Image Entertainment presents
"Sometimes it's hard to figure out what's real and what's not."- Blake (Jonathan Breck)
Stars: Jackie Kreisler, Shane Elliott, Jonathan Breck
Other Stars: Kyle Saylors, Mark Bernier, Channing Nichols, Tony Vitucci, Ward Roberts
Director: James Lay
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language)
Run Time: 01h:16m:58s
Release Date: 2007-02-27
DVD ReviewDreamland dabbles in one of my favorite subjects—Area 51—and in just 77 minutes mixes in time travel, Roswell, ghosts and even Hitler for good measure. All of this is in a story that is visually and narratively vague and unclear—often like a very bad dream—as it uncoils, as if writer/director James Lay were trying to challenge how well audiences might actually pay attention. And it's actually invigorating to see a sci-fi film (or a film that use sci-fi concepts, at least) that doesn't need to solidly explain away every little detail or mystery as it continually circles around on itself like some kind of ourobouros.
Strip the plot down to the basics and there doesn't really seem like there's that much to talk about. Twenty-somethings Meaghan (Jackie Kreisler) and Dylan (Shane Elliott) are on a road trip in a hip old Lincoln, traveling through the desert at night on their way to her parents. When they hit desolate Rachel, Nevada they stop in for a burger at the Little Ale Inn, which is a big mistake for them, because that's when all the weird stuff starts happening.
Any UFO buff worth his/her salt will already be familiar with the real Little A'Le'Inn in Rachel—which is just a stone's throw (desert-wise) from the real Area 51/Groom Lake/Dreamland—alleged governmental home of crashed alien spaceships, mysterious lights, etc. It's a nice little nod from Lay that doesn't get overplayed, and the casual tether to a real place was a nice touch. So then it's not much of a surprise that Meaghan and Dylan get an earful of spooky, conspiratorial history from the tobacco-spitting bartender Blake (Jonathan Breck) about strange goings-on, most notably rumored experiments in time travel, which is the start of what can only be deemed a really bad night.
Trippy and strange like he's trying to channel David Lynch at times, Lay then begins reeling off a series of increasingly weird moments as Meaghan and Dylan run into some car trouble after leaving Blake, to say nothing of a radio that starts picking up Nazi broadcasts from the 1930s. As they begin stumbling around the dark desert they encounter a spectral little girl with cryptic mumblings ("I know who you are!"), a bloodied soldier with severed legs, a ranting Nazi officer and a few other things that don't seem to make any sense until the end, that is if you're willing to try and put it all together. There are all sorts of herky-jerky movements, swirling voices, and a sensation of not really knowing just what the hell is going on at any given time. The use of Patsy Cline's Crazy at one point is appropriate and telling, as if Lay was trying to tell us that what we're seeing isn't supposed to necessarily make perfect sense.
There are no grand reveals here, no alien spacecraft moneyshot, no tidy explanations to neatly connect all the assorted dots. Like a bad dream, this one operates in a clever flux, full of disjointed moments and imagery that seem real and then tilt off into bizarro world, and then back again. Even the use of a power ballad-ish tune near the end seems both out of place and perfectly natural, offering what seems like either a slightly rushed attempt for Lay to have it make some sort of sense or just another notch on the strange-o-meter. And that's why I think this is probably going to be one of those polarizing kind of sci-fi flicks, where either you're onboard with the parade of aforementioned weird or you're not. The intentional vagaries of the plot are sure to tick off those who only want standard linear storytelling, but if you can appreciate a filmmaker trying to work a little outside of the box then Dreamland could prove to be a rather enjoyable experience.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.78:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Image has issued Dreamland in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. In terms of lighting, this is a very dark film overall—with nearly the entire story set at night, much of it in the desert—so the strength of the black levels is much appreciated, more so for a lower budget film such as this. Edges are well-defined enough so that visually it never becomes murky, even as director Lay incorporates a number of intentionally stylized shadowy or minimally lit sequences throughout.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: A nice trio of audio choices, led by both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS options. Voice clarity is excellent on both, as is the sense of directional movement throughout. These two tracks employ quite a bit of aggressive, well-mixed surround cues though I give the edge to the DTS blend for having a deeper, more substantive .LFE, especially during the final portion of the film.
A 2.0 stereo track doesn't deliver nearly the same level of surround sensation as well as the other two choices do, obviously, but voice quality is clear if this is your only choice.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues
Extras Review: Here's a film crying out for a commentary or featurette, but perhaps borrowing from the cryptic David Lynch playbook there's absolutely nothing here. If it was a purposeful artistic decision then that's certainly acceptable, but if it was an oversight it's sure not.
The disc is cut into 13 chapters, with no subtitle options.
Extras Grade: F
Final CommentsHere's a conceptually adventurous bit of low-budget sci-fi that looks all dark and stylized, and yet doesn't feel the need to spell all the plot points out in big giant letters. To paraphrase Rene Zellweger from Jerry Maguire, you had me at Area 51.
Unfortunately no extras at all, but Image has dressed this release up with a fairly aggressive DTS track, so that has to count for something in the bonus column.
Rich Rosell 2007-03-12