Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Lathe of Heaven – A Cryptic Science Fiction Tale That Had Much More Potential

Written by Ursula K. LeGuin and Alan Sharp
Directed by Philip Haas

Every now and then I come across a film that leaves me with mixed feelings and frustrated. Lathe of Heaven is one of those films. Produced by the network A&E and shown on their network before being released on DVD, it was based on a book by Ursula K. LeGuin. I have not read the book nor seen the original version made for television in 1980.

Lucas Haas is George, a drug-addicted young man in a future world where civil liberties don’t exist. James Caan is Dr. Haber, the psychiatrist he’s sent to. George begins talking about his dreams and how his dreams change things, which is why he was taking the drugs to suppress them. He believes he dreamed away his family and someone else very important to him.

Haber uses a machine under the guise of monitoring George in an attempt to control what he dreams. Haber’s goal is to make his own life better. Through a series of eight sequences, we see how the world changes via the dreams George has. The world is overpopulated, and then something happens to change it. The most startling changes are in regard to Haber’s life. At first, he is a psychiatrist with a hole-in-the-wall office and a plain secretary. Slowly we see changes in his office and his secretary, and eventually in his lifestyle and his standing in the circles he moves in.

George realized what Haber is doing but no one will believe him. He has a court-appointed lawyer, Heather (portrayed by Lisa Bonet). Eventually, he manages to convince her to sit in on one of his sessions with Dr. Haber, but when he wakes up, she does not realize that her past has once again been changed. George has fallen for her, and Haber realizes she is not the impartial observer she claimed to be.

The futuristic world depicted in Lathe of Heaven is done well. It’s just different enough from our own world that I felt it could almost be a variation of the current times in one of George’s dreams. The transportation, clothes, and lifestyle are similar enough to be familiar yet different enough to sometimes have a more futuristic feel.

What really brought the production down for me was the acting. Neither Lucas Haas nor Lisa Bonet seemed particularly suited for their roles. They both go through their entire performance in the same monotone, hardly showing any emotions or facial expressions. It felt as if both were sleeping through their performances. I think better casting on the part of these two would have made the production much better.

It’s a problem when you don’t care about the characters at all because the actors don’t seem to be putting any effort into making the viewer care. It’s a bigger problem when combined with a lackluster script. The story and premise are so interesting, but it all gets bogged down in confusing dialogue combined with time-travel-like paradoxes of what should and shouldn’t be.

James Caan has the evil slime ball down pat. He’s a psychiatrist who has no ethical problem using his patients’ problems to better himself. He would exploit anyone and anything if it mean furthering his career and he has no scruples. Overall, however, he infuses the role with little emotion. His best moments are the interaction with his assistant (portrayed by Sheila McCarthy) and her transformation throughout the film.

What stands out is the part of George’s friend Manny (portrayed by David Strathairn). It wasn’t until the end of the film that I realized Manny had a much different role than what I initially thought. He is always in George’s life, and helping him out, whether it’s trying to help him get a lighter sentence for the drug charges or running interference in later incarnations of the future with those that are pursuing George and he’s the doorman in the luxury apartment building George lives in. His role is never really explored, but this character might be enough motivation for me to pick up the book and check it out. Strathairn is fantastic here and the only real stand-out in the film. It’s a shame his role is really a supporting and secondary one because it is the one exceptional performance in an otherwise dismal production from the acting standpoint.

Overall, you can pass this by and not worry about missing anything. The effects used at various times during the changing worlds are good, but not worth sitting through some of the terrible performances and poor script for. The production overall is a disappointment when the story just has the feeling that it had so much potential and blew it.

1 reply »

  1. the book is excellent as is the original 1980 PBS version which you can find on the utoobs, my favourite film of all time, I was just thinking how glad I was that I didn’t see the remake first or I would have had no interest in the story or author, who was given massive creative oversight of the original production which hews very closely to her novel. I can’t imagine the hubris the screenwriter of the remake had to think they could write better than LeGuin, and make so many pointless changes, many just to make it “sexier” somehow. the actors all talented, must’ve been told to dial it down -all the way down, incredibly disappointing, but makes me appreciate the original so much more despite the low budget spaceship effects, oh yes, the remake left out the aliens, among other things. mind boggling. I implore you to watch it.