Research scientists Louise Fletcher ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") and Christopher Walken ("The Deer Hunter") invent a machine that can record sensory experiences only to have devastating results when Fletcher records... more » her own death.« less
RD C. (allepaca) from TEMPE, AZ Reviewed on 3/20/2010...
This is one of the better Sci-Fi flix from the 80's and is well worth watching, for any fan of "thinking" sci-fi (as opposed to the basic cleavage-and-laser bug fests). It's also somewhat notorious, since Natalie Wood died in 1981 before shooting was completed. This put the film's production in limbo for over two years. Some rewriting and voice & body doubles were required to eventually complete the film, in 1983.
It's generally well acted and directed, with cutting-edge (for the 80's) special effects, and a great symphonic music score by the well-known film composer James Horner. It's one of Christopher Walken's better movies, and boasts what just might be Louise Fletcher's best performance ever (She won a Saturn Award for it). Cliff Robertson is also noteworthy, as their government-stooge boss. Natalie was also posthumously nominated by the Saturn committee-- as best "supporting actress", presumably to avoid direct competition with Louise.
**Spoiler Alert** plot and ending are discussed ahead. . . .
The central concept is quite fascinating, although the plot does get somewhat predictable and implausible toward the end-- especially regarding the all-too-easy "foiling the bad guys remotely" sequence near the climax.
Most of the criticism I've read about this flick, however, revolves around the apparent lack of romantic chemistry between Walken and Wood. . . a somewhat valid point, though one needs to remember that as the story begins, their characters have just recently divorced and are still in the process of selling their house. Not exactly a situation that would lead one to expect sexy pheremones popping out of the screen. One might guess that some of the extensive post-production cutting and re-editing forced by the studio (and Natalie's death) may well have clipped the scenes which made their eventual reconcilliation more believable. . . especially since it occurs at about the same time the film's action is getting more exciting.
The actual brainscan-replay scenes were filmed in wider resolution than the rest of the film, and were a real cinimatic thrill for the time. Really great to see on a LARGE screen. And that final death-experience replay sequence is one of the most conceptual and inspired scenes ever filmed. It manages to be imaginative, beautiful, spiritual, and uplifting, and yet threatens nobody's religious or agnostic viewpoints (at least the non-myopic ones, anyway). And it also slips in a wee bit of quantum physics speculation, as well.
My only real quibble with this film is the idea that these two brilliant people (as they're portrayed) wouldn't have figured out some way to just copy or steal the precious death-sequence tape. . . in order to watch it at their leisure, in hiding, rather than risking discovery and interference by all those nasty government/corporate drones. And also, of course, there's the silly concept that such an immense amount of audio/video/sensory data could ever be sent over a simple phone line/modem connection, in real-time. . . ah, but well, that's the geek in me, talking.
The flick is really quite entertaining. And it makes you wish that Natalie had lived to make more movies.
