Dune (1984)

Dune (1984)

Frank Herbert’s Dune is probably one of the most important sci-fi novels of all time. Published in 1965, I think it’s fair to say that most sci-fi books and films since then owe something to Dune. So it’s understandable that Hollywood would be eager to produce a film adaptation to capitalize on the love that people have for the series. However, I don’t think it’s possible to create a faithful Dune film; the original book is around 800 pages of deep lore descriptions and internal dialogue, both of which are difficult to elegantly convey in a movie. Despite this, David Lynch tried to do it in 1984, and… oh boy, is it ever something else.

I absolutely love the novel Dune. I’m currently in the middle of my second read-through and I think it was way ahead of its time. The concepts that Herbert included were clear inspirations for a multitude of sci-fi staples. However between all the cool space magic, energy shields, and giant sandworms is a compelling story of betrayal and revenge. The story follows young Paul Atreides, son to Duke Leto Atreides who has been given control of the desert planet Arrakis by the Emperor of the Universe. Unbeknownst to them, a trap has been laid for them on Arrakis by an alliance between the Emperor and the evil members of House Harkonnen, who have feuded with The Atreides for generations. Dune is mainly the story of the fall of House Atreides on Arrakis, and Paul’s journey of revenge to bring down the Harkonnens and Emperor that destroyed his world. Complete with spiritual and mystical concepts and touching on themes of fate and determinism, good vs evil, and justice, I would recommend this book to anyone.

But the film is a piece of trash.

Not only does it fail as an adaptation of the novel, but it fails as a film in general. This brings me back to why Dune is difficult to properly adapt as a single film. The book is nuanced, subtle, and intelligent. It doesn’t hold your hand and it slowly gives you exposition and teaches you the lore of the universe in a way that is elegant and organic. It is also able to do this without sacrificing the progress of the plot. The film is the total opposite, smashing the audience in the face with expository monologues right from the opening shot. These are usually delivered by Princess Irulan, the Emperor’s daughter (who is not introduced or established in the rest of the film), as she looks directly into the camera and tells the viewer about the plot. The whole movie subscribes to the tell-don’t-show philosophy and it sucks.

To be fair, there are a lot of things to establish in Dune. There are the politics of the galactic government, the psychotropic spice and its importance, the faction of space witches called the Bene Gesserit and their search for the Kwisatz Haderach (a prophesised all-powerful messiah), the climate on Arrakis and the culture of the native Fremen who live there, the complex web of characters and their relationships with each other, and all the cool space technologies like energy shields, intergalactic travel, and laser guns. However the novel has 800 pages to do all this, so it can take its time with story and exposition, giving each element the time that it deserves to establish it. The film tries to cram everything into 2 hours, so don’t blink, or you’ll miss something crucially important.

Pro Tip: Don’t open your film with a character feeding complex exposition to the audience like this

This film is just relentless. Stuff is happening non-stop. It tries to hit all the important points in the story, but rushes through everything to get there. For example, Paul’s love interest Chani is introduced in one scene, and in the next, the two of them are having a make-out montage. Their relationship is never given any time to develop because the film HAS no time for it. In another scene, we get a voice over from Princess Irulan who describes how Paul’s mom drinks “The Water of Life” (don’t worry, the film doesn’t describe what that is) and gives premature birth to a daughter who has all the knowledge and memories that she has. Pretty weird, right? This should be a big deal, but it’s just narrated to the audience because this movie has no time to handle the scene with any sense of subtlety or art. The story needs to move on to the next EPIC THING that happens. It’s like someone tried to make a History of Everything video, but of the book Dune. It’s heavy-handed and fails to capture the subtle elegance of the novel.

I’ll refrain from commenting on how accurate the film is to the novel because I don’t think adaptations need to be 100% faithful, as long as the film is good (which this film isn’t). But there are definitely some strange choices that David Lynch made. For example, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the principal villain, is supposed to be 400 lbs. of imposing evil. He uses anti-gravity tethers to take off some of that weight so he can walk around. In the film, Harkonnen is maybe 250 lbs, covered in boils, and is somehow able to fly around rooms like Peter Pan. Every single time he takes off, I burst out laughing at how stupid it looked. You never want the audience to laugh at how dumb your villain looks. He’s dorky and is not a formidable threat. I’m not upset that they changed his aesthetic, but David Lynch was clearly trying to borrow from the book and created something that didn’t work.

