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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/22/01

What Dreams May Come
Special Edition - 1998 (1999) - Polygram

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

THX-certifiedEnhanced for 16x9 TVs

What Dreams May Come: Special Edition Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A/A

Specs and Features

114 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:05:50 in chapter 12), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director Vincent Ward, 2 theatrical trailers, "making of" featurette, special effects featurette, alternate ending, photo gallery, cast and crew bios, DVD-ROM material (including wallpaper & images), dual animated film-themed menu screens with music (based on Heaven and Hell themes), scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"A whole family lost to car crashes. It's enough to make a person buy a bike."

Some films rely heavily on the visual aesthetic as opposed to narrative strength. Critics often like to lambaste this, but there's nothing inherently wrong with the approach. Film is, after all, a visual medium, is it not? Why can't the notion of a moving painting be utilized as a focal point in a movie? What Dreams May Come shows you why it can.

As a narrative, the film is lacking, only because it goes a little over the top emotionally. I don't mean to say that it's a bad story. In fact, I rather liked the story here. But this film isn't about the story - it's about the beautiful vistas against which that story plays out. It is, more than any other movie, a painting on film. That said, the story plays out like this. Chris Nielsen (played by Robin Williams) loses his two children in an auto accident. This tragedy is compounded when he too dies in an accident, leaving his beloved wife Annie behind to mourn them all. But, newly arrived in the afterlife, Nielsen refuses to give up on staying with Annie, and so he goes on a journey through Heaven (and Hell) to find her.

Unfortunately, Williams lets his performance get too sappy at times, and seems to go too far. But when people say this film is a beautiful piece of cinema, they are absolutely correct. Scenery of epic proportions, with unparalleled visual magnitude, abounds here. It really is very stunning and, on this level, the film is the visual masterpiece some have referred to it as. An interesting bit of trivia is that this film is one of the few shot on Fuji Velvia film stock. This particular film stock is actually used more frequently for landscape still-photography, due to its very high color saturation. Usually, the stock is only used in filmmaking when special effects are involved, and it's obvious why it was used here.

The DVD version of What Dreams May Come, for all of these reasons, has a tall task in bringing this visual epic home. But I can safely say that this DVD does a bang-up job. The black levels are perfect and the colors come through richly and with tremendous vibrancy... but not too much. Film grain isn't a problem either, and neither is digital artifacting. The anamorphic transfer is beautiful with great detail. Occasionally, some of the smaller background details are a bit distorted, but this is hardly worth mentioning. This is really a stunning picture.

The audio on the disc is also solid. While the sound effects aren't a pillar on which this film is built, they sound good enough when they're in play. Where the audio really comes through is in the heavenly (pardon the reference) score by composer Michael Kamen. The music perfectly compliments the stunning vistas and adds a touching accentuation to the emotional chord of the film. Note that the DVD automatically defaults to Dolby 2.0 Surround as opposed to the 5.1 channel mix, unless you specifically select otherwise.

So... what extras may come, here? This is a special edition and, true to form, it boasts a solid array of supplements. The director's commentary track is good, and I must say something about his accent here. Vincent Ward has this accent that just sounds awesome and is perfect when juxtaposed next to this film. That sounds strange, I know, but it's true. This commentary good, although it does sound scripted at times. Ward basically focuses on motivations and hardly ever mentions any technical or filming insights. Along with the commentary, you also get an alternate ending (it's safe to say that Ward made the right call in not using it). Some behind-the-scenes footage is included, as are extensive featurette-style examinations of the visual effects in the film (one note: take a look around and see if you can catch Peter Pan and company flying around during some of the Heaven sequences). And you get the usual trailers, cast & crew bios and production notes. There's also DVD-ROM content, but it isn't really worth mentioning, so I won't.

What does deserved to be mentioned, however, is the menu system. It's billed as a "dual interactive menu screen", which basically means that you can pick between a heavenly and a hellish motif. That's really the only distinctly defining quality about them. But the menus do look brilliant. Whoever designed them deserves whatever kind of award they give out for this stuff.

What Dreams May Come is a film that sort of missed the boat on story. But it still remains a beautifully dramatic piece, with the right amount of tragedy, serious issues and the obligatory happy ending. The visuals take up the mantle dropped by the script, and they do so with such style and epic magnificence that the film becomes memorable and worthwhile on this point alone. The DVD is also a great value, with all of the extras and slick design you'd expect. Give it a rent at the very least.

Brad Pilcher
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