What was this 70s sci-fi thing?
January 7, 2009 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone remember this not-at-all-easily-googled 70s sci-fi film?

I saw a fragment of this as a kid 30 years ago and have never been able to figure out what it was. (Such "lost" things were the subject of holiday conversation, for whatever reason.) I saw this maybe-film, maybe-TV-movie on PBS. There's a young-ish guy (20s-30s iirc) who has discovered a strange ability to determine the nature of the world around him via dreaming. If he goes to sleep and dreams of something, when he wakes up it will be as he dreamed it, and - here's what seems distinctive - it will always have been so. So if he dreams that, say, the capital of Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh, when he wakes up, the capital of PA is Pittsburgh, and it always was. The governor, bureaucrats and buildings don't get up and move over night, he just awakes in a world that has and always had those features and only he realizes that he has made it so.

A scientist starts to do research with him and with the help of some technology, they are better able to guide his dreaming. The scientist suggests that he dream that they have an institute and a huge research budget at a major university. (I did not realize the genius of this as a child, but as an academic, I do.) But he's living in an overcrowded city with endless traffic and hassle, and in a fit of anger, he dreams of a world thinned out by disease. He wakes up and is one of only a handful left.

I don't know how it ends and came in after it began, so no clues there. It was certainly less driven by fantasy and special effects than most sci-fi since Star Wars and it was presented as a very earthbound, present-day sort of piece. Anyone in the hivemind have any ideas?
posted by el_lupino to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's been made into a movie twice. It's Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven.
posted by adipocere at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Lathe of Heaven.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:57 PM on January 7, 2009

Well, I guess that's that.
posted by el_lupino at 3:11 PM on January 7, 2009

great book, btw
posted by gnutron at 3:31 PM on January 7, 2009

I should also point out that the 1980's film version is far, FAR superior to the revamped version made in 2002 with Lukas Haas and James Caan. In fact, the 1980 film was one of the first films I can recall where the adaptation may well be better than the book.
posted by elendil71 at 4:00 PM on January 7, 2009

Agree with elendil. I wouldn't go so far as to call it better than the book, but for God's sake watch the earlier film.
posted by languagehat at 4:29 PM on January 7, 2009

It was a miniseries as I recall. Maybe four hours total. Quite well done -- some of the production design, such as the design of the aliens, was unlike anything I have seen before and since. It's stuck with me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:34 PM on January 7, 2009

Oddly enough, the words "Lathe of Heaven" don't appear in the book.
posted by dws at 9:07 PM on January 7, 2009

Yes, they do—they are part of the epigraph to chapter 3, a quote by Chuang Tse:
Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.
You can see it by searching for "Chuang Tse" then clicking the link to page 26.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:35 AM on January 8, 2009

You can watch the 1980 film version on Google video by the way, and the newer one via Joost. I've just watched the original version, and it's all kinds of awesome, well worth watching.
posted by iivix at 2:31 PM on January 8, 2009

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