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Nightmares & Dreamscapes DVD Review

Written by Steve Pattee

DVD released by Warner Bros.

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Various directors and writers (based on Stephen King short stories)
2006, R1 (NTSC), 378 minutes, Unrated
DVD released on October 24th, 2006

William Hurt as Jason Renshaw
William H. Macy as Clyde Umney/Sam Landry/George Demmick
Eion Bailey as Lonnie Freeman
Ron Livingston as Howard Fornoy
Claire Forlani as Doris Freeman
Jeremy Sisto as Willie Evans
Henry Thomas as Robert Fornoy
Kim Delaney as Mary Rivingham
Steven Weber as Clark Rivingham
Jacqueline McKenzie as Linda Landry/Gloria Demmick
Samantha Mathis as Karen Evans
Tom Berenger as Richard Kinnell
Marsha Mason as Aunt Trudy
Richard Thomas as Howard Cottrell
Gretta Scacchi as Dr. Katie Arlen

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Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a collection of eight episodes based on Stephen King short stories. The first episode, aptly titled “Battleground,” shows what happens when a hitman (William Hurt – A History of Violence, The Village) takes the wrong contract. Directed by Brian Henson and screenplay written by Richard Christian Matheson.

Next, “Crouch End,” follows two newlyweds, Lonnie (Eion Bailey – Mindhunters) and Doris (Claire Forlani – Mallrats) Freeman, as they venture into the town of Crouch End. They were warned not to go there, but what could happen?

Detective Clyde Umney’s life gets turned upside down when a mysterious visitor, George Demmick — who is the spitting image of Umney — turns up and tells him exactly who, or rather what, he is. This could be “Umney’s Last Case.” William H. Macy (Boogie Nights, The Cooler) plays three roles in this episode, which is directed by Rob Bowman (The X-Files) and written by April Smith.

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Disc two opens with “The End of the Whole Mess.” Robert Fornoy (Henry Thomas – Dead Birds) discovers the cure to end all cures — so why did his brother, Howard (Ron Livingston – TV’s “Standoff”), the one who loves him more than anything, kill him? This Mikael Salomon (Backdraft) episode was written by Lawrence D. Cohen (who also wrote the screenplay for Carrie and TV’s “Stephen King’s IT” and “Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers”).

Writer Richard Kinnell (Tom Berenger – Sniper) buys a dark painting at a garage sale and gets more than he bargained for as “The Road Virus Heads North.” Screenplay by TV’s “Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot” writer Peter Filardi and directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan.

“The Fifth Quarter” has Willie Evans (Jeremy Sisto – May, Wrong Turn) fresh out of the pokey and just wanting to do good for his wife, Karen (Samantha Mathis – TV’s “Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot”). But he gets pulled right back in the life he tried to leave behind. Like “Umney’s Last Case,” this episode was directed by Rob Bowman. The screenplay was written by Alan Sharp.

The final disc, disc three, opens with “Autopsy Room Four,” which stars Richard Thomas (TV’s “Stephen King’s IT”) as Howard Cottrell, a man who is scheduled too early for an autopsy. He’s not quite dead yet. Mikael Saloman returns to direct this one and April Smith returns to write it.

When he refuses to stop for directions, effectively getting them lost, Clark (Stephen Weber – TV’s “Stephen King’s The Shining”) and Mary Rivingham (Kim Delaney) end up in a quaint little town with a lot of eerily familiar faces. And “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band.” Written and directed by Mike Robe.

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As a Stephen King fan, I always get anxious when something is made from his work — be it a TV miniseries or a movie. At the same time, I don’t get my hopes up. For every Shawshank Redemption, there’s a Lawnmower Man.

Even after the stunning debut with the “Battleground” episode, I was keeping my hopes in check. Sure, William Hurt’s performance was outstanding. Yes, it was amazing the episode had zero dialogue (watch it again if you don’t believe me). And it was pretty damn cool that Richard Christian Matheson put in a nod to his father, Richard Matheson, with the Zuni doll from Trilogy of Terror. But the first episode of Masters of Horror was excellent, too, and we all saw how that series turned out.

So when “Crouch End” turned out to be a complicated mess, I saw the beginning of the end. Even the ever-beautiful Claire Forlani couldn’t save the passengers on that train wreck. Even though there were some pretty cool scenes — creepy, even — the whole story seemed, well, just kind of pointless. Considering “Crouch End” was the only story of the eight I don’t remember reading, maybe it was the source material. (Calm down fanboys. Was “Gerald’s Game” really that good? Not everyone can bat a thousand 100 percent of the time).

