What Dreams May Come

Even before he dies, Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams) has literally gone through hell. First he loses his two children in a car wreck. Then his wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra) tries to kill herself and ends up in an institution. Adding insult to injury, Chris stops one night to help the victims of a nasty auto accident and ends up a victim himself.

Gee, and I complain each morning when I can’t get my hair to stay down. Lucky Chris. He winds up in a better place. So do his kids and dog. Not Annie. Blaming herself for not being there for her kids and husband, she kills herself. Bad move. Now Annie is in a very dark place. When Chris gets the news, he vows to go through Heaven and Hell to be with his “soul mate.”

That’s the premise of director Vincent Ward’s stunning new film “What Dreams May Come,” about true ever after, or is that hereafter? Ward, a visually exciting director (“The Navigator”), creates visions of Heaven and Hell (thanks to his outstanding production design team) that stay with you long after the movie ends. I just wish I could say the same for the story.

Based on Richard Matheson’s novel, “What Dreams May Come” seems ripe for a big emotional payoff. Come on. I couldn’t get anyone to walk across the room for me much less go through Heaven and Hell.

I should have had tears in my eyes when Chris and his children are finally reunited. I didn’t. Maybe it was the two pig ladies sitting behind me, chewing God-knows-what like there was no tomorrow. Perhaps it was because the director was more interested in creating a colorful canvas rather than colorful characters.

Ronald Bass’ screenplay is no help, a mixture of metaphysical claptrap and syrupy sentiment. Thanks goodness Ward has such a talented cast who do their best to avoid the potholes.

Robin Williams, starring in his first film since winning an Oscar for “Good Will Hunting,” is all warm and fuzzy as Chris Nielsen. When he first bumps into Annie on a Swiss lake, you just know he’s going to marry that woman. Williams makes us believe in love at first sight.

Of course it helps that the woman is Annabella Sciorra, whose very smile can melt hearts. She has the glow of an angel. That changes as Annie goes through her own personal Hell, and Sciorra is outstanding as a woman fighting inner demons and losing. Just look at the sadness in her eyes. It’s real and penetrating.

They meet, they fall in love, and they marry. It all seems to happen so fast, but before we know it, Chris and Annie have a grown son and a young daughter. Chris is a physician, Annie a talented artist. They’re life is too perfect, so it only makes sense to kill off the kids.

Annie blames herself because she swapped driving duties with the nanny. One night while rushing to make one of Annie’s openings, Chris stops to assist the victims of a car crash. Sometimes being a good Samaritan doesn’t pay off, and Chris is killed. Once again, Annie blames herself, because Chris took that route to pick up some paintings she was too stressed out to retrieve herself. Talk about living under a dark shadow.

Chris wakes up and is quickly escorted by a friendly soul named Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.) through his funeral and Annie’s breakdown. Then he’s off to Heaven, which resembles one of Annie’s paintings. It’s here where the visual effects designers create a living masterpiece filled with colorful painted images that literally come alive.

You have to see it for yourself. Written words can not do it justice. Unfortunately, there’s little justice in Bass’ written word. “What Dreams May Come” seems very mechanical from a writer’s standpoint. There are some moments that come close to touching the heart, but like Monica Lewinsky, they don’t go all the way.

“What Dreams May Come” is pretty to look at, and when Chris takes that plunge to hell, visually exciting. The sunken ship graveyard is probably one of the eeriest sets I have ever seen.

The cast is exceptional, and tackle their roles with conviction. Credit director of cinematography Eduardo Serra for the film’s ethereal look, and Michael Kamen for the gripping musical score. Eugenio Zanetti’s production design is Oscar worthy.

While I wasn’t thrilled with the lack of character motivation in “What Dreams May Come,” I was highly impressed with the performers and the film’s highly stylized look and feel.



Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Annabella Sciorra, Max Von Sydow, Rosalind Chao in a film directed by Vincent Ward. Rated PG-13. 113 Min.


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