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Brainstorm

Film poster
Directed by Douglas Trumbull
Produced by Douglas Trumbull
Written by Philip Frank Messina
Robert Stitzel
from a story by
Bruce Joel Rubin
Starring Christopher Walken
Natalie Wood
Louise Fletcher
Cliff Robertson
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Richard Yuricich
Editing by Dennis Freeman
Edward Warschilka
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) September 30, 1983
Running time 106 min.
Language English

Brainstorm is a 1983 science fiction film directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood (in her last film appearance).

Contents

Plot

A team of scientists invents "The Hat", a helmet that allows sensations to be read from a person's brain and written to tape so that others can experience them. The team includes estranged husband-and-wife, Michael and Karen Brace (Walken and Wood), and Michael's colleague Lillian Reynolds (Fletcher).

The team demonstrates the device and gains financing for more development. One of the team members creates a "sex tape," resulting in his being dropped from the project. Tensions increase as the possibilities for abuse become apparent. Reynolds is pressured by backers to admit a former colleague to the team whom she sees as a hack and part of the military industrial complex. She refuses to have the invention taken over for military use and an argument ensues. This stress, coupled with the cumulative effects of her lifestyle, causes Reynolds to suffer a heart attack while working alone. As she dies she records her experience.

Michael attempts to experience this recording, but nearly dies when he experiences the sensations of a heart attack. He modifies his playback console to prevent it from manifesting the lethal physical effects and tries again.

A group of scientists with military ties are monitoring the equipment, and discover Michael's attempt to replay Reynolds' death tape. Senior members of the team want to discover the machine's capabilities and a junior member experiences the playback at the same time as Michael. As the recording is viewed without the safeguards Michael has, the person dies from the experience, and the central playback facility is terminated. Michael's experience is cut short, but his near death experience causes him to want to know more. The recording is locked away and Michael is told he will never be allowed to view it. Michael protests, but he and Karen are kicked off the team.

Michael makes several attempts to hack into the lab's computers. He discovers project "Brainstorm", which has developed applications of the device for torture and brainwashing. Michael's son is inadvertently exposed to one of these "toxic" tapes, and suffers mental trauma. Michael vows to destroy the Brainstorm project. Michael enlists the help of Karen and a friend who was part of the original team. Karen agrees to help on the condition that he will never leave her.

Michael and Karen are monitored by the military, who suspect Michael will attempt to access the tape. He outwits them by staging a fight with Karen, causing her to leave for her parents' house. As the military eavesdrops, Michael and Karen feign a conversation over the phone. Using this as a distraction, Michael accesses the Brainstorm computer via another telephone line. He hacks into the system and reprograms robots in the factory that manufactures The Hat. The machines go berserk, creating havoc. Michael shuts down the security system, trapping personnel. This allows him to remotely load the death tape and experience it unfettered. The Brainstorm leaders realize Michael is responsible and order his arrest. Michael senses something is wrong and flees his home, heading for a telephone booth at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. He hacks into Brainstorm and accesses the final part of the death tape.

When Michael views Dr. Reynolds' death experience, he sees "memory bubbles". Reynolds recalls a hilarious meeting with Michael and an early robot; she remembers a suitor at her lab attempting to woo her; she also remembers being devastated when her boss tells her that her private funding has been lost, and the Pentagon will take over.

Reynolds experiences a brief vision of Hell, filled with tormented souls drowning in torture chambers, then travels away from Earth and though the universe, entering a chamber filled with hundreds of angels flying into a great cosmic light before the tape ends. Michael has gone so far into the recording that he cannot return, and appears dead himself. Karen arrives just in time to pull him back. Awakening from the experience, he weeps with joy, knowing Reynolds has gone to Heaven.

The making of the film

Brainstorm was the second film Trumbull directed after Silent Running (1971). The "Brainstorm" virtual reality sequences were photographed in Super Panavision 70 at 60 frame/s with a wide aspect ratio of 2.2:1,but the rest of the film, was shot in 5 perf 70 MM at 24 frame/s and cropped for standard 35 mm Scope print down with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. In the original 70 mm theatrical release, the brain-scan playback scenes appeared wider and sharper than the regular scenes (which were presented at a 1.85:1 ratio) because they were shot at 60 frame/s. Brainstorm was to be Trumbull's introduction of the full Showscan 60 frame/s 5 perf 70 MM process, but both MGM and Paramount backed out of a commitment to release the experimental picture in the new format after the death of the principal star Natalie Wood fearing the expensive process launch would not be profitable.[citation needed] The video and first two DVD releases have Showscan 70 mm sequences letterboxed in their respective aspect ratios, counter to the intended effect. The laserdisc release and 2009 DVD "Deluxe Edition" release present the movie as it is intended to be seen: the brain-scan playbacks take the full width of the screen (with black bars on the top and bottom since the presentation is letterboxed) and other scenes are narrower, having black bars on the sides as well. In the theatre the curtain would have been opened to show the entire 2.2:1 sized image so brain-scan playbacks would fill the entire screen, while other scenes would be narrower. The sound also changed between brain-scan playback and other scenes with playback scenes having surround effects and other scenes being predominantly centre-channel only.

Press reports at the time of production confirm Trumbull's original intent was to shoot the brain recording sequences in the Showscan process that he had previously developed. The Showscan format uses 70 mm film (65mm negative stock) in the same format as conventional 65/70 processes but is shot and projected at 60 frames per second creating a greater sense of realism. If this plan had followed the other parts of the film would have been printed in a way to make them compatible with 60 frame/s projection so the entire film runs as a single 60 frame/s 70 mm strand but only the virtual reality sequences would convey the stark realism from the Showscan system. The plan was abandoned in light of the impracticality and expense of installing Showscan projection in large numbers of theatres. The difficulty in producing conventional 24 frame per second 35 mm prints for ordinary theatres may have also been a consideration.

James Horner composed and recorded the musical score in Hollywood using a studio orchestra. The Varese Sarabande album/CD release is a re-recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, produced shortly before the original theatrical release. The soundtrack is notable not only for being a digital recording—which in 1983 was rare—but also for being recorded directly to two-track digital.

Brainstorm would be Trumbull's last feature film, as well as his last film as head of Entertainment Effects Group, the visual effects company he founded. Trumbull formed a new company, Showscan, and turned over control of EEG (later renamed Boss Film Studios) to Richard Edlund, a former visual effects cinematographer at George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic.

Natalie Wood's death

Brainstorm was Natalie Wood's last film. Near the end of principal photography, the cast and crew broke for the Thanksgiving holiday in 1981. Wood was about to film a crucial, climactic scene for the movie when she drowned on November 29, 1981, off the coast of Santa Catalina Island, California. Production was left in limbo for almost two years. MGM considered offering the rights to Paramount Pictures so the movie could be finished but ultimately Trumbull decided to create an ending using body doubles and Natalie Wood soundalikes along with already-shot footage, completing production for a 1983 release.

The film received positive reviews, with Janet Maslin in the New York Times giving particular credit to Louise Fletcher's "superb performance".[1] However, audiences were not as enthusiastic, and the movie lost money.

Brainstorm carries the dedication credit "To Natalie" in honor of Wood.

See also

References

  1. ^ "'BRAINSTORM,' Discovery Goes Away" Janet Maslin, New York Times, September 30, 1983

External links

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