Volume 92, Issue 19

Tuesday, October 6, 1998

no funny business


What Dreams a cinematic nightmare

Gazette file photo

LOOK HONEY, IT'S A RAINBOW. I LOVE YOU. Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra gaze a little too lovingly and a little too sappily in What Dreams May Come.

By Sara Falconer
Gazette Staff

For those who have been wondering if computer animation can be used to create something other than a dinosaur or an explosion, the concept behind What Dreams May Come may seem intriguing.

Robin Williams plays Chris Nielsen, who dies and discovers his heaven is a painting created for him by his wife, Annie (Annabella Sciorra). However, the loss of her soul mate so soon after the deaths of their two children proves too much for Annie. When she kills herself, she is to be trapped forever in a hell of her own creation. Because of their special connection, Chris is able to follow her into this hell, against the advice of his afterlife guide, Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and tracker (Max Von Sydow).

This story is the chosen vehicle for the new production company, Metafilmics, which seeks to consider issues of the metaphysical realm through film. What Dreams May Come has been on hold for two decades and finally technology has caught up with the producers' idea of the afterlife. Academy Award winner Joel Hynek heads the team of leading visual effects wizards who collaborated on this project.

These extraordinary special effects are most impressive in Chris' first rendering of heaven, while Annie's painted vision brought to life is absolutely breathtaking. As Chris wanders through her vibrant colours, lush textures, and surreal brush strokes, his awe and exhilaration are shared by the audience. Something truly original has been attempted here and with stunning realness.

Unfortunately, his later visits to other parts of the afterlife pale in comparison to these scenes. From the golden city of levitating, sweetly singing entities, to the grim, fiery domain of pale and shrivelled lost souls, none match the imagination and uniqueness of his painted heaven.

The narrative is also a little disappointing. There are no real surprises as character after character from Chris' life appear to him in disguise to offer advice before revealing their true identities. The melodramatic plot is designed to tug the heartstrings and coax an occasional tear, but there is somehow not enough depth to make the film a truly moving experience. The accomplished cast, especially Williams, do a remarkable job with what they have, but a stronger story would have been a much better compliment to the inspired artistic vision.

For a company supposedly devoted to the exploration of innovative metaphysical ideas, they have chosen an awfully pat answer – heaven is what you want it to be. This concept of the afterlife is beautifully portrayed, but it is distressing that so much was put into the visual realization of it, while the concept itself was not fully developed.

What Dreams May Come is not so much a thought-provoking discussion of complex metaphysical issues as a superficial reaffirmation that things will always turn out nicely if you want them to. Perhaps this film needs a raptor or two.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998