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Saturday afternoon movies: Brainstorm

John Kenneth Muir has a good write-up on Douglas Trumbull’s 1983 film Brainstorm, which turns forty years old(!) today:

Although deemed “provocative” and at least somewhat “redeemed by its special effects” (according to a review by Hal Goodman in Psychology Today), Douglas Trumball’s Brainstorm is nonetheless one of those genre films that never quite gets its due.

In part, this lack of widespread appreciation may result from the fact that the 1983 movie seems to defy easy categorization.

Is Brainstorm a science fiction film? A horror movie? Or is it fantasy?

Like Altered States (1980), and Dreamscape (1984), Brainstorm seems to straddle all those genres. There’s even a “head film” aspect to its trippy visions of the after-life, and the movie’s final moments of cosmic transcendence.

I did not see this movie in the theater. It was one that I watched late on a Saturday afternoon on one of the local channels in Indianapolis. My parents often had tickets to the theater or the symphony with a group of friends on Saturday evenings and would head out late in the afternoon for an early dinner, leaving me and my older step-brother at home. Ostensibly, my step-brother was supposed to be looking after me but he always left me entirely to my own devices; our unspoken agreement was that he would not bother me and I would not tell my parents that he went out to smoke weed with his buddies.

So I would put a frozen pizza in the oven and watch TV the entire time my parents were out, turning off the TV and jumping in bed when their car pulled into the driveway.

We did not have cable or a VCR in my house when I was a kid, so I was left with whatever was on the local broadcast channels. This was the early 1980s, so they still shows lots of movies; if I was lucky, I could find something in the sci-fi or horror spectrum, the latter being stuff my parents would never let me watch otherwise. That’s how I first saw The Omen and  Colossus: The Forbin Project, as well as lesser-known stuff like [Creature]( and _Night Of the Creeps_.

I really liked Brainstorm when I saw it, but had mostly forgotten about the trippy ending. Oddly, what did stick with me was how the film—without even really making much out of it, I think—characterizes the progression of the brain-recording technology. When we first see it at the start of the film, the recording device is a huge, bulky contraption that dwarfs the user. As the movies progresses, the technology improves and the devices becomes smaller and more compact, allowing the user to record experiences out and about in the world. Considering that this movie was made in the early 80s, when we all still had rotary telephones (that were owned by the phone company) attached to the wall by a wire, it was rather prescient.

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