Brainstorm is a film about the ultimate couch potatoes: scientists who have created technology that records not only sight and sound, but the full range of human sensory experience that can be played back and experienced by anyone else. With this tecnhology, lazy bums who would normally sit around all day watching movies could go water-skiing, hang-gliding, surfing, jogging, or engage in any other activity -- all without ever moving a muscle. Genius!
Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher are the creators of the machine, and they become increasingly concerned about the technologies potential when it becomes apparent that it records not only sensory experience, but thoughts and feelings as well. The stakes escalate when Fletcher's character dies of a heart attack -- recording her own death in the process.
Brainstorm is a highly underrated film that carefully, thoughtfully explores some heady territory, even for a science fiction film. The more visceral and perhaps inevitable extensions of the technology -- experiential pornography, psycho-torture -- are contrasted with the more benign and even inspirational uses to which the technology is put. In one example, Walken's character uses the device to patch up his marriage; his wife (Natalie Wood, in her final role before drowning in 1981, prior to the film's completion) is also the hardware designer for the Brainstorm headsets and her working and personal relationship with her husband is a focal point of the film.
Brainstorm has long been a favorite science fiction flick of mine; its long and troubled production (director Doug Trumbull hasn't worked on a Hollywood feature since) did not prevent an amazing, thought-provoking film from coming forth in the end.
It's a shame that such a visually compelling film hasn't been presented very well. Although it's a treat to finally see the widescreen version after years of pan & scan VHS, the print used for the transfer is much less than perfect. Some scratches and a lot of dirt are evident; flip to the scene of horses galloping in the distance just before the celebratory party to see what I mean. I can't help but wish there had been a new print made from the negative, if it exists, or something done to clean this up. Still, it's probably as good-looking a disc as will ever be made from this particular film, so if you like Brainstorm, this is probably the time to buy.
Unfortunately, director Trumbull's antagonistic history with the studio probably precluded an audio commentary on this film. It desperately needs one. The lone special feature on this disc is the film's trailer, which, as I have expressed before, should be considered mandatory for films released on DVD. The menus are kinda cool, but not extraordinary.
Christopher Holland, 4/15/00