Updated Tuesday 27 January 2015
Remembering a favorite – 1983 science fiction movie Brainstorm
Brainstorm is in my Top 10 favorite science fiction movies of all time. In 1983 it was science fiction. Recently, Google had some success with the basic idea, so today it is becoming reality.
~ Jim Lantern
Brainstorm is a 1983 science fiction film directed by Douglas Trumbull and starring Christopher Walken, Natalie Wood, Louise Fletcher and Cliff Robertson. It was Wood’s final film appearance, as she died during production, and was also the second and final major motion picture to be directed by Trumbull.
The film follows a research team’s efforts to perfect a system that directly records the sensory and emotional feelings of a subject, and the efforts by the company’s management to exploit the device for military ends.
The making of the movie, with the connection between real life events of the actors, and the events in the lives of the characters they played, is spooky. One of the subjects of the movie is life after death – getting to actually see what it looks like. Natalie Wood died during the making of the movie, but with her scenes completed, the movie was completed. In the story of the movie, the character Lillian Reynolds – played by Louise Fletcher – is wearing the recording device when she dies – giving us a view in the playback of the recording for what happens next.
A movie that is ultimately about life after death . . . and the proof.
As for what made the proof possible, Brainstorm was way ahead of its time, but might be possible now. Google is making the device.
It is one of my favorite science fiction movies…
Death scene, memories, life after death…
And I like the movie theme music by James Horner…
- Christopher Walken as Michael Brace
- Natalie Wood as Karen Brace
- Louise Fletcher as Lillian Reynolds
- Cliff Robertson as Alex Terson
- Alan Fudge as Robert Jenkins
- Joe Dorsey as Hal Abramson
- Jason Lively as Chris Brace
Natalie Wood’s death…
The film was nearly scuttled by Natalie Wood‘s death during a production break in November 1981. By this time, Wood had already completed all of her major scenes, but due to mounting financial problems, MGM took Wood’s death as an opportunity to shut down the already troubled production. “When she died,” said Trumbull, “all the sets were locked and frozen on all the stages. No one could get in or out without special permission while all the negotiations took place.”
Trumbull believed that the financially strapped studio simply got cold feet about putting up the rest of the money to complete Brainstorm. “MGM’s problem was that insurance institution Lloyd’s of London, when it took depositions from me and other people, realized that the film could be finished. Why should they pay an insurance claim for something that really wasn’t damaged goods?” When MGM refused to pay for the film to be completed, Lloyd’s of London provided $2.75 million for Trumbull to complete principal photography and an additional $3.5 million towards post-production. Meanwhile, other studios showed interest in buying Brainstorm from MGM to release as their own production. “MGM decided to allow Lloyd’s of London to offer the film to many of the major studios in town,” said Trumbull. “Several of them made bids to MGM. And the studio suddenly realized that a lot of other people in this town were excited about Brainstorm, and were ready to put up millions of dollars. MGM figured they’d look like jerks if they let it go and it turned out to be a big success. So they finally decided to work out this deal where Lloyd’s of London would put up the remaining money and become a profit participant.”
Trumbull proceeded to complete the film by rewriting the script and using a body double for Wood’s remaining scenes.
The film carries the dedication credit “To Natalie.”
During the making of her last film Brainstorm, Wood drowned while on a weekend boat trip to Santa Catalina Island, California, with her husband Robert Wagner, Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken, and the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern. Many facts surrounding her drowning are unknown, because no one admitted seeing how she entered the water. Wood’s body was discovered by authorities at 8 am on November 29, 1981, one mile away from the boat, with a small inflatable dinghy found beached nearby. According to Wagner, when he went to bed, Wood was not there. The autopsy report revealed that Wood had bruises on her body and arms as well as an abrasion on her left cheek.
Later, in his book Pieces of My Heart, Wagner acknowledged that he had had a fight with Wood before she had disappeared. The autopsy also found that Wood’s blood alcohol level was 0.14%, and there were traces of two types of medication in her bloodstream: a motion-sickness pill and a painkiller, which increase the effects of alcohol. Following his investigation, Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi ruled her death an accident by drowning and hypothermia. According to the coroner, Wood had been drinking and may have slipped while trying to re-board the dinghy.
The case was reopened in November 2011 after the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, told NBC News that he had lied to police during the initial investigation and that Wood and Wagner had had a fight that evening, and alleged that Wagner was responsible for her death. After nine months of further investigation, Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, amended Wood’s death certificate and changed the cause of her death from accidental drowning to “drowning and other undetermined factors”. The amended document includes a statement that the circumstances of how Wood ended up in the water are “not clearly established”. The coroner’s office has been instructed by detectives not to discuss or comment on the case.
Wood was buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Scores of representatives of international media, photographers, and members of the public tried to attend Wood’s funeral; however, all were required to remain outside the cemetery walls. Among the celebrity attendees were Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, David Niven, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Elia Kazan and Sir Laurence Olivier. Olivier flew from London to Los Angeles to attend the service.
On January 14, 2013, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office offered a 10-page addendum to Wood’s autopsy report stating that some of the bruises on her body may have been sustained before she went into the water and drowned, but that could not be definitively determined.
Douglas Trumbull, director of Brainstorm, quit directing after Wood’s death in 1981. In 2013, he explained that the uncertain circumstances of her death were the main reason for this decision. He has since decided to return to film making.
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