Brainstorm (1983 film)
|Directed by||Douglas Trumbull|
|Produced by||Douglas Trumbull|
|Screenplay by||Philip Frank Messina
|Story by||Bruce Joel Rubin|
|Music by||James Horner|
|Editing by||Dennis Freeman
|Release dates||September 30, 1983|
|Running time||106 min.|
|Box office||$10,219,460 (North America)|
Brainstorm is a 1983 science fiction film directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood, Louise Fletcher and Cliff Robertson. It was Wood's final film appearance, as she died during production, and was also the second and final major motion picture to be directed by Trumbull.
The film follows a research team's efforts to perfect a system that directly records the sensory and emotional feelings of a subject, and the efforts by the company's management to exploit the device for military ends.
A team of scientists invents "the Hat", a brain/computer interface that allows sensations to be recorded from a person's brain and converted to tape so that others can experience them. The team includes estranged husband and wife Michael and Karen Brace (Walken and Wood), as well as Michael's colleague Lillian Reynolds (Fletcher). At CEO Alex Terson's (Robertston) instruction, the team demonstrates the device to investors in order to gain financing for further development.
One team member, Gordo (Jordan Christopher), has sexual intercourse while wearing the recorder, and shares the tape with other colleagues, including Hal Abramson (Joe Dorsey). Hal splices one section of the tape into a continuous orgasm, which results in sensory overload that nearly kills him - leading to his forced retirement. Tensions increase as the possibilities for abuse become clear.
Karen dons the recorder while working with Michael and Lillian. When Michael plays the tape back, the group realizes that emotional experiences are also recorded. Michael makes a tape of his memories, which he shares with Karen, leading to their reconciliation.
Lillian is pressured by backers to admit a former colleague, Landon Marks (Donald Hotton), whom she sees as part of the military industrial complex. She refuses to have the invention taken over for military use. This stress, coupled with the cumulative effects of her lifestyle, causes Lillian to suffer a heart attack while working alone. Realizing that help cannot reach her in time, she dons the Hat and records her experience as she dies.
Following her funeral, Michael decides to experience Lillian's final recording, but nearly dies when the playback causes his body to actually simulate the sensations and effects of a heart attack. Michael modifies his playback console to disconnect the heart and respiration output from the recording, and attempts to replay the tape. A team of military scientists wanting to discover the Hat's capabilities is monitoring the equipment, and discovers Michael's attempt to replay Lillian's death tape. They force Gordo to also watch the tape, but they are unaware of Michael's modifications and Gordo sees the tape with the heart and respiration connected to the simulation - leading to Gordo's death.
As a safety measure, Alex orders that the central playback facility be shut down. Michael's playback is cut short, but having witnessed what is essentially a digital near-death experience makes him curious to see the entire tape. The recording is locked away and Michael is told he will never be allowed to view it. Michael protests, and Alex responds by removing him and Karen from the team.
Michael makes several attempts to hack into the lab's computers. Hal advises him to look under "Project Brainstorm", a program which, Michael learns, the military has created to re-develop the Hat for torture and brainwashing. Michael and Karen's son Chris is inadvertently exposed to one such "toxic" tape, causing him to have a psychotic experience which results in his hospitalization - where the Braces have a confrontation with Alex over Project Brainstorm.
Michael vows to destroy Brainstorm, and enlists the help of Karen and Hal. Michael and Karen head to a hotel and, realizing they are under surveillance, stage a fight that results in Karen's leaving for Hal's house. As the two feign reconciliation over the phone, Michael accesses the Brainstorm computer via another phone line, while Karen hacks into the system and reprograms the factory robots that manufacture the Hat. The machines go berserk, creating havoc.
Michael shuts down the security system, trapping the staff inside, allowing him to remotely load Lillian's death tape and experience it without interruption. Brainstorm's leaders order his arrest. Michael flees the hotel, heading for a phone booth at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. He hacks into the computers again and accesses the final part of the death tape, after the point of Lillian's physical death.
While viewing Lillian's death experience, he sees "memory bubbles". Michael experiences Lillian's memories of a humorous meeting with Michael and an early robot, a surprise birthday party, and being devastated when Alex tells her that an earlier project was cancelled.
Karen arrives at the Wright Brothers Memorial while the tape is still playing. To his awe, Michael bears witness to the Afterlife; Lillian experiences a brief vision of Hell before travelling away from Earth and through the universe, even after the tape ends, ultimately witnessing visions of angels and departed souls flying into a great cosmic Light. Michael then collapses in an apparent coma. Karen sobs, pleading for Michael to come back. Awakening from the experience, he weeps with joy. The movie ends with Michael's and Karen's embrace being converted into a "memory bubble" before the credits roll.
