The Frustrating Dune

dune1Late last night I found myself idly flicking through the channels before retiring to bed and came upon David Lynch’s Dune playing on the Horror channel (there’s a commentary in that scheduling just in itself). It was toward the end of the film, and I found myself sticking around until the bitter end (truth be told, those last twenty-thirty minutes are the worst the film has to offer, the film collapsing into an awful turgid mess as it falters towards its conclusion).

I hadn’t seen Dune in a good while, but it always suckers me in. I love the book you see. Its the Ben Hur of science fiction, and just begging to be given a three-hour epic treatment on the silver screen, its religious allegories as timely now as ever. Back in 1984 its excellent marketing/mysterious posters with the twin moons… well it looked to be something special. It wasn’t of course. It was a mess.

I’d love to be able to sit down with David Lynch, if only for a half-hour, to listen to him explain what happened with Dune. Now, Lynch doesn’t talk to anyone about the film, having utterly disowned it. Understable as that may be, I do think there is a fascinating discussion there. What was he trying to do with it? Where did it go wrong? When did he lose control? When did he know it was just hopeless and time to walk away?

Or did he think it was brilliant and became appalled at its reception? Who knows? Lynch of course went on to Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks and so much more. Dune would be just a mainstream blip on his increasingly weird resumé. But it just sits there forever on tv re-runs, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray releases… a broken film that looks utterly captivating in places and full of odd casting, disjointed editing, a rock soundtrack, so many bizarre decisions that sometimes work and most times don’t. It looks like a film that could have been so great but turned out pretty poor, never becoming ‘cult’ as other commercial failures like The Thing and Blade Runner would do. You’ll never hear about Lynch’s Dune being a misunderstood classic movie to be rediscovered. I’d just love to have a chat with Lynch and hear his thoughts about it after so many years.

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Happy Belated Birthday, Empire!

Empire_strikes_back_poster_vaderJust discovered that the world’s greatest Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, was 35 years old this month. Its a sobering thing when movies get old. Or maybe that’s the wrong way of putting it; Empire will never get old, its me suffering ravages of age while Empire stands pretty much as fresh as ever. 35 years though- that’s pretty frightening. I remember before the film came out buying the paperback and my mate bringing the soundtrack album round my house. Hearing Darth Vader’s theme made it all seem suddenly real (and incredibly cool too). Good times.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Louder. Bigger… Better?

max1Fury Road was one of the first times in a long while that I’ve walked out of a cinema totally buzzing about what I’d just seen. It felt akin to the old days of my youth when I walked out of the cinema darkness having just seen The Empire Strikes Back or Blade Runner with my head spinning and a huge stupid smile on my face. In some ways this is fitting- Fury Road is pretty much a throw-back to old school film-making of the pre-cgi days; yes, I guess there is a lot of image manipulation (the blown-out colours for instance) and cgi augmenting the crazy stunts that betrays it as a ‘modern’ film, but it’s definitely old school, the work of a veteran film-maker.

(Question: why wasn’t Ridley Scott’s Prometheus a triumphant return to 1979s Alien in the same way Fury Road is a triumphant return to 1982s The Road Warrior? Because Fury Road really has me wondering at what Prometheus might have been in better circumstances. If I had to offer an answer- Fury Road‘s story is absolute bare-bones; I thought Road Warrior was simple but Fury Road strips it down to the bone and its all the better for it- whereas with Prometheus Scott wanted to stretch and challenge the preconceptions audiences might have had regards an Alien prequel. George Miller wasn’t having any of that with Fury Road; he knows what fans want from a Mad Max movie and he delivers it in spades. That said, I’d certainly hope any sequel has rather more plot and character and is less of a one-note/two-hour car chase (I’m being a little unfair there to be honest). But you know, Fury Road is, at the very least, true to its roots. It’s a Mad Max movie, whereas Prometheus was hardly an Alien film at all).

Beautiful desolation- yes those dots in the sand is the car chase and those skies... well...
Beautiful desolation- yes those dots in the sand is the car chase in progress and that storm, well… the Apocalypse sure is pretty…

It reminds me of the magic of cinema. Why I love movies. God knows as I’ve gotten older, the best movies seem further and further back in the past and all the ‘current’ movies increasingly tired bubblegum amusement rides in the form of reboots, remakes and sequels… and future movies heartless ‘more of the same’ to the point I wonder why I bother (case in point, trailers prior to Fury Road included Jurassic World and San Andreas, each featuring an eye-numbing amount of cgi nonsense). To see a film that shakes the mold and harkens back to the films of my youth is almost a revelation. Sure this thing gets screened primarily in 3D and I had to hunt down a rare 2D screening. Sure it was likely greenlit as some kind of remake/reboot of Mad Max 2. But goodness me its a hand-on-my-heart classic throwback to a cinema of 30 – 40 years ago. Miller must have made this movie in some kind of goddam stealth mode, how else could a modern Hollywood movie turn out like this did?

