I’ve seen Dune more times than I really should have. I’ve gone through phases with it and in 2013 I wrote the following…
“Although not perfect (what film is?) it’s a great big, weird and ballsy piece of sci-fi. What really feels right is the savage nature of the world in which it’s set both in terms of the political / societal set up and hardness of the dessert planet Arrakis. Everything in this film is life and death. Highly Recommended.”
Having finally seen it with an audience, on a screen larger than my TV, I’ve got to admit that it’s a bad movie. I’ve ended up here because my mind connected a shot of Alia, the young sister of the main character, with Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
It’s hard to believe that the reference isn’t intentional, that Lynch isn’t invoking Lean. Both stories feature outsiders leading desert warriors in military campaigns that are linked to larger political games. The Middle Eastern influences in Dune are front and centre and so is the importance of a precious natural resource. When O’Toole’s Lawrence dances, it’s because he’s infatuated with his robes and his shadow is his partner, he can’t help but check his reflection in his dagger. Alia is similarly lost in herself and that’s why the shot is so striking, it’s the one moment in Dune in which a character isn’t pushing the plot forward or saddled with overly obvious inner monologue. The two texts touch for one moment. The big difference is that Lawrence… has subtext (voiced perfectly in that scene) and is alive, Dune is dead because it has none.
Moments can lift or sink a film. Ten seconds can make ninety minutes seem like time well spent or kill everything that went before. Last night I watched Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and for better or worse the moments were in full swing.
Bone Tomahawk is a rather slight western tale of kidnapping and the posse that goes to rescue the girl. It’s standard stuff with square jaws, old timers and Kurt Russell’s moustache and then there is a moment, a moment that harks back to the glory days of pre-cert ‘did you see that film where..?’ VHS. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the film, you probably won’t forget it, if you haven’t it’s worth watching and it lifts the film and carries it, perhaps throws it, over the finish line.
Then there was Rogue One, the first in a planned series of Star Wars side stories and fingertips away from being perfect. Visually it’s stunning, with great practical and CG effects. It also has the characters, in particular the central pairing of Jyn Erso and Cassien Andor and their team, the actors, the director, the story, the themes and ideas and Forest Whitaker, my word Forest Whitaker! It’s brilliant and fun and then there’s the fan service, moments of redundant film buried in the uncanny valley and a fancy dress approximation of a classic character (or did he always look stupid and I’ve only just noticed?).
I’m going to go back for a rewatch because the good stuff is wonderful, it’s just such a shame that the current cinematic obsession with the miscellany of fan culture gets in the way of a perfect object. As for Bone Tomahawk, I’ll never watch it again but absolutely, heartily recommend that you spend some time with it.
After the ‘teaser’ I tend to avoid trailers for films that I want to see. I know that I want to see them so what’s the point of seeing a collection of the good bits? And it pays off.
Interstellar is an enthralling piece of cinema. It harks back to the vintage sci-fi of ideas and pioneer adventure and is full of giant vistas, high drama and breathless set-pieces. It’s got dystopia (interestingly, what we see seems to have an Orwellian leftist flavour rather than the usual right-wing stooges – this is Nolan after all) and natural disaster because if you’re going to go big make sure you go big.
It’s also, despite Nolan’s usual detachment and thanks to an incredible cast, a touching human story focusing on parents and children. In this respect, McConaughey, Chastain, Hathaway and Mackenzie Foy are the stars but the likes of Jon Lithgow and Bill Irwin, the latter bringing real character to one of the most fascinating movie robots in a long time, make this movie solid… and William Devane is in it. William Devane! If there is one criticism it’s that the appearance of ‘names’ did occasionally disrupt the immersion… I guess that’s my fault for not watching those trailers etc, but those few moments are worth the trade of seeing such stunning images for the first time.
There is a lot of chat about the scriptural accuracy of Aronofsky’s film, as if that had anything to do with it being a ‘good’ film or not. Well, I can’t vouch for the strictness of the adaptation (as you might of guessed I couldn’t really care less either) but it is a good film. It’s modern big budget cinema at it’s most interesting and with a real sense of mission.
The reason that this film really works is that it is a steadfastly religious work. The film not only explicitly cites a ‘creator’ but presents a world in which God plays an active and immediate role. Noah himself is played as a servant (Crowe brings to the role all the pressure and heavy obligation that that entails) and the central idea, that the Ark is the church, is strongly represented. Despite all this, and rather crucially, the film doesn’t preach (even in what some might see as it’s more secular environmentalist side) or gloat in the destruction of the wicked.
…but we’re also here for the spectacle and Noah doesn’t disappoint. Whether it’s the stunning time-lapse creation story, the destroyed landscape (both of which raise the fascinating idea that this is a future story rather than an ancient one), or the cathedral like Ark and the nightmarish flood itself, this is a film of bold, and often breath-taking, images.
Aronofsky unleashed and highly recommended.