- Christopher Walken as Michael Brace
- Natalie Wood as Karen Brace
- Louise Fletcher as Lillian Reynolds
- Cliff Robertson as Alex Terson
- Alan Fudge as Robert Jenkins
- Joe Dorsey as Hal Abramson
- Jason Lively as Chris Brace
To prepare for the film, Trumbull took most of the key cast and crew up to the Esalen Institute, an experimental research facility in Northern California known for its new-age classes and workshops. In September 1981 the cast and crew traveled to North Carolina to begin six weeks of location shooting, before moving back to MGM Studios in California in November to film interior scenes.
Natalie Wood's death
The film was nearly scuttled by Natalie Wood's death during a production break in November 1981. By this time, Wood had already completed all of her major scenes, but due to mounting financial problems, MGM took Wood's death as an opportunity to shut down the already troubled production. "When she died," said Trumbull, "all the sets were locked and frozen on all the stages. No one could get in or out without special permission while all the negotiations took place."
Trumbull believed that the financially strapped studio simply got cold feet about putting up the rest of the money to complete Brainstorm. "MGM's problem was that insurance institution Lloyd's of London, when it took depositions from me and other people, realized that the film could be finished. Why should they pay an insurance claim for something that really wasn't damaged goods?" When MGM refused to pay for the film to be completed, Lloyd's of London provided $2.75 million for Trumbull to complete principal photography and an additional $3.5 million towards post-production. Meanwhile, other studios showed interest in buying Brainstorm from MGM to release as their own production. "MGM decided to allow Lloyd's of London to offer the film to many of the major studios in town," said Trumbull. "Several of them made bids to MGM. And the studio suddenly realized that a lot of other people in this town were excited about Brainstorm, and were ready to put up millions of dollars. MGM figured they'd look like jerks if they let it go and it turned out to be a big success. So they finally decided to work out this deal where Lloyd's of London would put up the remaining money and become a profit participant."
Trumbull proceeded to complete the film by rewriting the script and using a body double for Wood's remaining scenes.
The film carries the dedication credit "To Natalie."
The film was conceived as an introduction to Trumbull's Showscan 60 frames-per-second 70mm film process. "In movies people often do flashbacks and point-of-view shots as a gauzy, mysterious, distant kind of image," Trumbull recalled, "And I wanted to do just the opposite, which was to make the material of the mind even more real and high-impact than 'reality'".
However, MGM backed out of plans to release the experimental picture in the new format. Trumbull instead shot the virtual reality sequences in 24 frames-per-second Super Panavision 70 with an aspect ratio of 2.2:1. The rest of the film was shot in conventional 35mm with an aspect ratio of approximately 1.7 to 1.
The score to Brainstorm was composed and conducted by James Horner. The Varèse Sarabande album/CD release is a re-recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, produced shortly before the original theatrical release.
Reception and aftermath
Brainstorm was finally released on September 30, 1983, almost two years after Wood's death. However, it opened on a small number of screens and with little publicity, despite being trumpeted unofficially as "Natalie Wood's last movie". The film received mixed critical opinion, and review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 63% of 16 critics have given the film a positive review.  Janet Maslin of the New York Times gave particular credit to Louise Fletcher's "superb performance"
Because of the immensely troubled production and disagreements with MGM, Trumbull opted never to direct a Hollywood film again. In 1983 he stated "I have no interest...in doing another Hollywood feature film...Absolutely none. The movie business is so totally screwed-up that I just don't have the energy to invest three or four years in a feature film. Moviemaking is like waging war. It destroys your personal life, too. The people who can survive the process of making films have largely given up their personal lives in order to do that, just because it's such a battle to make a movie. And in doing that, they've isolated themselves from the very audience that they're trying to reach."
- Artificial reality
- Augmented reality
- Brain-computer interface
- Flight simulation
- Simulated reality
- Virtual reality
- Thought recording and reproduction device
- The Dream Master (1966)
- Paprika (2006)
- Strange Days (1995)
- Andrea Passafiume. "Brainstorm (TCM article)". TCM. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
- Thackrey, Ted Jr. "Actress Natalie Wood Dies", Los Angeles Times (November 30, 1981).
- Steven Bryan (May 25, 2012). "Movie Memorials: How Hollywood Honors Its Fallen". Yahoo Movies. Yahoo!. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
- "Interview: Douglas Trumbull". July 7, 2009. Retrieved 2011-01-16.
- Brainstorm soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com
- "Brainstorm (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 21, 2011.
- Maslin, Janet. "'BRAINSTORM,' Discovery Goes Away" New York Times (September 30, 1983).
- Variety Staff. "Brainstorm," Variety (Dec. 31, 1982).
- "Brainstorm," Box Office Mojo. Accessed Jan. 21, 2011.