The acting in Dune varies from a quality performance from Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides, to cheesy one from Dean Stockwell as Dr. Wellington Yueh, to a show-stealing one from Sting as the cocky Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. Yeah, you read that right, Sting is in this movie! He’s looking damn fine and captures the arrogance of the young Harkonnen heir well. The rest of the cast is nothing special, which is disappointing as there are other talented actors that I know can do better, including Patrick Stewart, Max Von Sydow, and Jurgen Prochnow. I credit their mediocre performances to poor directing; all of the characters have issues with the timing and delivery of their lines. They all come across as slightly awkward.

But let’s move on for a moment and talk about the things I enjoyed. In general, I liked the aesthetic of the movie. The design of the spaceships, costumes, and settings were colourful and creative. There was clearly a talented art and design team at work here. I have to complement the design of the sandworms as well; they truly felt enormous and imposing, although there was some very poor green-screening whenever anyone was riding a worm. I also have no idea why the worms shoot lightning as they burrow, but whatever.

I could go on about how stupid the Imperial soldiers look (they look like they’re wearing garbage bags), the atrocious blue-eyes effect on the Fremen, the ridiculous space fish, and the unexplained pug that happens to be in all the important scenes, but it would be overkill. The biggest problem with the film is that everything moves at a breakneck pace and the movie spends no time establishing anything before rushing on through the plot. The film would work best as a television series or three separate films (the book is divided into three sections, so there’s already a framework for what each film would contain). But trying to cram it all into a single 2-hour film just can’t work.

So that’s my opinion on David Lynch’s Dune. A big thanks to David for inviting me to join the site. You’ll be hearing from me every so often, probably focusing on video games, but maybe with a few more film reviews. Bye for now, and remember to walk without rhythm.

– Matt

The Marine (2006)

The Marine (2006)

Despite my love of weird, artsy movies, I’ve got soft spots for schlock and Big Dumb Action Movies. Commando, Predator, Crank are all well within my wheelhouse, and while I thought at most of these films were stuck in the ’80s or only found in crazy neo-grindhouse directors like Neveldine/Taylor, turns out I only needed to look at the most popular modern incarnations of Big and Dumb and Action. Lucky for me, they all reside in the same thing: WWE Wrestling.

The Marine is a 2006 action movie starring John Cena as John Triton, a marine who is honorably discharged from the US Marine Corps for single-handedly annihilating an Al-Queda base in Iraq against orders. Once he’s reintegrated back into the normal, mundane life of being a war-hero-turned-office-security-guard, he finds himself yearning to use the skills he learned out on his tour of duty that would get him arrested or fired here. Lucky for Mr. Triton, his wife gets kidnapped by some high profile diamond thieves (read: his wife gets plot deviced by some shoehorned plot devices) while they’re at a gas station, and BAM!

John Triton gets to go on a wild rampage across rural America to save his wife by murder, violence, explosions, guns, guns, boom, pow, running, jumping, car chase, running, blam blam blam, ka-pow! Maybe an American bald eagle soars in the distance, I don’t know. This movie was a flurry of blows to the senses, so it’s hard to write about it coherently. It’s produced by WWE Studios, which I always dismissed as being the producers of low budget, low quality action flicks that are just made to cash in on the success of whatever wrestler is popular at the time and while I can’t vouch for any of their other movies, they’ve definitely marked themselves on my radar after watching The Marine.

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13 Reasons Why (2017)

13 Reasons Why (2017)

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a whole season of a show rather than a movie, and funnily enough, the last one I wrote about was also a Netflix series. Sure, I’ve written about John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper‘s episodes of Masters of Horror, but those are pretty much short films independent of each other rather than one cohesive story told though multiple episodes. What am I saying, you know what a TV show is, you’re not an idiot (I hope). This show has stirred up a lot of controversy with people jumping on either side of the fence and naturally so, being a show that tackles subjects like depression, suicide, and sexual assault. Some people are adamant that the show inaccurately portrays these things and their consequences and that the show is doing more harm than good, while some others feel like this show is taking a brave stance to bring these subjects to light in a time when they’re the most relevant to our current youth culture. I’m not here to tell one side or another which is right or wrong. I’m here to just, like, give my opinion, man.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past month and a half, 13 Reasons Why is the newest Netflix series to take the world by storm. In small town USA, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a girl who has just moved to town and started in Liberty High School has killed herself. Slit wrists in a bathtub. After her death, her classmates find a box of cassette tapes, each side dedicated to a person or an event that she believes led her to take her own life. The tapes make their way to Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette, who was quite good in Don’t Breathe), a quiet, smart kid who was a friend of Hannah’s. Through his eyes we get to see Hannah’s story and everything that culminated in her taking her own life. This show is based on the book of the same name, written by Jay Asher. I haven’t read the book and I don’t intend to. I don’t care how faithful or unfaithful it is to the source material, I just care how well it holds up on its own. (more…)