So I was going to give Dreamscapes one more shot — and then forget about it. Chalk it up as another “Tommyknockers.” King fan or no, there’s only so much I will watch.

But then something happened: The episodes got good. Some really good. Some just good. But, after “Crouch End,” at least consistently good.

“Umney’s Last Case,” the third episode (with additional scenes on the DVD), pulled me back to the series with glee. William H. Macy shows why he’s got the following he does as he plays both detective and writer with ease. So good that, at times, I forgot I was watching the same actor playing two different roles on one screen. Usually, I play spot-the-discrepancy in these situations, but Macy’s performance is so accomplished, you just sort of forget he’s both people.

And the acting is that good in all of the episodes. Ron Livingston must hurriedly explain what led to his character’s brother’s death in “The End of the Whole Mess,” and he is both believable and poignant. Henry Thomas, as the now-dead brother, takes the goofy-yet-haunted role and runs with it.

Richard Thomas carries “Autopsy Room Four.” The story itself is not new at all — a man who is completely paralyzed is mistaken for dead and about to be cut up, but his brain and pain senses are working just fine. Not the most intriguing story in the world — and probably the weakest of the series — but Thomas, and some good editing, make it worthwhile.

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Like “Autopsy Room Four,” the story in “The Fifth Quarter” is nothing you haven’t seen before, either. But Jeremy Sisto’s performance, as usual, makes it more than what it is. Sisto makes you feel the pain and resolve his character is going through, but, at the same time, he manages to be bad-ass. It’s tough to portray bad-ass when you have all these “feelings,” and Sisto manages it easily.

“The Road Virus Heads North” and “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” are two that, while working better on the page, are enjoyable. Enough so to be more than passable “small screen” versions of King’s work.

“North” is better on paper because it’s one of those stories that is just better in your mind. Certainly, it was cool to actually see a painting change over the course of a journey without anyone doing a touch-up on it, but the ending packs a better punch on paper.

And “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” was a slight disappointment for similar reasons. Like “North,” “Band” loses some of the magic of the book because the supporting characters in this particular tale were so important and so critical to the flow, anything less than perfection would hurt it. And because the episode did lose some of that detail, it ended up hurting it a little. But, in “Band’s” defense, there’s no way it could have been pulled off, due to the nature of the supporting characters. Yes, I’m being vague, but that’s so I don’t spoil it for you.

The best part of the series, though, is the diversity of the stories. There’s horror (of course), drama, a touch of sci/fi and a little bit of action. This series really shows King’s talent as a master storyteller, and how important it is not to pigeonhole him into the horror genre.

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Video and Audio:

The audio and video are equally impressive, with the video really standing out. This is easily the best-looking picture I’ve seen from an original TV broadcast. The blacks are deep, the colors are gorgeous and there are no noticeable flaws. An absolutely stellar 1.85:1 anamorphic picture.

The 5.1 Dolby digital soundtrack is no slouch, either. Appropriate use of bass and an excellent use of sides and rears really make it a standout presentation.

As far as TV on DVD goes, this is a demo disc.

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Special Features:

  • Behind the Drama of “Nightmares & Dreamscapes from the Stories of Stephen King”
  • From the Mind of Stephen King
  • Page to Picture
  • The Inside Look (Four making-of featurettes)
  • Interviews with Series Stars (Three interview segments with William Hurt, Eion Bailey, William H. Macy, Tom Berenger, Ron Livingston, Jeremy Sisto, Richard Thomas and Steven Weber)
  • “Battleground” Special Effects Featurette

Now, you might be looking at that list and thinking that’s a lot of special features. Well, on paper — or screen — it does look like a lot.

Here’s the realistic part: each of those run from two to four minutes, they appear to be made for the promotion of the show rather than for the DVD and they overlap. I think I saw the same quip from Samantha Mathis in at least three different featurettes, and she wasn’t the only one.

With the exception of the special effects featurette on “Battleground” and the “Page to Picture” featurette, they all can be skipped. There is nothing to be gained from these little backpats, which are equal part “interview” and equal part scene from the episodes.

Considering the popularity of Stephen King, I’m surprised nothing was planned exclusively for the DVD while the series was in production. Especially considering many studios do this now — plan for DVD special features while they are filming.

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Movie: Fourstars
Video: Fivestars
Audio: Fourandahalfstars
Features: Twostars
Overall: Fourandahalfstars

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Despite King’s name being associated with horror, Nightmares & Dreamscapes – From the Stories of Stephen King has something for everyone. This is a must purchase for King fans and highly recommended for everyone else.

About The Author
Steve Pattee
Author: Steve Pattee
Administrator, US Editor
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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