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An evening pause: In one of the most powerful death scenes ever, Louise Fletcher plays a scientist who suddenly realizes it is about to happen. From the 1983 film Brainstorm.

Hat tip to Phil Berardelli, author of Phil’s Favorite 500: Loves of a Moviegoing Lifetime.



  • Phil Berardelli

    I had the privilege of interviewing Douglas Trumbull the same year “Brainstorm” was released. He had been simultaneously developing a new film presentation process called Showscan, which projected 70mm prints at 60 frames per second in an effect that resembles present-day HD video. “Brainstorm” was supposed to be the first title released in Showscan, but technical difficulties and the lack of exhibition venues killed the idea. I saw the demo film of the process, called “New Magic,” and it was a stunning achievement, but Showscan turned out to be a short-lived phenomenon. Money troubles plagued Trumbull’s effort, as well as a serious technical problem: The high projection speed tended to degrade the film sprocket holes quickly, causing the images to blur. Trumbull discussed all this freely in the interview, which I did for a filmmakers newsletter I was editing at the time. But he agreed to meet me under one condition: I could not ask him about “Brainstorm,” which had been a box office flop (the plot grew terminally silly) and was cursed by the untimely and mysterious death of its costar, Natalie Wood. But Fletcher’s performance is undeniably powerful.

  • Gealon

    This was one of the pivotal movies of my childhood, not so much the characters themselves or their marital problems and the rest of the plot, but all of that beautiful 80’s technology and that grand music. This was one of the movies that propelled me into engineering, and even though I don’t get to play with all the toys they had, it was and still is an important piece for me. This scene was indeed the most powerful I think I’d ever seen as a child, probably a bit too intense for a kid at my age, but it stuck with me for the longest time. Again I have to say the music in this scene was phenomenal and Fletcher’s acting was beautiful.

    It is a shame Mr. Trumbull distances himself from this production, I feel it was masterfully conceived and executed, even if some of that silliness does show through here and there. About the only thing I could complain about in the movie was the use of that optic recording tape. I spent years trying to find it only to finally find out that it did not exist. During those years though I did wonder why such a fantastic recording medium was not in wide use, it would have made CD’s and even DVD’s, heck, with the right bit density, blue ray’s too, look like 45’s. Alas, the tape was in fact just decorative gold patterned wrapping tape/paper cut specially to fit the spools. I under stand now though, that they needed a visual element to tie the viewer into the process of the character’s thoughts being recorded and seeing a spool if magnetic tape or a humming hard disk wasn’t enough. The fact though that the technology looked so authentic is a real testament to the time and effort that went into this movie, even of Trumbull doesn’t think so. For this fact alone I highly recommend watching it.

    Thanks for posting this and thanks for indulging my 80’s tech fan boy explosion.

  • Phil Berardelli

    I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do a YouTube search before posting my comment. As I could have guessed, Trumbull never gave up on Showscan completely. Eventually, he explored adapting it to HD video, and here’s a vivid sample of what he’s been up to — using digital technology to upgrade the frame rate selectively from 24 per second to as many as 120 per second:

  • Steve

    February 11, 2016 at 12:11 pm
    “….The fact though that the technology looked so authentic is a real testament to the time and effort that went into this movie, even of Trumbull doesn’t think so. For this fact alone I highly recommend watching it…..”


    Up until reading this I also always assumed that it was an authentic optical tape deck with some extra lights and exposed lasers for the movie. Amazing effects for the time.

    I also was surprised at the time that they were able to finish it w/o Natalie, but apparently they used her sister to film the few scenes they still needed.

    That death scene always stuck w/ me after seeing the film and years later when I saw “Strange Days” it seemed like the natural, horrific, logical extension of the ideas in “Brainstorm”……

  • PeterF

    I remember this scene. It raised questions about what happens after death. Another crappy movie that I think about regularly…

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