Get Out (2017)

Get Out (2017)

Many of you who have read through this blog probably know my opinions on Blumhouse Productions by now. For those of you who don’t, I have a tumultuous, love-hate relationship with them. They single-handedly shot horror into mainstream culture about a decade ago with low budget, decent quality movies which is awesome, but they’ve been resting on their laurels since, and have begun pandering to the lowest common denominator because they’ve discovered the secret formula to print money (See: Paranormal Activity 5: The Ghost Dimension’s $10 million budget and nearly $80 million box office return).

They seem to be running on a business model of throwing as many low budget horror movies at the wall as possible and seeing which ones stick. Majority of them are kinda shitty movies that bounce off harmlessly, but every once in a while, a real gem will come through, and when it sticks, it sticks. I’m talking non-stop critical acclaim and 4700% returns on it’s budget here, people. This ain’t some Mickey Mouse shit here.

Get Out is Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, and the fact that the surrealist funnyman (from sketch comedy duo Key & Peele) chose to direct a horror movie is an interesting one.

Get Out is a horror film about Chris and Rose (Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams) a young couple who have been going steady for a while. Rose invites Chris to spend a weekend at her rich parents’ (Dean is a neurosurgeon and Missy is a psychologist, played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener respectively) house, except there’s one hang up — Rose’s parents, the Armitages, don’t know that Chris is… black. Don’t worry, because Rose assures Chris that her parents might be super-white, but they’ll try their absolute hardest not to offend Chris, no matter how cringe-worthy they might get.

White people, am I right?

When Chris finally gets to spend a weekend with he Armitages and their super old, affluent white friends, he notices things are kind of off  around the house. The two servants happen to be black, and seem to behave from incredibly off kilter to completely hostile. Some awkward phrases are exchanged between family members, their servants, and Chris and our protagonist slowly realizes that something much more sick and twisted is going on than casual, inadvertent racism.

White people, am I right?

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The Bye Bye Man (2017)

The Bye Bye Man (2017)

Editor’s Note: I started writing this out of pure unadulterated passion when I got home after watching this. After sleeping it off, I continued writing it in a much more calm, cool, and collected fashion. I decided to keep the bits I wrote the night of.

I’m writing this while sipping on a pilsner and riding out a sugar high from too many Mars bar bites. My friends and I made an evening out of this. We assembled with snacks and whiskey and craft beer and watched one of the worst received movies this year. We do this often, bad movie nights, but this feels special. It’s a bittersweet feeling, making a ritual out of consuming somebody else’s art to purposefully make fun of it.

Wait, did I just call The Bye Bye Man art? Fuck me. I’d like to formally apologize to the entirety of human arts and culture. (more…)

Incendies (2010)

Incendies (2010)

Go call your mom, your dad, your brothers and sisters if you have any, and tell them you love them.

Incendies is a French-Canadian (woo!) film by superstar Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve. I’ve written in the past about some of his films, pretty much all of which I’ve loved. Well, tally one more up for Mr. Villeneuve, because Incendies might just be a new favorite of mine from him.

It kicks off with Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon Marwan (Maxime Gaudette), Canadian twins of Middle Eastern descent who are meeting at their mother’s notary’s office after she has passed away. Included in their mother Nawal’s (Lubna Azabal) will, are two envelopes, one for their father and one for their brother. The friction starts immediately as the Marwans never knew their presumably dead father and have never had another sibling. Jeanne travels to their mother’s birthplace, an unspecified country in the Middle East to trace the steps of her mother’s life so she can solve the mystery of her missing father and brother. Simon, reluctant at first, eventually joins her with Lebel, the aforementioned notary. While in the Middle East learning about their strange family history from locals who seem to resent them on sight, they slowly begin learning a dark secret about their family that they couldn’t even have imagined.

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