In Dreams (1998)

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Released 24-Jan-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 95:30
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (49:18) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Gregor Jordan

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Annette Bening
Robert Downey, Jr.
Aidan Quinn
Stephen Rea
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $29.95 Music Elliot Goldenthal

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In Dreams begins with a harrowing series of nightmare incidents that are utterly wasted as the grim plot turns into a farce. Famed Irish director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins) deserves credit for treating the horrific subject matter seriously enough to sustain an air of dread and menace throughout most of the movie's running time. The stupid revelations of the final 30 minutes, however, make everything that came before seem pointless and trite.

    Illustrator Claire Cooper (Annette Bening) lives with her airline pilot husband Paul (Aidan Quinn) and young daughter Rebecca (Katie Sagona) in a peaceful town on the shore of a flooded valley. Claire, it seems, has a more sensitive psychic antenna than most people, for she inadvertently picks up fragments of a past event that involves the kidnapping of a local child. As her visions become more complete and more frightening, Claire learns that these images are being flashed into her brain real-time by the perpetrator of the deed. A mysterious sunken ghost town, twisted verses on a wall, and an apple packing plant feature prominently in Claire's waking dreams, which eventually rot away the veneer of her sanity after a cruel twist leaves her soul at the mercy of the malignant conscience that, at long last, makes its purpose known.

    It's a pity that the film ultimately frags out like a fly sprayed with Mortein, because the cast, crew, and production values are laudable. Annette Bening and Aidan Quinn in the lead roles rarely put a foot wrong. Bening in particular is as convincing here as a screaming mad thing as she is being swept off her feet by Michael Douglas in The American President. Her line readings do sound awkward occasionally when she is in extremis, but her performance is riveting in its earnestness and intensity. Robert Downey, Jr, on the other hand, is stuck with the impossible task of doing justice to a villain that worked best as an unknown quantity, an apparition. Kevin Spacey pulled it off in Se7en, but he also had the benefit of a far better script and less jail time on drug charges.

    The digital special effects, inventive direction by Jordan, and the funereal cinematography by legend Darius Khondji (Se7en, Alien Resurrection) lend the proceedings a hideous aesthetic that could have made In Dreams one of the best studio horror films for many years. As it turns out, we are left with an energetic yet disappointing movie that appears to have been started without a fully scripted ending, although the predicable coda will raise a smile from devotees of pulp horror comics. Alas, this is a big step down for Neil Jordan in the horror stakes after the triumph of Interview with the Vampire.

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Transfer Quality


    Thankfully, viewing In Dreams is not as painful as suffering through its many stumbles and absurdities. Framed at 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced for widescreen displays, DreamWorks via Universal have delivered a superb transfer that honours Darius Khondji's grotesque photography and Jordan's sense of the bizarre.

    Rendered in white hand-written scrawls, the opening credit text is a good indication of how crisp this transfer is. Reminding me of both Sleepy Hollow and Saving Private Ryan, the image here is both finely detailed and subtle, yet with a chalky texture that gives you the urge to Windex that pesky volcanic ash from the TV screen. The sense of omnipresent decay and corruption, invisible to those living (or dreaming) the film's reality, is very much apparent. Blacks are thick and crusty, contrasts are harsh, and shadow detail is lacking, perhaps intentionally. I not sure whether the same silver nitrate retention process used on Se7en and other films came into play for In Dreams. If my wedding video turned out like this I'd be a tad upset, but the look of this DVD suits the material perfectly. No edge enhancement was visible.

    Colour saturation is spot on within the scope of the film's limited palette. Dazzling splashes of colour, such as the red of Claire's gossamer cape as she strolls into the deserted hotel are sure to be more effective on this DVD than they were in cinemas. There was no evidence of colour bleed and skin tones were okay, although with the sepia wash that flavours much of the movie it was sometimes difficult to tell whether the characters were supposed to be alive or dead.

