BRAINSTORM (director: Douglas Trumbull; screenwriters: Robert Stitzel/Philip Frank Messina/story by Bruce Joel Rubin; cinematographer: Richard Yuricich; editors: Freeman Davies/Edward Warschilka; music: James Horner; cast: Christopher Walken (Michael Brace), Natalie Wood (Karen Brace), Louise Fletcher (Lillian Reynolds), Cliff Robertson (Alex Terson), Joe Dorsey (Hal Abramson), Bill Morey (James Zimbach), Jordan Christopher (Gordy Forbes), Donald Hotton (Landan Marks), Alan Fudge (Robert Jenkins); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Douglas Trumbull; MGM/UA; 1983)

"Outstanding special effects."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A mad scientist film with four sound reasons for seeing it: 1-It's Natalie Wood's last film due to her untimely drowning death in 1981, on the Thanksgiving weekend, before completion of the film (but her part remains intact). 2-It has a great sci-fi premise. 3-It has great state of the art visuals. 4-Louise Fletcher steals the pic with a spirited performance as the workaholic chain-smoking scientist who will not be bullied by government interference. The downer part is that the mumbo jumbo science becomes numbing, the melodramatics are a bore, Christopher Walken is a versatile actor but he's unconvincing as a brilliant scientist, and too many of the main characters are dull.

Director Douglas Trumbull ("Silent Running"), noted special effects wizard, keeps it better than most big budget sci-fi films, but can't stop it from seeming implausible. The filmmaker was so disheartened with the financially strapped studio for not backing him, after they promised to install in theaters his invention of Showscan-- “a high-speed 70mm motion-picture photography and projection technique--that this was the last film Trumbull directed. He opted instead to shift his career in a new direction. Showscan is fundamentally a giant screen process that creates the illusion of three-dimensionality,” but the studio complained it would cost too much to put in theaters and went back on their word (the Showscan used was only for the "memory" sequences).

Genius research scientists, Dr. Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) and Dr. Lillian Reynolds (Louise Fletcher), work in a private research lab in North Carolina and together have invented a breakthrough device in communication; one with tremendous potential for even greater possibilities, that by using a headset with sensor chips one can vicariously experience other people’s feelings and perceptions and transfer it to videotape.

Michael's personal life is going through a bumpy period, as he's estranged from his wife, the lab's product designer, Karen (Natalie Wood). There's also tension at the workplace, as their smoothy connected boss, Alex Terson (Cliff Robertson), has secretly received government funds for the project the last ten years, and now the sinister government men in suits insist on using this device for military purposes and Alex seemingly has no choice but to agree. Government spy, hack scientist, Dr. Landan Marks (Donald Hotton), is assigned to work with the crack research team. Karen wants no part of using the device for destructive government purposes or have anything to do with Marks, while Michael tries to take a more conciliatory approach. When Karen suspiciously dies, as it seems the device can cause death, Michael wants to study the brainwaves of Karen to find out the cause but is denied so by the boss. The idealistic scientist gets back together with his wife after he presents her with a videotape of good-time memories, during their happy days of marriage, courtesy of the device. Now the rejuvenated Michael only wants this device to help mankind, but his devious boss and several of the sinister-looking government reps think otherwise and Michael finds himself threateningly at odds with them.

It portends to be cutting-edge science, as writers Robert Stitzel and Philip Frank Messina dig hard to get the most out of Bruce Joel Rubin's story. But it never becomes a top-level thriller nor illuminating as a sci-fi work; it's just a good idea for a film that never fully develops but is enjoyable for its outstanding special effects.

REVIEWED ON 7/5/2010       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"