Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reviews:

What Dreams May Come (1998)

The cheese rolls on








Down through the ages, Man has asked many questions:
Where is Heaven? Is there a God? Why did Robin Williams make the movie Popeye? This movie attempts to answer one of those questions, maybe two. Iím not sure. Itís a confusing plot. For the first half of the movie, Williams seems to be rehearsing for the movie Patch Adams (which he made the same year) while alternately emoting tearful drama all over the place with his wife (Annabella Sciorra of Cadillac Man and Cop Land), who committed suicide and went to Hell. Williams has just been killed in a freak accident four years after losing both children in a traffic accident (at least Popeye was cheerful). He hires Max Von Sydow (the Devil in Stephen Kingís Needful Things and Flash Gordonís Emperor Ming) to lead him to Hell, only there is no Hell except the one we create, or is it Heaven thatís being created as we go, with runny paint? Iím confused already. Letís see if Michael Nelson of MST3000 can make sense of it:

"Prince insists that in this world things are much harder than the afterlife and that our only hope is to go crazy. Prince has gone crazy, and itís served him well, but for most of us this isnít an option: If we go crazy, someone will have to cover our shift at the drugstore, and thatís not fair to him. To David Byrne, heaven is a bar, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens. Keep in mind, however, that David Byrne is a man who has a great deal of trouble purchasing a suit jacket of the proper size, and should not be trusted in eschatological matters.

Director Vincent Wardís film What Dreams May Come is a complete theology of the afterlife, starring Annabella Sciorra and Mork & Mindyís Robin Williams. It tells the story of Chris Nielsen (Williams) and his wife, Annie (Sciorra), and how their lives are shatteredÖ
The film opens with a scene from the past, as Chris and Annie meet on a lake in Switzerland and fall immediately in love. Even the sight of Chrisís Elton John-type hair canít cool the flames of Annieís passion. She marries him, hair and all, and they lead a perfect, diamond-commercialesque life together until tragedy strikes. Chrisís puffy hair deflates. Soon after, both their children die in an automobile accident. I was laughing at the filmís maudlin style until that point. Then I had to get serious because of the subject matter; though I have to admit it felt as though the director knew his audience might be snickering and so he threw that in there to shut everyone up. It felt like getting yelled at by your teacher for laughing in class.

Itís four years later, and Chris is trying to pull his wife out of her depressionÖ Chris is killed in an automobile accident when a driver going 130 mph hits a small ramp left in the road and lands on top of him. Itís unclear why the driver didnít see Chris, but this being the Ď90s it can be assumed he was talking on the phone, eating a Bacon Loverís DeLuxe, faxing a proposal to the Dubuque branch, putting in a Livingston Taylor CD, and taking a sip of Sumatra Mandeling Dark Roast. Chrisís death throws off Annieís whole week, and she plunges even further into depression. She attempts to cheer herself up by listening to Morrissey music, but it makes matters worse.

Chris, now quite dead, is able to see Annie and even talk to her, though his voice is vague and difficult to understandóabout the quality of sound you get over the Internet. He is being led on his spiritual journey thru the afterlife by a nude, blurry man whom he calls ďDoc.Ē Doc pleads with him to let go of his life and follow him into the hereafterÖ Chris makes the decision to follow Doc (actually his mentor, Albert, in real life) and soon finds himself in an enchanting world where he slips around a lot because everything is made of oil-based paints. ďThis is the world youíre creating in your own mind,Ē Doc informs him. God apparently ripped the idea of heaven off that one Star Trek episode where Kirk chases his old rival Finnegan and Bones falls in love with a woman who wears a dunce cap. Doc/Albert cuts a fake wall out of Chrisís made-up world and shows him a world beyond it, the real heaven, a place where plump cherubs constantly strafe the locals and people walk around looking rather detached and sad.

When Doc/Albert canít make it show him around one day, a kindly Asian flight attendant named Leona helps out. She walks him around, vaguely explaining the workings of heaven, which frankly appears to be rather shoddily run. Just when Chris is getting used to Leonaís particular brand of evasion, she reveals herself to be Chrisís daughter, Marie. Why did she purposely deceive him into thinking she was not his daughter but rather an Asian flight attendant named Leona, you ask? Aha!Ö well, itís never really explained. I canít help you there.

Back on earth, Annie, overwhelmed by hopelessness and grief, kills herself. Again, I was just getting up a good head of steam giggling over the filmís greeting-card visual style and confusing plot and then, a suicide. Now I canít laugh anymore or Iíll get in trouble and have to clean the chalkboard erasers after class. Albert/Doc gives Chris the news and then informs him that heís actually his son, Ian, and offers some weak excuse as to why heís been going around heaven lying his ass off. Albert/Doc/Ian has more bad news: Annie is in hell. Sheíll be joining the red-wigged Broadway Annie who is spending an eternity there as punishment for singing ďTomorrow.Ē

Chris hires The Tracker (Max von Sydow) to lead him to his wife so he can talk her into coming to heaven (no one is sentenced to hell in Wardís theologyóitís a kind of voluntary lockup). The Tracker leads them thru a nightmarish landscape reminiscent of Bosch (Jake Bosch, my barber. Okay, barber/really bad painter). He finds his wife and dutifully brings her to heaven, where they live happily among the overfed seraphimóuntil they decide to be reincarnated, an option available to the inhabitants of heaven, though itís not clearly stated in the brochure.

What Dreams May Come really looks like it took a lot of work to make, which is too bad, because itís not very good. Its theology is totally incomprehensible. Rules are established and then abolished just as quickly, even though Albert/Doc/Ian states, ďThere are no rules here.Ē God exists, but doesnít seem to care, and He takes no pains to spruce up heaven at all. The devil doesnít exist, and God doesnít punish anyone, so it remains a mystery as to who made hell and why. People can be reincarnated, or not, itís really up to them. As to souls, there is no mention of them, though itís stated that people are made up of their thoughts. Itís the theology of a couple of guys doing bong hits."

113 minutes rated PG-13, loosely inspired by a Richard Matheson novel.

"What Dreams May Come" availabilty on video and on DVD from Amazon.com

Books by Michael Nelson available from Amazon.com include Movie Megacheese. Mike's episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are available from Amazon.com on both video and on DVD, and he co-wrote the MST3000 book

The last time I checked they had several used copies of Megacheese for sale. I won't sell you my copy. Don't even ask. I haven't read the Jackie Chan chapter yet, or even the Van Damme chapter and you know how much I like Van Dammege. "The Muscles from Brussels. Kick boxer. Actor. Restauranteur. Dumber than a bag of hammers...Makes Steven Seagal look like Richard Burbage." Well ok, I did read the intro to the Van Damme chapter...

This movie also airs from time to time on the SYFY Channel or HBO/Cinemax

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© 2000 Michael J. Nelson. All rights reserved, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles & reviews. Mike Nelson is no relation to Lloyd Bridges and has never run low on air while hunting around under the sea.