Marriage counseling through technology
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 02/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Before virtual reality and before "The Matrix," there was the 1983 film "Brainstorm." O.K., this movie may not compare favorably with "The Matrix," but it does involve some of the same tangential themes that that film deals with. The comparisons with virtual reality are apt, though viewers tend to overlook this aspect of the movie. People usually associate the film, if they even talk about it today, with Natalie Wood. The actress died shortly before the film wrapped in a highly publicized boating accident, thereby cutting short a lengthy film career and giving this motion picture a stigma it still carries today. A viewing of "Brainstorm" shows the film is more than Natalie Wood; it is a compelling story about innovative technology and its potential for misuse by powerful forces. Not a particularly unique movie plot, to be sure, but "Brainstorm" is still an intriguing film largely due to its solid cast and amazing special effects. The movie holds up well twenty years after its conception, which is saying a lot considering how far film effects have come during that time.A team of brilliant scientists headed up by Lillian Reynolds (Louise Fletcher) and Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) have finally made an enormous breakthrough in their research. After years of frustrating tests and wrangles over budgetary concerns, an amazing new virtual reality system has been born. The machines these scientists created can record the sensory perceptions of one human being and replay them for another person. Reynolds and her team can capture everything--sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell, even emotion--and record it on tape. The implications of this discovery should become apparent almost immediately. Communications, entertainment, medicine: every aspect of human endeavor will irrevocably change once this device hits the marketplace. Of course, a few other shadier applications also apply with the device, particularly military systems and mind control. Reynolds, Brace, and Brace's estranged wife Karen soon find themselves at loggerheads with the boss of the company funding the research, the sympathetic yet uncompromising Alex Terson (Cliff Robertson). The United States military leans heavily on Terson concerning the project's development, threatening to remove funding if Reynolds denies the wonks at the Pentagon access to her research.Running throughout these titanic battles about the ethics of a virtual reality system and the increasingly authoritarian tactics taken by the military is the relationship between Michael and Karen Brace. The couple split up over Michael's inability to balance his work with his personal life, a fact that Karen resents since her husband has neglected her and their son. Moreover, there is some sort of vaguely hinted at relationship between Reynolds and Michael Brace, a relationship that should hardly come as a surprise since the two have worked so closely together over the past decade or so. When Lillian Reynolds, a rabid chain smoker, records her death from a massive heart attack as it happens, Brace becomes fascinated with exploring this amazing death sequence caught on tape. The government decides Michael is too unstable to continue working on the project, thus banning him from the building and removing his security clearance from the company computers. When you muck around with a genius, however, you must make sure you have all the angles covered. Brace enlists the help of his tech savvy wife and a few other friends from the company and hacks into the company's mainframe in order to access the tape. What follows is an amazing special effects odyssey of sight and sound as Brace learns what happens when we die. In the process of playing the tape and risking his own life, Michael and Karen heal their problematic relationship. The best elements in "Brainstorm" are the outstanding performances from the cast fused with amazing special effects. Natalie Wood, although somewhat wasted in a smaller role, stops the heart every time she appears on screen with her amazing beauty and solid acting. Christopher Walken does what Christopher Walken does best: act slightly weird by alternating between subdued silence and loud rage. Cliff Robertson and Louise Fletcher both excel in their respective roles, especially Fletcher, who as the temperamental Lillian Reynolds is both believable and amusing. Check out the scene when she dies from her heart attack yet takes the time to attach herself to her wondrous recording device. This is, I think, exactly what a true scientist dedicated to exploring every mystery would do in a similar circumstance. As good a job as the actors do, the special effects sometimes eclipse them. Apparently, the guy in charge of this film worked on Kubrick's "2001," and boy does it show. The final scenes in "Brainstorm" evoke memories of Keir Dullea's psychedelic trip at the end of "2001," except here they look better. It would be a great experience to see this film in a movie theater."Brainstorm" is a beautiful, thought provoking film I never tire of watching. The scenes between Walken and Wood are wonderful, especially when they use the reality device for their own personal explorations. In this way, the movie moves beyond a mere science fiction potboiler into realms of romance and psychological drama. Sadly, the DVD edition lacks the sort of extras a film of this caliber deserves. You would think a film this prescient would inspire the folks at Warner to pull out all the stops for the disc release. Well, anyone remotely familiar with Warner DVDs knows the company couldn't give a darn about what their discs contain. Too bad. I will still watch "Brainstorm" from time to time, but I secretly yearn for a special edition release in the near future--one with a commentary from Fletcher and Walken at the very least, along with some notes about the special effects in the film. If you like sci-fi, this is a must see experience."
