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Page to Screen: Dreamcatcher

Updated on November 3, 2015
The film poster for Dreamcatcher
The film poster for Dreamcatcher | Source

The Film

Released two years later than its original work, the film version of Dreamcatchers is directed and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan. It follows pretty loosely the original story, although the premise is largely the same with childhood friends taking a vacation before strange creatures and the military moves in.

It stars Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Sizemore, and Donnie Wahlberg and the director is known for his work in previous and future Star Wars films.

The Novel

After being hit by a vehicle in 1999, Stephen King found himself largely bedridden as he recovered. In one of the many, many novels he published while he was recovering (and debating to quit writing altogether), King published Dreamcatcher in 2001. It follows four grown childhood friends celebrating their fifth, a gifted child with Downs Syndrome, while camping in the mountains. However, something mysterious happens elsewhere in the mountains as mysterious creatures appear with heavy military operations, rounding up people as the situation begins to spiral out of control.

Interestingly, King told Rolling Stone in 2014 that "I don't like Dreamcatcher very much." During his recovery time, King was heavily influenced by using Oxycontin.

The book cover for Stephen King's Dreamcatcher.
The book cover for Stephen King's Dreamcatcher. | Source

The Adaptation

The Development of the Characters, or Lack Thereof
Stephen King is pretty recognized for creating characters from their childhood with oddly weird mannerisms and catch phrases. In the book of Dreamcatcher, he does exactly that except to a much more extreme degree.

However, the film has no time to properly construct the characters. We're given a couple scenes to explain their childhood, but instead of detailing their relationships to one another they focus only on their relationship to Duddits and obtaining their unusual abilities. That's another thing that's not really elaborated or barely explained. I'm not against the way the powers were used in the film, but there was very little explanation or reasoning behind what exactly the characters were capable of. We know they have some kind of psychic connection (although it's certainly not strong enough to avoid having to use a real phone), they can locate missing persons and keys (and each other), and they're able to materialize themselves in their mental landscape.

The book goes on to explain this, but the film has no reason why the friends couldn't mentally direct an attack on Mr. Gray or even try. It's hard to take this seriously, especially since it's so integral to the four main protagonists, when you have no real idea what the bounds or limits are, especially when it's used so abstractly.

Kurtz
Played by Morgan Freeman, Kurtz is an overzealous maniac in a soldier's rank and position. This is greatly toned down in the film where he seems a bit more driven and willing to take the extra steps to handle the invading alien force. His reaction at the end is born almost completely out of the betrayal against him, not because he was already incredibly unhinged.

The Infected
It's not really a difference as much as it is hard to accept on film. When people are infected by the byrus and are carrying a Ripley, or more colorfully called a 'shit-weasel,' they become incredibly hungry and terribly flatulent, bringing forth smells similar to sulfur. The book gets the advantage of eliciting one's imagination for the sights, feelings, taste, and so forth, so when sulfuric farts begin, you can better imagine it. However, a film caters directly to sight and sound (the better speakers, specifically surround-sound capabilities, the stronger the sense of sound). Thankfully, we have nothing to push forth the sense of smell in regards to the aforementioned defecation.

However, the absence of smelling sensation can arguably be said to diminish its effect. When one or two characters offhand the smell of sulfur while the audience is entreated to the infected defecation, you'll have an effect that comes off like a misplaced fart joke repeated several times over. Viewers who have not read the book will be puzzled at best, and will turn off the film soon after if worse.

Four friends sharing a beer before the trouble starts
Four friends sharing a beer before the trouble starts | Source

The Ending
The finale of the book and the film were drastically different. They both end at the same setting with similar people, but things go drastically different very quickly. Mr. Gray manifests itself in a physical form to attack Duddits and impales the sickly man. Countering that, Duddits is shown to be an alien, morphs, and they do battle, killing each other. Jonesy steps on the Ripley creature before it gets into the water, and the day is saved. Hardly any of this happens in the book.

Most of the climax takes place in a mental landscape of a hospital that Duddits creates. Henry holds a pillow over Mr. Gray's face and Jonesy slits his throat. Duddits dies from the effects of leukemia in the van as Kurtz and an ally that doesn't appear in the film march in. Rushing ahead while wounded, Owen gets to the water reserves before the Ripley can make it into the water. Owen spares Jonesy after the latter sputters nonsense only to go outside to be mortally wounded by Kurtz who is in turn killed by Freddy (the character absent from the film who is killed by one final 'shit-weasel').

The book further elaborates on the ending. It's a bit obscure and ambiguous, but it's largely implied that there never was a sentient, alien force controlling Jonesy's mind. Instead, it was a created personality that he allowed himself to be possessed by. Mr. Gray is a figment of Jonesy's imagination, brought on by his love of science fiction and horror films while facing the real horror of aliens and his friend's corpse. Whether there was a full-bodied alien or not in front of Jonesy when he's 'infected' by the byrus is up for debate, although at some point Jonesy did inhale the byrus but was found to be 100% immune to it. There's even some thought that when Duddits linked his friends together with him mentally that he absorbed some of their darkness, causing Jonesy to be susceptible to this kind of outburst. This is an example of one of Stephen King's crazy out of the blue plot devices, although this one tries to rewrite the story you just read.

Still, I've got issues with how the book portrayed it, despite liking the idea of a split personality assuming the form of an invading alien presence. Did Jonesy literally have enough of a mental breakdown to convince him to kill thousands, if not millions, of people while he only passively struggled against it? It's a tough pill to swallow if that's the case.

Still, the film handles it's attempt to rationalize Duddits' responsibility to the overarching plot and many of the elements just feel shoehorned in.

Closing Thoughts

Frankly, I'm not much of a fan of either work. The author himself says he doesn't like this work very much due to his subscription of pain medication and this is one of those stories with so many themes, elements, and characters that it can't adapt well into a single film. The film does several motions to rewrite and condense the meat of the story into one acceptable for a cinematic piece but it was struggling with overstuffed content to begin with. It's far from one of my favorite King novels, and definitely not a film that I would like to watch again.

Book vs. Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

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Further Reading

You can read more Page to Screen adaptations if you click here.

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