The 25th Anniversary of “Brainstorm”

posted by Coate on September 30, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Twenty-five years ago today, “Brainstorm” was released. The film starred Christopher Walken, Cliff Robertson and Natalie Wood in her final role, and at the time was the industry’s largest exclusive 70-millimeter format launch of a motion picture.

Twenty-five years ago, “Brainstorm”, Douglas Trumbull’s “Ultimate Experience”, was released to movie theatres. Though the film was not a box-office success, it is remembered for its effective large-frame cinematography and sound design, and for its interesting take on futuristic technology.

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Comments (9)

markp on October 1, 2008 at 7:47 am

Ah yes, another of those rare 70MM films I had the privilige of doing at the old GCC Menlo Park Twin. Its hard to belive its been 25 years already, but then again, its been almost 17 years since that grand old palace was demolished.

danpetitpas on October 1, 2008 at 8:40 am

I liked Brainstorm a lot when it came out, but it seems attempts to do “adultish” science fiction films don’t do well. People want laser beams, space ships and action scenes, and they don’t want to think too much.

It should be said that Trumbull created his film format Showscan for this movie, although it was never presented in that format. After Brainstorm, he turned his back on Hollywood and took the format to Las Vegas where he spent a great deal of time making movies for motion rides. Although he was bought out, his company Showscan Entertainment still exists making amusement park ride films.

He’s in the ranks of film pioneers who tried to better the quality of film presentation. His 70mm at 60 frames a second (instead of the normal 24 frames per second) format created an IMAX-like experience but at a lower cost and with more readily available equipment.

In the 1990s, he switched over to computer graphics and digital projection and did rides for the Luxor Hotel and Universal Studios.

It’s a little sad that Hollywood considered him just a visual effects technician and not a director. Silent Running and Brainstorm are considered classics today, although each has its flaws. He could have really pushed the boundaries of filmed sci-fi and fantasy a lot earlier if he had been given a shot.

Marcel on October 1, 2008 at 6:31 pm

I remember seeing “Brainstorm” in 1983- they just opened a new multiplex near me and it was on this really awesome wide screen. I remember it being a really cool movie-I was eleven. Never seen or heard of this film again till now.

mack on October 2, 2008 at 3:39 am

I wish Douglas Trumbull would make another film “his way”. He is more unique than 99% of all the Hollywood filmmakers in direction and content putting him in the category of an Orsen Welles or Stanley Kubrick. So, if you’re listening Mr Trumbull, treat us to another facinationg movie!

ceasar on October 2, 2008 at 2:17 pm

I remember this film. Seems so long ago. This was Natalie Woods last film. Becouse before or after this film release she died in a boating accident. I was in college when it was released.

danpetitpas on October 3, 2008 at 8:59 am

Natalie Wood was drinking with Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken on Wagner’s boat anchored off Catalina Island when she apparently tried to leave by getting into a dinghy while she was wearing a down overcoat. There’s the assumption that she got tired of Wagner and Walken’s drinking and arguing, which had been witnessed earlier that day at a restaurant. She fell, hit her head, wound up in the water and the down coat dragged her down.

She had at least one major scene to shoot for the movie and her look-alike sister filled in for her in long shots and over-the-shoulder shots. The movie gets choppy in the second half, probably due to her missing scenes and having to rewrite other scenes.

The studio wanted to shelve the picture and take the insurance money, which I believe it did. Trumbull convinced the insurance company he could shoot around her and it funded its completion. The film was released two years after Natalie’s death and IMDB says it grossed about half of what it cost, which means the insurance company probably got back 25% of its money.

Unlike today where audiences turn out in droves to see an actor’s “last performance,” I think Natalie was so beloved that people just couldn’t bear to see the film after she died.

JodarMovieFan on October 3, 2008 at 8:44 pm

I, too, vividly remember when this movie came out and have been an admirer of Doug Trumbull’s body of work since 2001: A Space Odyssey. The quality and style of his work, at least to me, seemed more realistic when it came to the space epics (2001, Close Encounters, the first Star Trek movie and Blade Runner) than anything ILM and or John Dykstra have done together or independantly. Why? His preference to use 65mm film to standard 35mm. Superior clarity, little to no grain and projected photorealism (in 70mm). Give me your tired, your poor original 70mm print of the above mentioned movies over any blown-up Star Wars movie any day… :)

My memories of this film are documented in the MacArthur theater section and I believe it deserved to do better than it did. I suppose there was just too much bad press associated with the movie with Natalie Wood’s drowning and her role in the movie being her last. Having read some press about the movie and knowing its tight financial constraints that led it to be ‘barely’ completed, perhaps the new Cruise/Wagoner regime, at UA, would allow a ‘Director’s Cut’ edition for the Blu-Ray DVD. And, please let it be the original 2:20 and 1:66 combination not a straight 2:35 throughout. What was enjoyable about the movie was when you went from 35mm mono and 1:66 to to 70mm 6track 2:20 for the surreal and point of view scenes and visual effects.

On another note, I would like to say I had the opportunity to frequent one of the first Showscan theaters in Virginia way back in 1983. I’m not sure if it preceded this movie or came after but the time frame was tight. There were 2 or 3 ‘short’ films that showed off some of the whiz factor of fast frame 70mm projection. To call it video would be an injustice because some scenes, as in one short where the intro showed a woman on screen as if she was actually live in front of you behind the movie screen talking. Some of the shots could have been pulled or shot at the same time as Brainstorm as I do remember a point-of-view shot of a truck that then seems to go off the road as the camera takes you on an aerial journey and maybe one of the journey-to-heaven shots. I believe the plan, at the time, was to have Showscan with these pizza parlors all over the country. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out. I remember going back in ‘86 to watch a Showscan movie but was told that it was only available for rentals. Oh well.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

I never did see “BRAINSTORM”,but a big Natalie Wood,having met her wonderful sister.Lana.I can only hope she was as nice as Lana. I hope they were able to make the final shots with her respectable and not what they did to Bruce Lee in “Game of Death”.

TLSLOEWS on June 17, 2010 at 9:58 am

Never saw this one.

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