Brainstorm [Blu-ray] (1978)

Actors: Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood, Louise Fletcher, Cliff Robertson
Director: Douglas Trumbull
Format: NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: July 10, 2012
Run Time: 106 minutes




Brainstorm is a mess, but it’s an interesting mess . . .

Brainstorm will go down in history – if at all – as Natalie Wood’s last movie. When the Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story actress died under mysterious circumstances in a drowning accident in November 1981, special-effects-guru-turned-movie-director Douglas Trumbull had a choice: either claim Wood’s insurance money (as the producers wanted) or finish the movie.

Trumbull chose to finish the movie and, after some rewrites and additional filming, it was finally released in 1983. In retrospect maybe Trumbull wishes that he took the insurance money instead. Brainstorm met with so-so reviews and was a flop at the box office. One cannot know what Trumbull originally intended for the movie before Wood’s tragic death, but Brainstorm is a disjointed mess.

All of which is a pity since it boasts some interesting concepts and ideas. A team of scientists discover a way to “record” and play back another person’s real life experiences. The applications are endless, but predictable. One character for instance makes a “loop” tape in which someone else’s orgasm is endlessly replayed! A similar “technology” will feature again in Hurt Locker director and former Mrs. James Cameron Kathryn Bigelow’s 1995 action movie Strange Days starring Ralph Fiennes (you know: the one which is set on New Year’s Eve 2000).

Later on in the movie one of the scientists – a chain-smoking (natch) Louise Fletcher, better known as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – gets a heart attack. Realizing that the heart attack is going to be fatal, she “records” the experience. The nefarious corporation they work for however sells out to the military and forbids the tape from being played back by her fellow researcher played by Christopher Walken.

Peculiarly enough there isn’t much of an ethics debate as to whether the “death experience” tape should be played back or not. Do we really want to know what happens when we die? Brainstorm doesn’t do much with its ideas, alas. The first half is part-domestic drama. The second half – involving reprogrammed factory floor robots – feels like something out of a different movie altogether, perhaps some Disney flick?

The ending in which the death experience tapes finally gets played back is also a jumbled mess and the final scene ends on a muddled and abrupt note. 1980’s Altered States (also out on Blu-ray this month along with Brainstorm) features similar themes, but deals with them in a more consistent manner. At least Altered States has are no security guards slipping on their butts like some cheap comedy routine.

THE DISC: No special features except for a theatrical trailer, not even a director’s commentary. No surprise really considering that Brainstorm turned out to be such a sour experience that Trumbull (Silent Running) never directed another movie again. The image and sound are fantastic though. The disc also replicates the movie’s rather distracting trick in that it changes aspect ratio all the time from letterbox to widescreen for the “playback” scenes.

WORTH IT? Brainstorm never lives up to its intriguing premise, but it is still much more interesting than most of what passes as science fiction nowadays.

RECOMMENDED: Open-minded genre fans should give it a shot. It has its moments.



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