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Lathe of Heaven (2002) – DVD Review

lathe of heavan 2002 dvd cover


Written by: Alan Sharp, based on the novel by Ursula K. Le Guin
Directed by: Philip Haas
Starring: James Caan, Lukas Haas, Lisa Bonet, David Strathairn


  • Cast, director, and author biographies
  • Behind the scenes featurette

Released by: A&E Home Video
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: No.

My Advice: Shove It in the Oubliette of Oblivion.

There has been a trend recently to remake cult sci-fi movies such as Planet of the Apes, The Time Machine, and Rollerball that have been vastly inferior to the original. But the latest addition to this trend, Lathe of Heaven, makes even Gus Van Sant’s version of Psycho look good.

[ad#longpost]Here’s the story: Dr. Haber (Caan), a psychiatrist, has a new patient named George Orr (Haas). Orr says that his dreams can change reality, rearranging history into new patterns. Of course, no one else remembers the old reality except him. He’s afraid of what his subconscious could do, acting through his dreams. Like a good psychiatrist, Haber reassures his patient and decides to use a supped-up version of an EEG (called an augmenter) to help Orr be less afraid of his dreams. However, Haber starts to notice changes in reality too and he gets the ideas one gets when in control of the proverbial magic lamp. Orr tries to stop him by enlisting his court appointed lawyer, Helen LeLache (Bonet), but is it too late to keep Haber’s dreams of power from becoming a nightmare for the world?

It hurt to watch this. Not because it’s a bad sci-fi movie, bad sci-fi is a dime-a-dozen (see Battlefield Earth). Not because it’s a bad adaptation of a good novel (see A Midnight Clear), those are a dime-a-dozen as well. But take those two together and add the fact that there is a superior version already out there (made by PBS in 1980), and you get an unholy mess. It seems that the director believes his audience isn’t too intelligent–because the production is lazy and obvious.

lathe of heavan 2002 haas bonet

The set design and costumes look like they’ve been picked up at a Star Trek: The Next Generation garage sale. The opening scene was practically lifted verbatim from Blade Runner. The only thing missing is the zeppelin advertising the off-world colonies. The director uses the doctor’s secretary, Penny, as a visual clue to show the changes that occur with every dream of Orr’s. But this is unnecessary because these shifts in reality are already apparent. She serves no real purpose in the plot and is basically dead weight. Major plot points are cut out from the piece. One is where Haber asks George to dream of a world united in peace, so he dreams of an alien threat to the planet. These aliens are eventually found to be peaceful themselves and seem to understand George’s condition. Haber also asks George to dream of a world with no racial strife. So when he awakens, everyone is grey. I understand that sometimes cuts are needed, but these sections were included in the 1980 production and show Haber’s futile attempts to use mercurial dreams as a precision instrument. It’s even unclear how George stops Haber when he uses his dream augmenter to replicate George’s power. The director has taken this haunting story about the nature of dreams, the differences between changing the world and allowing the world to change, and how the means can be even more important than the ends…and boiled it down to an episode from the new Outer Limits. Philip Haas and all involved in this abomination should be flogged. Repeatedly.

James Caan in Lathe of Heaven (2002)

After reviewing DVDs for over a year, as I have, you start to see various features over and over again. Two are on this disc. One is the too brief bios of the cast and director. I don’t understand why they can’t write more detailed biographies for actors. Is it that difficult or expensive to compose an illuminating summary of an actor’s life and career? Either do it well or don’t bother.

And the other feature is the behinds the scenes featurette, otherwise known as the twenty-five-minute-long pat on the back. This was originally shown on the A&E network to promote the TV movie so we get how great it was working with everyone and how much they learned, yadda yadda yadda. There is very little actual information about how they adapted the book to the screenplay (I would love them to explain that!) or the thought process behind the costume or set design. It’s just a gushing testament of self-love.

Either get the book or rent the 1980 PBS version. And if you see this version in the video store, hide it behind the candy so no one else can be subjected to it.

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