A sci-fi film with meaning and soul
Michael Erisman | Seattle, WA | 05/20/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Is this a great film? No, let me say that is a great concept, truly stretches ones imagination, and it is a good film. The concept is wonderful, although the film itself leaves you just tantalizingly short of where it could have gone.The basic premise is a scientific discovery where a person's thoughts, emotions, and experiences can be captured on "tape", recorded, and then experienced by someone else by simply playing the tape. The concept is fascinating. While the special effects are excellent for a film this old, the most powerful scenes for me were the depictions of a couple on the verge of divorce getting to experience the other's perspective of shared events. The experience of seeing themselves and their behavior though the other's eyes changes their relationship forever. This aspect of the concept is not played out as fully as it could be.This film is also the last movie of Natalie Wood, who died tragically during the production of the movie. Christopher Walken is excellent as the lead actor. The ending of the film touches on something so fascinating that they simply couldn't pull it off. Overall, I recommend this movie, as a fascinating concept that will leave you thinking after the film is over. Always a sign that the movie is worth watching."
Fletcher and Wood at the top of their game
Collin Kelley | Atlanta, Georgia United States | 10/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My god has it been 17 years since this film was released in theatres! I saw it as a kid and was absolutely blown away by it. Louise Fletcher deserved at least an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress...she tears through her limited screentime with a ferocity and vivacity that is rarely seen these days. When she's confronting the government types who want to steal the "mind-recording" machine she and fellow scientist Chris Walken have invented, it is truly a great acting moment. Her barking at boss Cliff Robertson to "don't you goddamn me, sweetheart" and then proceeding to almost have a heart attack in the ladies room is a classic cinema moment. Natalie Wood had not finished filming all her scenes before her tragic death, but its hardly noticeable. She had that most incredible, expressive face and director Trumbel chose to hold on that in many key moments. When Walken plays back his memories of her (Wood and Walken's marriage is crumbling), the joy on her face is so real. The music for the film is also amazing...from the haunting opening score to the joyous music that surrounds Walken and Wood on their journey. Fletcher's heart attack, where she records her own death experience, is truly disturbing, and Walken's attempt to play it back (which almost kills him)is also terrifying. A beautiful, brave film. Fletcher needs more work like this. And of course, Natalie Wood is missed greatly."
About the frame size/aspect ratio
Trekkie | 12/07/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Just an observation about the various aspect ratios and screen sizes used in this film (and associated DVDs.)
(I'll confess, I'm going from memory, here, but it's from a presentation I saw about the film.)
Brainstorm was the first film ever filmed, edited, and completely processed in 70mm. The 70mm prints of the film (and only the 70mm prints. If you saw the film in the theater, you saw a different movie if you saw it in another format.) had a special feature.
All of the "Brainstorm" sequences were filmed in "first person" (where the camera is the character), using an almost "fish eye" lens (so that the camera had "peripheral vision".
All of the "reality" sequences were deliberately printed down to 35mm, then re-enlarged back to 70mm, (to make the resolution worse). The print was leterboxed (the image only filled part of the theater screen). And the sound was monophonic, and only issued from the speaker behind the screen. (The "center channel", so to speak.)
What Trumbull wanted was, when people "put on the helmet" was for the picture to expand, pulling you into the screen. The sound would expand to the sides. The images would become more vibrant, and clearer.
In short, the folks pointing out that in the remastered edition, most of the movie only uses part of the screen, and the sound isn't spectacular, are seeing the film as the director intended them to see it.
Now, you may not WANT to see it that way. Just because something worked (and, IMO, this effect worked very, very, well, in the theater) doesn't mean that it's what you want to see at home. (For example, most people's homes have screens that are just a tad smaller than in the theater.)
So, this effect may or may not be what you WANT. But it ISN'T an error of the transfer. This is a deliberate decision which was made by the film's director and producer, back when the film was originally released."
DVD Quality Mediocre
Trekkie | 12/12/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The brainstorm movie is a good one, but I was VERY disappointed by the quality of the prints and compression used for this DVD. The picture makes you want more vibrant colors and sharpness. More like a VHS quality picture. Many compression artifacts. One of the worst picture quality I have seen. They need to re-release this thing and remaster it. This one is just not up to the promise of DVD's. I have seen other DVD's, like the Philadelphia Experiment that have incredibly good quality transfers."