Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:53 - Released 10/2/98

There have been a number of films that speculated about what awaits us all after we leave this plane of exisitence, and many of them have dealt with a protagonist who breaks the rules of heaven to seek out a lover on the other side. Some memorables include Heaven Can Wait (1978), Made in Heaven (1987), Ghost (1990), and, earlier this year, City Of Angels. The latest in this vein is Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come, a dark romance about the impressionistic view of heaven by a man who loved art almost as much as he loved his wife.

The first thing that must be said about this film its that its use of color is astounding. The combination of majestic scenery and exquisite computer graphics makes a nice blend between reality and fantasy, using vibrant colors to represent life (heaven) while black and white stand for death (hell). Unfortunately, Ward's treatment is heavy on imagery and light on meaning. While beautiful to look at, the film is so full of trite sentimentality and overdramatic brooding that the subject matter is undermined. The fact that almost every character cries at some time or other should be a telling point.

The first 20 minutes of this movie, adapted from Richard Matheson's novel by Ronald Bass, is like an extra-sappy Hallmark commercial. We meet Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams) and his artist wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra) when they are newly in love, and then move forward about 15 years to when they have two teenagers, Ian (Josh Paddock) and Marie (Jessica Brooks). The family scenes are so sugary-sweet, we can't help knowing that we're being set up for the fall. Chris and Annie are devastated when the kids are killed, but at least they still have each other.

After Chris has his own tragic accident, he falls into the beautiful land of oil paint that is his heaven. He is like an ant walking around on a still-wet Monet painting, squishing huge globs of blue and red paint off the flowers and into his fingers. Soon he meets Albert, his guardian angel (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who leads him around explaining the ins and outs of eternal life. This period is visually impactful but overly expository. Albert practically leads Chris around by the hand, explaining everything — not so much for his benefit as for ours.

When Albert learns that Annie has committed suicide, he informs Chris that she won't be strolling down the acrylic path to greet him, because suicides go to "a different place." Natually Chris chooses to go against all odds and travel to hell to retrieve his beloved. He runs into the kids along the way, and learns that the reason he could never reach Annie after they died is the same reason he still can't.

For people who like art and color, What Dreams May Come may be a favorite. For those who like weepy romances, it's sure to please. But if you enjoy a meaty story with a minimum of sentimental manipulation, you may be disappointed. Though Bass's screenplay means well, it tends to overexplain and oversimplify. What should be subtle, thought-provoking issues are big, fat moral lessons driven home with a sledgehammer. Still, it deserves merit simply for being a breathtakingly beautiful treat for the eyes. ****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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