BRAINSTORM was notorious as a troubled production as well as the last film of Natalie Wood who died during the filming. Her death greatly impacted the ability to complete the film as is, but Director Douglas Trumball powered through and after some extensive rewrites was able to get it finished. Unfortunately, the film suffers from this and never quite reaches the full potential of its fascinating premise.
The movie posits a simple question: What if you could record your thoughts and sensations and then download them into another? That’s at the core of Michael (Christopher Walkin) and Lillian’s (Louise Fletcher) experiments. They have created a machine that can do just that. It seems the sky’s the limit on what altruism a device like this could do for humanity, but once corporate greed rears its ugly head, those dreams are dashed in favor of a militaristic agenda.
Things go from bad to worse when an untimely death (no, not Natalie Woods’) is recorded by the machine. This recording of the “passing away” and what lies beyond it becomes a hot-button issue when Michael wants to replay it. The corporation has other plans and when they lock Michael and his estranged wife (Natalie Wood) from the lab, they instigate a battle of wills that will lead the project and the lives of the researchers down an untrodden path.
BRAINSTORM features some dazzling and (for the time) innovative Visual FX. Trumball who earned his wings on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND uses two different aspect ratios: Academy format for the majority of the film and Super-Panavision for the “brain recordings.” It’s very effective, especially if you watch the recent Blu-Ray release, which has a lovely HD transfer and preserves the original aspect ratios.
The movie itself is one of ideas, much like Trumball’s previous Directorial effort and ecological rumination, SILENT RUNNING. But whether due to the untimely death of Natalie Wood or a premise that is never quite fulfilled, the movie only mildly succeeds and remains, like the idea of Michael and Lillian’s experiments, a curious What if? If a movie deserved a remake, BRAINSTORM would be it.