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Festivale online magazine, November, 1998
What Dreams May Come movie review
What Dreams May Come

Of the recent visual cinematic journeys - the dark obscurity of Dark City, the tranquility of City of Angels and gawky lavishness of Armageddon -- none have been more revealing than the surreal environments of heaven and hell depicted in What Dreams May Come. When Hollywood's latest flavours-of-the-month seem to be disaster sagas and teen slashers, it's probably a good thing that post-death scenarios might well become a hip new narrative. With this film, the above-mentioned City of Angels and 1997's Spawn, we've seen beautiful, imaginable and disturbing afterlife images.

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Movie poster; What Dreams May Come
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And trust Robin Williams to jump on the bandwagon. It was Australian director Peter Weir (Truman Show) who originally took him away from comedy and placed him in Dead Poets Society, and since then he hasn't avoided comedy so much as he has chosen more meatier roles. Williams is not as good in this film as he was in The Birdcage and Good Will Hunting (two of his finest films), but he sure tries hard. Probably a little too hard, in fact, since his frowning eyebrows and wrinkled forehead oozes a genuine love for acting.

Director Vincent Ward pieces together the film in a way that hasn't been done before, using lush visuals and stunning realism to fulfil the daunting task of creating a believable heaven and hell (and everything that lies in between). In the past, when computer generated effects haven't been as remarkable, filmmakers have often reverted to afterlives on Earth (Ghost, City of Angels, and countless others) or yielded ones that don't look entirely believable (Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey). The colourful world of the protagonist's personal heaven is wonderful to watch, and a hell with hundreds of heads stuck in the ground is a positively chilling experience. Again, Ward tries a little too hard, pulling off stunning eye candy but lacking a good amount of emotional intrigue.

Chris Neilson (Robin Williams) is a children's doctor who dies by an oncoming car when he assists someone caught in an accident. Years earlier his two children died in similar circumstances, leaving his wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra) in mental turmoil. Chris discovers that his personal heaven is a world inside one of Annie's paintings, and is guided around this wonderful place by a former mentor, Dr Albert Lewis (Cuba Gooding Jr). Back on Earth, Annie commits suicide and gets a one way ticket to hell. Upon hearing the news, Chris is bound by love for his wife to search her out and bring her to heaven, at the risk of losing his own mind in the process.

Quite an intriguing idea, really, thanks to the writing skills of Ronald Bass, a man who taught himself to read at the age of three and wrote his first novel at seventeen. Bass is good at his craft, but his love for writing probably exceeds his talent for it. He is competent enough to yield a clever scenario, but fails to keep the screenplay witty and shrewd. Thus the film becomes far too lose and unstructured, as Bass resorts to letting characters tell Chris what he can and can't do, what he should and shouldn't do, and how he could go about doing it. Frankly, I would have liked Chris to discover a few things for himself.

Over acting aside, Robin Williams is quite pleasing in the title role, as is Cuba Gooding Jr. and Max Von Sydow (who plays hells tour guide). Annabella Sciorra is the best of the bunch, giving a strong fell of humanity to her role - although her performance is far from faultless. Other cast members feel a little out of place, including Josh Paddock and Jessica Brooks, who play the two children.

Both Robin Williams and Vincent Ward were obviously keen to make What Dreams May Come work as well as it possibly could, and they have created a good film; not the brilliant one it longs to be. And the answer to making it better isn't to try harder.

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mallFrom 0 stars (bomb), to 5 stars (a masterpiece): 3 stars
Review © copyright Luke Buckmaster

Australian theatrical release date: October 15, 1998
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Just the facts:

Title: What Dreams May Come (1998)
Written by: Ron Bass based on the novel by Richard Matheson
Directed by: Vincent Ward
Produced by: Barnet Bain, Stephen Simon
Edited by: David Brenner, Maysie Hoy
Director of Photography: Eduardo Serra
running time: 113

The Players: Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, Cuba Gooding Jr., Max von Sydow, Rosalind Chao, Jessica Brooks, Josh Paddock
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