BRAINSTORM, like many a dream, can’t decide what it’s really about: part of it’s cool, a good deal makes no sense and the conclusion, like when you wake up, amounts to “huh..well, o-kay“. Ordinarily, watching it would be merely another a mix of amusement (the camerawork and special effects) and apathy (the script and editing) but since its upended production included dealing with the mysterious, highly suspicious death of its beautiful and beloved leading lady, the experience and enjoyment is tarnished: the movie that killed Natalie Wood.

A scientific research team develop a brain & computer interface system that allows users, wearing a helmet-like device, to experience sensations recorded from others—all manner of stimuli from thrills (racing, flying, surfing) to intimate nirvana (someone saw a big future in porn). Naturally, “national security”, via the military, snorts in: what good is a gee-whiz, life-enhancing gizmo if can’t be used to inflict damage?

Special effects master Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Blade Runner) had directed one feature a decade earlier (the likable flop Silent Running); this was intended to be a showcase dazzler. Wood’s tragic demise in 1981 before filming was complete nearly foundered the project (the studio wanted to pull the plug) and necessitated rewrites: the movie finally came out in 1983, received mediocre reviews and failed at the box office, 65th place that year, a $10,200,000 gross swamped by an $18,000,000 tab.

Even given the lumpy rewriting, the script is weak, the characterizations thin, relationships ill-defined, dialogue lame. Throughout, logic is adrift and it’s further hurt by a feeble finale. Wood is luminous but her extraneous character has little to do. In the lead, Christopher Walken is unconvincing, his odd line readings feel false and he’s just too tic’y. Louise Fletcher gets the best shot at performing; she has a heart attack sequence so painful it almost gives you one, besting even Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver. Supporting player Joe Dorsey gets a memorable couple of scenes having dream sex that nearly kills him. A world of volunteers awaits.

A man’s gotta do…

The visuals (cinematography by Richard Yuricich), especially in the first third, are impressive (the product placement isn’t) and James Horner’s score is okay (though he borrows from his earlier work on Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan); he was busy in ’83, scoring eight pictures.

Bruce Joel Rubin’s more modest original story was written as a screenplay by Robert Stitzel and Philip Frank Messina. Running 106 minutes, with Cliff Robertson, Jordan Christopher, Donald Hotton and Stacy Kuhne-Adams.



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