Movie Review: The Lathe Of Heaven
Release Date: September 8, 2002
Distributor: A&E Network
· Philip Haas
· Lukas Haas
· James Caan
· Lisa Bonet
by Jim Pappas
Published: September 5, 2002
The latest cinematic incarnation of the Ursula K. LeGuin novel, “The Lathe Of Heaven,” is a mostly unsatisfying and deliberately paced film that does little to bring life to the book. Most of the problems can probably be laid at the feet of the director, Philip Haas, who moves a talented cast listlessly through their paces.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is about a young man named George Orr (played here by Lukas Haas, no relation to the director), whose dreams become our reality. Alarmed by this, Orr turns to drugs to stay awake and keep the dreams away. This leads him to be arrested, where he meets Heather LeLache (Lisa Bonet), a public defender who takes his case. Given probation for his crime (stealing drugs from the hospital where he works), Orr is turned over to a court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. William Haber (James Caan), who quickly (too quickly in this film) discovers he can manipulate Orr’s dreams to further his own career.
What follows is a series of vignettes showing Orr going to sleep, and then the aftermath of the dreaming. Haber quickly becomes a world renowned psychoanalyst, and LeLache ends up as a partner in a prestigious law firm. A romance blossoms between LeLache and Orr, and he continues to meet her in various incarnations after each dream.
I do not know how much influence or input Ms. LeGuin had with this film, but I suspect it was not much. I would hope she would have insisted on some of the more relevant and exciting moments from her written work be included in any film treatment (as was seen in the superior 1980 PBS production). This latest version is neither compelling nor emotionally satisfying in any way.
All was not bad here, though. The cinematography and music are tasteful and pleasing to the eyes and ears, and the actors' performances manage to rise, somewhat, above the weak dialogue (teleplay by Alan Sharp) and lethargic pacing. The supporting actors, most notably David Straithern and Sheila McCarthy (playing Orr’s friend, Mannie, and Dr. Haber’s receptionist, Penny, respectively) are quite good, and their parts were written to be lively and sympathetic. If Mr. Sharp had scripted the major character’s roles the way he did the supporting cast’s, this could have been an excellent film.
This movie cries out for some elements of suspense. And, although there is some tension, it is simply not enough to get it over the hump from being boring to being banner. The experience of watching “The Lathe Of Heaven” is similar to watching and listening to some mildly enjoyable classical music: It kind of just goes in one ear and out the other.
The film is scheduled to air on the Arts and Entertainment Network (A&E) on Sunday, September 8th. Check your local listings for air times and stations.
I am a fan of Ms. LeGuin, and would like to see motion picture treatments of more of her work. I would also like to see “The Lathe Of Heaven” turned over to a director with more passion for the story than is demonstrated here by Philip Haas. Perhaps a big budget, major studio project directed by Steven Spielberg would fit the bill.