children's books. But Claire has been having nightmares. She's plagued with visions that she doesn't understand, of children meeting their untimely demise. That's bad enough, but soon Claire sees on the local TV news that children really are going missing in her area, and it suddenly becomes clear to her that she's not just having visions, but full-on premonitions of their deaths. Unfortunately, when she tries to convince her husband and the police, she learns that the information she can provide is of little use - she doesn't see enough detail to help find the children before it's too late. That's a pretty nasty thing to have to live with, but it gets worse. The stakes are raised, when Claire's own daughter suddenly goes missing. And soon her visions change - she starts seeing images of a little boy being abused and abandoned by his mother. Claire begins to understand that the visions she sees in her head are being placed there by the killer himself, who seems to be daring her to find him.

As physiological thrillers go, In Dreams is definitely ruthless in its efforts to raise the dramatic stakes for its main character, and for the audience. The film was directed by veteran Neil Jordan (who also gave us The Crying Game, Michael Collins and Interview with the Vampire), and he weaves a tight tapestry here. Unfortunately, he can't quite prevent his film from perhaps being a little too ruthless. I'm going to try not to give too much away, but it isn't long before all of the things which ground Claire in her life are stripped away, leaving her to twist in the wind, with a killer taunting her in her head. Annette Bening gives a terrific performance here, there's no doubt. But a very talented supporting cast is quickly left behind as the story becomes one of Claire's detective work to figure the killer out. Her psychologist (played by Stephen Rea) isn't much help. Neither is her husband (Aidan Quinn), who gets quickly frustrated with her. And the local police detective trying to make sense of the crimes isn't very effective either (despite Paul Guifoyle's interesting performance).

Ultimately, and perhaps appropriately, the story focuses completely on Claire, and the killer in her head... and that's where things start to go downhill. It's no secret that the killer is played by Robert Downey, Jr - all you have to do is watch the trailer to figure that one out. And while I think he's an amazingly talented actor, he isn't quite equal to the build-up of this story. I expected a face much more sinister... much more worthy of the viciousness of his crimes and the ruthlessness of his actions. Perhaps that's the point - killers aren't always the monsters we expect them to be, they're the guys next door who just crack. Still, after riding out the rapids of this film, I expected a more satisfying killer. Maybe it would have been better if we just didn't know it was Downey in the first place - maybe that's a marketing problem. His identity is no surprise, which undermines the dramatic payoff. Sadly, too many films these days are spoiled by trailers which give everything away. In any case, In Dreams builds tension nicely, almost cruelly, but fails to pay off almost entirely. There's no happy ending here. Still, the ride is interesting two-thirds of the way at least, and some nice performances make it worth a watch.

In Dreams, however, is another one of those discs that makes me happy that DreamWorks has thrown their hats into the DVD arena. The quality of the disc is superb. To start with, the film is presented in simply gorgeous anamorphic widescreen. The print quality is excellent, and it's been nicely transferred and compressed digitally for DVD. This is a film which takes place in a pastoral New England setting, so the colors are rich and warm. And there's a nice contrast here too - there's a subplot about a drowned town (a very eerie and nifty story point), so there's a lot of underwater photography, which adds some cool blue hues into the mix. The director of photography (Darius Khondji, who also worked on Seven, Evita and Alien: Resurrection) has simply outdone himself here, conjuring a terrifically dark, atmospheric look to this film. The film is very noirish visually - even the brightly-lit daytime scenes are unsettling. The picture on this DVD is also richly detailed, with particularly deep, yet detailed, blacks and great contrast. All in all, a very pleasing visual experience is presented.

The audio is nearly as good. The soundstage is deep and wide, with dialogue and music appropriately mixed. Most of the time, the audio is nicely atmospheric, with the rear channels filling in the picture tastefully. Listen to the sounds of an air tank respirator underwater, or ambient sounds in the forest - very appropriately presented. But, as with the visuals, the audio also contains a nice contrast. Once the setting of the film moves from physical reality, to the subjective setting of Claire's visions, all bets are off, and great fun is had with panning and surround effects. The rear channels are used to great effect, as the killer taunts Claire from all around. The bass channel is not explosive, but is well used where needed. In short, the audio reinforces the visuals nicely.

The disc also includes a couple of light extras - not nearly as much as other DreamWorks titles, but still, you get a theatrical trailer of excellent quality, several pages of production notes, and some biographies of the cast and crew. And man, do I love DreamWorks' DVD menu work! Every disc they've done so far just has all of those cool little touches, you know? Great, hassle-free disc navigation, and well-designed animated menu screens. DreamWorks puts as much thought into the presentation quality of their discs, as they put into the video and audio of the movies themselves, and it shows. Their disc menus are incredibly user-friendly, and fun to look sift through - the perfect way to get you in the mood to watch the film. It just makes me wish the studio had more films to release on DVD.

Bottom line

In Dreams isn't going to make everyone happy. The film will be too dark for some, and probably too predictable for others. But Annette Bening's performance, and some nicely constructed visuals early on, make the disc well worth a spin. I definitely found the ride interesting, even if the film's ending left me wanting. And if the video, audio and navigation quality on a DVD are important to you, this disc is a textbook example of how things should be done. From any other studio, this would probably have been a pretty boring, bare-bones disc - think Warner's budget line. DreamWorks, on the other hand, makes even their least feature-packed discs worth a look - a very nifty trick indeed.

Bill Hunt
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