Every once in a while a movie pops up into your awareness (or your queue) and you think “I haven’t seen that one before…how did I ever miss that?” I’ve seen Brainstorm probably a half dozen times. I think it’s one of those truly great movies that many have never heard of. It’s certainly one of my favorites and way up on the list of my all-time favorite sci-fi films.
A friend told me recently that sci-fi’s main purpose is to show the various ways humans will screw up. I think he has a point. I’ve typically thought of sci-fi as playing “What if?” with the future, sort of a future-looking archeology. Sometimes the future is good. Sometimes it’s bad. And often it’s a mixed bag.
That’s certainly what we get in Brainstorm where Walken leads a small team of scientists and inventors. They invent a device that can record and play back the entire human sensory experience. It’s not Memorex. It’s as good as live. Just think of the wonderful (and kinky) uses for this technology. One guy does. He loops a tape of people making love and plays it back to himself until he’s reduced to a wasted shell, but with one big excrement-eating-grin on his face. This technology is also used in remarkably poignant and moving ways as well, which is part of the interest of this film. The sci-fi concept is a bit reminiscent of the movie, The Final Cut.)
Well, of course the evil American military puts this experience-recorder technology to nefarious uses. They were the ones, after all, who were funding the project. Walken is ousted and much of the movie is about his fight to regain control over his invention.
For a sci-fi idea, this mind-recorder concept is good. But it’s execution is even better. Never does the technology (or the technobabble) or special effects overwhelm the human element. The people seem real, their struggles and ambitions true, and their failures tangible. There’s also a spiritual element that is unexpected and quite interesting. They investigate the ultimate “What if” question.
Tragically, this was Natalie Wood’s last movie. She died in the middle of making it. But she can be remembered for the wonderful actress that she was. You will rarely see a sci-fi movie that has such a realistic and multi-facted relationship in it like the one between her and Walken. Walken is so good that he makes me forget about his horrible performance in Batman Returns. Walken has played some really stiff bad guys, but he’s very charming in this film.
Rounding out this movie is an engaging performance by Louise Fletcher. When writers and directors take the time to craft real people, it always enhances the sci-fi element, for it is our human reaction to futuristic technology and concepts that is the backbone of all good sci-fi. Brainstorm achieves that, at least for me. It’s worthy of the rating of 4.0 psychotic episodes out of 5. • (675 views)