Brainstorm (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They corrupt his invention.

Michael (Christopher Walken) heads a team of researchers who’ve been able to create an invention that allows the sensations from one person’s mind to be recorded onto tape and then transferred to someone else’s. Michael and his team see this as a profitable enterprise, but become uneasy when the government, who want to use it for military purposes, tries to intervene and take over. When Michael attempts to stop them he is fired, which forces him to take extreme measures to destroy the plant before the machine can be made.

This is to date the last feature film to be directed by special effects guru Douglas Trumbull and on a visual level it’s an inspiring ride particularly during the first half. I was also impressed with how the technology that the researchers used in the film didn’t have that dated quality to it like so many other films from that era,  which proves what a keen eye for detail Trumbull had as everything at least on the visual side looks believable and helps keep the film interesting.

Unfortunately the story, which was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who had intended to direct the film himself years earlier before the financial backing pulled out, is quite contrived and the complete opposite from the state-of-the-art effects. The plot goes off into too many different directions and the pace lumbers along too slowly. The side-story involving Michael’s reconciliation with his wife Karen (Natalie Wood) makes the thing seem more like a romance and should’ve been discarded while the main story suffers from having two different screenwriters, Robert Stitzel, Philip Frank Messina, working off of an idea that was not their own and results in an unfocused final product.

Spoiler Alert!

The climatic sequence, in which Michael and Karen are able to destroy the plant remotely through the phone lines, is too far-fetched. Destroying the plant doesn’t really stop the government from moving forward with their plans anyways as they could simply rebuild the factory and come up with a tighter security system to alleviate the loophole that Michael used so he wouldn’t be able to do it again.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The concept of an invention that would allow someone to essentially read another person’s mind doesn’t really jive as the film portrays the thoughts and memories that people have to be quite linear when in reality it’s more fragmented. Sometimes people can have several conflicting thoughts and emotions going on at the same time making it virtually impossible for another person to decipher the barrage of flashing images that they would encounter from someone else.

The film’s biggest notoriety though is the fact that it was Natalie Wood’s last movie project and while most of her principle scenes where already completed before her untimely death the few that remained were shot using her younger sister as a stand-in. Wood’s presence though and her character are completely transparent and she could’ve been written out of it and nothing would’ve been lost. Louise Fletcher, who plays a bitchy, chain smoking research scientist, gets a far more plum role and ends up being the film’s scene stealer especially with her prolonged death scene. I also got a kick out of Joe Dorsey, who plays this graying middle-aged man who locks himself inside his basement and then uses the device to watch himself having sex with a hot blonde babe over and over again until he becomes completely shut off from the rest of his family and illustrates to a degree an interesting precursor to the porn addiction phenomenon.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Trumbull

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon video, YouTube

6 responses to “Brainstorm (1983)

  1. I remember this movie.
    I remember that some recordings can be very pleasurable… others, quite the opposite.

  2. Braindead is more like it

    • For a sci-fi premise about getting into other people’s thoughts, Walken certainly had a much better film the same year with The Dead Zone. The special effects of Brainstorm were most effective as eye candy. But it’s easy to agree on why the story doesn’t hold up. Sad, yet still appreciable at the time for its intended message about the kinds of boundaries that we can but shouldn’t cross.

  3. Pingback: Silent Running (1972) | Scopophilia

  4. An interesting premise disappointingly derailed by trite domestic drama and a murky subplot involving military intervention. The film seems to change direction every fifteen minutes and the final third of the film goes off in several directions. The film ultimately fizzles out. Without one single interesting or believable character to play, the actors look stranded and their line readings are flat. Neither Cliff Robertson nor Natalie Wood in her final film have anything to do while Louise Fletcher is constantly and awkwardly smoking a cigarette, and Christopher Walken is miscast and charmless. I saw the film upon release in a theater and was unimpressed with the special effects. The scenes of virtual reality filmed using a fish-eye lens will not knock your socks off. There’s no reality here virtual or otherwise. The dialog and script seem computer generated and after Walken and Wood’s son is hospitalized with a psychotic break, they leave him behind and take a vacation where they have a spat and repeatedly tell one another to go to hell. The son is never seen again and only mentioned briefly in passing. The producers should have shut the production down and taken the insurance money following Wood’s untimely death.

    • Walken has often seemed better cast in roles tending towards eccentricity, and certainly when playing villains in films like At Close Range, A View To A Kill and Batman Returns.

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