    The source elements must have been in excellent condition, because this transfer had no film artefacts to speak of. Stylized grain was noticeable in some dream fragments, but that is the only remarkable feature. No shimmer or other compression problems marred the transfer, either. I am not sure whether the year-old Region 1 transfer is identical, but the PAL video precincts should be pleased with this DVD.

    The RSDL layer switch occurs at 49:18, when Claire is forced into an indefinite stay at the funny farm. Because of the rabble and drama of the scene, it was jarring, but the cut-over does happen between shots and dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Encoded at 448 Kb/s, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was usually good in delivery but lacking in design and pizzazz.

    The dialogue was exemplary for the normal parts of the film, namely the lead-up to Claire's histrionics. During her later encounter with Robert Downey, Jr's character, a good portion of Vivian raving and mumbling through his wig got lost in the mix, leaving crucial character insights unresolved, at least for this confused reviewer. The luxury of watching the DVD again with subtitles on during the problem areas was not available (slightly hard to do without a DVD player) but I definitely plan on doing so in the future. In a different set-up, maybe everything would have been entirely intelligible. Who knows. The first scenes on the shoreline with Claire and her daughter contained some poor ADR work.

    Although Elliot Goldenthal's score is fabulous, it never quite reaches the calibre of Interview with the Vampire (a movie I am very fond of, as you may have guessed). The presentation is bold and rich enough to enjoy without overpowering the dialogue or Foley effects, with a fairly wide front stage and depth added by the surrounds.

    Unfortunately, the surrounds contribute little else to the movie beyond isolated incidents that include water smashing through a church window, gunshots, and some insane automobile mayhem. The dynamic range is quite muscular; the occasional outbursts of sound are startling and advance the nerve-jangle factor well. Sound fidelity in general and imaging across the front sound stage in particular, was excellent. Low frequency effects were limited, and directional effects were largely stereo in nature. While In Dreams features a serviceable soundtrack, it is far from being a demonstration disk. No great loss. I think if the filmmakers really wanted to create something flashy, it would be all here in spades.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    16x9 enhanced, not animated, with background music. The design matches the disturbing nature of the film. Charming!

Theatrical Trailer (2:06)

    The trailer makes the film look irresistible to any fan of The Crow, Se7en, Fight Club, and other similarly art-directed dance macabres. It was presented 4:3 letterboxed to 1.85:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and looks to be in good shape, although of course a 16x9 enhanced image would have matched the feature.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Our Region 4 DVD misses out on:

    The Region 1 DVD misses out on:     If given a choice, I'd lean toward the local DVD for the higher resolution of PAL, since this movie needs as much visual eye candy as it can get to compensate for the dire story. None of the extras on the US DVD are worth fretting over.


    In Dreams is a lost opportunity. With writing talents like Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I) and Bari Wood (author of the original Dead Ringers novel) helping director/co-writer Neil Jordan, you'd think that something better than this Nightmare on Elm Street wannabe would eventuate. I get the feeling that the likes of Steve Katzenberg ruined this project, just as he seems to have plucked and stuffed Chicken Run in a shameless display of rivalry with digital animation champs Pixar. Spielberg was also an uncredited executive co-producer. There's allusions to elements like the Snow White fairy tale, as well as the numerous associations that apples bring to a serious reading of a dark fantasy film such as this one, but in the final analysis it's all 'lipstick on a pig'. In Dreams is a frustrating movie that is best served by stopping the DVD before the final act, in which Claire meets her not-so-scary dreamweaver. Get a haircut, Downey Jr!

    The presentation of the film is impressive on both video and audio fronts. There are no extras to ingest, but after seeing the film, that prospect fills me with the shudders that should have come from the movie itself.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Rod Williams (Suss out my biography if you dare)
Wednesday, January 17, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-2500, using S-Video output
DisplayLoewe Ergo (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderDenon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital decoder.
AmplificationArcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier
SpeakersFront: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)

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