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What Dreams May Come

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: What Dreams May Come

Starring: Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Director: Vincent Ward
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genres: Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Annabella Sciorra, Max von Sydow

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

If you've always been curious about exactly what heaven and hell look like, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME offers some intriguing suggestions. In director Vincent Ward's long cinematic sermon on the advantages of a moral life, the movie depicts heaven as a happy, colorful landscape painting and hell as an eerie, gray, Holocaust graveyard overflowing with talking heads.

The rarely subtle film shows two dead children from inside their coffins during the opening credits. They have died in a car accident, and their father will shortly die in another, leaving their mother to grieve for them all back on earth. Although four years elapse between the two car accidents, the movie dispenses with them quickly so that it can get to the heavenly beyond.

The father, Chris Nielsen, is a doctor played by Robin Williams. Annabella Sciorra plays his wife and "soul mate," an artist named Annie. Both are deeply scarred characters who share their troubles with us in almost every scene. If the movie were involving, it could have been the downer of the year. Instead, it stays at the level of visual technical achievements with the figures in it about as real as those in art gallery paintings -- lovely to look at, but nothing to get concerned over.

Cuba Gooding, Jr., first seen only as a blur, plays Albert, Chris's guide into heaven. Gooding, like the rest of the fine actors, is largely wasted in a movie that works only at an ethereal level. The magical film is artistically surreal but only sporadically realistic.

The script by Ronald Bass, based on Richard Matheson's novel, could have used a little more levity and should have given the characters some credible depth. "I screwed up," Chris says when he sees his dog in heaven. "I'm in dog heaven." This delightfully natural humor is regretfully absent in most of the movie.

The story's pop messages include such trite ones as, "Good people end up in hell because they can't forgive themselves." (Okay now, let's all forgive ourselves so we will get to pass through the pearly gates successfully. Whew, that's a collective load off our shoulders.)

Once in heaven, Chris is amazed to find that he has walked into one of his wife's paintings. The film shows us a heaven that is a blend of the nineteenth-century landscape paintings of Turner and Cole mixed with impressionistic touches. Not only is it gorgeous, the paint isn't even dry yet. As though in a heavenly version of WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Chris gets to sample the paintings by running through them and squeezing the flowers in his palms as the paint squirts out. These dazzling images are among the loveliest and most innovative Hollywood has created in years. With Michael Kamen's dramatic music and Yvonne Blake's sumptuous costumes for the afterlife, the film works best when viewed as grand opera as illustrator Maxfield Parrish might have staged it.

In the tradition of life-after-death pictures, Chris goes back in an attempt to console his wife on earth. Rather than giving her peace, these unseen visits increase her depression. Eventually she will die too, but, through a kind of legal snafu, she ends up in hell. Moral rules, it seems, are filled with fine print. The body of the movie has Max von Sydow, as a mysterious character called The Tracker, leading Chris on a journey into hell to help Chris find his beloved Annie.

A movie filled with absolutely stunning imagery, it is strangely cold and unengaging despite all its beauty. Still, the pedantic script's tedium is more than offset by the handsomeness of the production. WHAT DREAMS MAY COME is a feast for the eyes even if not a particularly filling meal for the mind.

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME runs 1:48. It is rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving death, some disturbing images, profanity including the F-word and brief nudity. The film would be fine for teenagers.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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