George MIller is 70 years old. It feels wrong even mentioning it; just because he is 70 doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be making films like this- but it still bears thinking about. This huge, $150 million, mad-ass crazy Apocalyptic action flick, possibly the wildest mainstream spectacle to come out of Hollywood in years, was written/produced/directed by a guy now 70 years old, and reportedly he is (thank God!) willing to make more. Lets hope Warner allow him the freedom he had with Fury Road (and that it gets made a little quicker)- indeed, kudos to Warner for financing this film as it is. Too often I moan at the stupidity/greed/crassness of the big studios but here a studio done good so all credit to the people who made this possible.

Max3

And you know, it actually gets me excited for Blade Runner 2. Its about as unnecessary as a Road Warrior remake/reboot was, but Fury Road shows that it could turn into something worthwhile (and to be honest, early word on the talent behind BR2 is looking very promising indeed). If we can get a great new Mad Max movie after some thirty years, maybe there’s a chance a new film about Replicants could be great too.Yes I realise this is nonsense but thats whats its like with this great buzz after a great movie- for a little while, anything seems possible. Allow me to bask in it a little while longer before I come back to reality with a bump. Lets just hope that that reality-bump isn’t Star Wars 7

 

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

av1Spoilers-free folks. This is just intial thoughts from having just seen the film. I’ll reserve detailed analysis for after a second viewing (if my nerves can stand it).

Has the Marvel-led superhero bubble finally burst? Well of course not. Avengers: Age of Ultron pretty much delivers on all the hype and expectation following the triumphant original, but there are a few things that are starting to annoy me about these Marvel movies. They need to break the mold sometime. Marvel Studios, following a few false starts, has largely cracked the formula for an entertaining superhero movie and has used this to great effect on the last few movies (certainly the Phase 2 era films) but I feel there is a need to do something different. And soon.

My mild irritation started early on. Ultron commences in the midst of a battle as the Avengers attack a Hydra outpost in the wilds of Eastern Europe. Its all very thrilling and impressive, as each hero gets his/her moment to crack a witty line of banter and despatch a bad-guy with aplomb in a violent beauty shot usually in slo-mo. Now I’m not sure if this is director Whedon’s attempt to de-construct the comicbook movie; each hero gets a slo-mo/still-motion beauty shot like freezing a comicstrip frame. I’m sure it gets the geeks weak at the knees and salivating profusely but it feels rather generic at this point as it seems to hammer home the fact that this is indeed a comicstrip brought to life . Each hero gets his moment, then we move on to the next, and this is so stylised and forced (it even felt like one long uninterrupted take but I maybe wrong) that it feels distracting, like a piece of camp theatre or a pop video; style over content. It just took me out of it, making me overly-conscious of the technique and form, as if I was being made aware of the creative team ticking the boxes from some ‘How To Shoot A Marvel Movie’ guide. Likewise some of the heroes are rather obvious cgi dopplegangers in some shots, as if the sheer amount of effects work in this film necessitated a lowering of the overall quality. It is all so blisteringly fast too. I saw the film in 2D but can well imagine many finding the 3D version nauseating. Its just such a cacophony of images and noise; films have gotten quicker and quicker regards cuts between shots etc but this really felt like an assault on the senses. A sign of the times/harbinger of the future no doubt, and I wouldn’t isolate Ultron alone in this but it did annoy me. Post-opening things settled down somewhat but again kicked into high gear with each inevitable action sequence. ‘Well of course’, I hear you say, ‘its a superhero movie.’ But how many times does this have to be repeated and raised to a higher level with each subsequent entry? Where will this even end?

Regards Ultron, the grand finale is as noisy and frenetic as anything before it, except raised by the power of ten- so while its scale and energy recall anything from the grand conclusions of Captain America: Winter Soldier to Thor: The Dark World (or indeed the original Avengers movie) here its bigger and louder still. And again, I just have to wonder,where will this eventually end, reaching its mad zenith of cgi spectacle? The next Avengers film will actually be two films shot back to back, so I can only imagine with some trepidation the mad crescendo the second part will end with (“We’ll need bigger cinemas”, to paraphrase a line from Jaws).  As it is, I walked out of my viewing with a pounding headache. Induced from the noise or the hectic images or the feverish combination of both, I can’t say, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m getting too old for these blockbuster sensory overloads.