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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Drama > Thriller > Brainstorm (1983/Warner DVD)

Brainstorm (1983/Warner DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Film: C+



Though it was marred by the death of co-star Natalie Wood towards the end of production, Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm (1983) was an ambitious production in its time, was expected before Wood’s loss to be a big hit for the studio and of course, was not.  However, it was one of the first-ever virtual reality films (along with Disney’s Tron) and one of the first with adults in mind.  The title refers to a secret project that can use a special reel-to-reel tape that records the all-sensory experience of one person that can be relayed to another hooked to the playback machines via a sensory helmet.


Of course, it could be innovative, but everyone wants to do goofy things with it and the military wants to use it as a weapon.  It could have been a good thriller, but writer Bruce Joel Rubin (Jacob’s Ladder, Ghost) wants to go the feel-good Spielberg route and not only does that not work, but is incompatible with Trumbull’s edgier sensibilities, leaving an uneven film no matter what scenes Wood could did finish.  One highlight though was that Trumbull shot the regular dramatic scenes in simple 1.85 X 1 35mm film, while shooting the “surreal” sequences in Super Panavision 70 (65mm negative using their exceptional lenses) with complex surround mixes that tried to recreate what the feeling would be like.  That can be fun, but cannot make up for all the film’s shortcomings.


If the plot sounds a bit familiar, Katherine Bigelow used the same idea for her even less effective actioner Strange Days (1995) where the reel-to-reel is replaced by DVD-like discs recording the same experiences that others can play back.  For a while, dozens of virtual reality films were made in the 1990s and almost all were gimmickry-loaded junk no one talks about.  Though it did not totally succeed, Brainstorm still was more original and serious about its subject matter and that is why it holds up as well as it does.



This DVD is essentially a repeat of the MGM/UA DVD issued a decade ago with the same troubled sound and picture.  Though the image is anamorphically enhanced, the Super Panavision shots are 35mm 2.35 X 1 reductions, while the 1.85 X 1 footage is windowboxed, wasting the potential of the whole film.  Video Black is weak and detail is also an issue.  For Blu-ray, they need to take a 70mm print and redo this correctly.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also weak, too much towards the center and having seen this way back when it was issued in theaters, can tell you the 4.1 magnetic Dolby tracks were far more impressive.  The only extra is the trailer, which is worth seeing after the film.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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