Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 2/22/01
What Dreams May
Edition - 1998 (1999) - Polygram
review by Brad Pilcher of
The Digital Bits
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