Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated second film as director, Brainstorm, is a classic example of a film that doesn't really work that well on TV but needs to be seen on a giant screen. Originally intended to showcase his high-definition 60 frames-per-second ShowScan system, it eventually was shot in a mixture of 1.85:1 widescreen that would open up onto 70mm Super Panavision for the Brainstorm sequences in a throwback to the days of This is Cinerama. On a giant screen in 70mm it's quite breathtaking - the opening shot alone had people falling out of their seats - but on TV it's underwhelming. In the original DVD release mastered before widescreen TVs were prevalent, rather than expand, the image actually shrinks for the Brainstorm sequences by going from full height 1.85:1 to letterboxed 2.35:1. The subsequent remastered release (with the image of Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken on the cover) and Region-free Blu-ray improved matters slightly by having the 1.85:1 scenes letterboxed top and bottom and moving into widescreen for the Brainstorm sequences, which is much more effective on widescreen TVs, but it still leaves much of the film with an unwelcome postage stamp image effect. Which leaves the film dependent on its story and script, which on the small screen show their weaknesses much more clearly.
Christopher Walken (bad wig in one flashback notwithstanding still in his brief 80s nice-guy leading man mode) and Louise Fletcher are the scientists who invent a device that allows users to share sensory experiences and even emotions only to find themselves locked out of their own project when it turns out their industrialist boss Cliff Robertson is really funded by the military, who have their own ideas for its applications. The first half has dated badly, partially because the supposedly revolutionary `demo tape' is largely unimpressive - rollercoasters, race cars, waterslides, helicopters, all shot through a fisheye lens - though it is prescient that the first thing people think of with a revolutionary new form of communication is the porn applications. But things pick up dramatically when someone records their own death on the machine and Walken naturally (well, for him anyway) decides to break in to the system to play the snuff tape, purely in the interests of science of course...
It's another of Bruce Joel Rubin's Death: The Final Frontier stories (Ghost, Jacob's Ladder, My Life) and as usual, death's ultimately not a bad thing here even if that does translate on film as a lightshow straight out of Fantasia. Unfortunately, a real fatality proved to be a very real bad thing for the film when Natalie Wood's death shortly before finishing her scenes gave embattled MGM head and convicted embezzler David Begelman the idea of scrapping the film and collecting the insurance - with the no doubt added bonus of scuttling the comeback of Cliff Robertson, the man who exposed his embezzling, in the process - until the insurers refused to pay out for anything more than reshoots. Emerging nearly two years later to pretty disastrous business, it all but killed off Trumbull's career in the process. The film certainly doesn't ever look unfinished (Wood had no important scenes left to film and her role as Walken's initially estranged wife only really impacts on the plot in the last third) and, despite some sporadically terrible dialogue or the odd cringe-inducing moment like Wood's "cute" song, there's a lot that does work, from Fletcher's strong supporting turn to a fine score from James Horner before he took the easy way out of plagiarism, while many of the special effects are genuinely impressive. It never gets close to the emotional power of Trumbull's earlier Silent Running, but it's still just entertaining enough to pass muster.
The only extra is the original theatrical trailer.