Dune (2021) – The movie we’ve been waiting for.

Well, half of it anyway.

 For Halloween 2021 Roberta and I went to see Dennis Villeneuve’s  rendition of Frank Herbert’s Dune. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Dune is about the battle between two noble houses for control of ‘The Spice’, a drug which enables human pilots to navigate the mind-bending space facilitating travel between solar systems at speeds faster than light. This drug, which cannot be manufactured, only refined, is found naturally in only one place, on a desert planet known as Arrakis, home of giant sandworms and the indigenous people who worship them, The Fremen. It is a poignant story of a people, their land, and its natural resources being exploited by outsiders who feel they have the right simply because they have both the greed and the power to do so. Sound familiar?

 I first read the book when I was in grade 9 and like many longtime fans of the Dune series of novels, I have been sadly disappointed by previous attempts to bring it to the big screen. Based on the hype and foreplay the Internet was providing before the release, I went in with a guarded hope for a better outcome. Thankfully, I was NOT disappointed.

They Nailed It!

 Villeneuve’s life-long love of the story (he first read it when he was 13) and his dedication to getting it right comes through scene after scene. It is every bit as epic in scope as the novel, presenting for us Herbert’s iconic universe, where imperial rule and feuding noble houses have endured across not just thousands of years, but tens of thousands of light years as well. The desert vistas, the massive interstellar constructs, and the sheer bulk of the architecture make streaming this on your iPad totally inadequate. If you are thinking of seeing it, do yourself a favour and don’t wait for the streaming release, well – unless you have a 90-inch TV with 7.1 surround sound. This movie was definitely made for theatre release; it needs to be seen on as large a screen as you can manage in a room that will immerse you in the soundscape.

 A huge difference for those of us who endured the 1984 version is the cast. Dune (2021) is populated by an ensemble of actors who bring out not only the humanity of the characters, but their inhumanity as well. And, in the case of the House Atreides, their insecurities.

 I found myself fully impressed with Timothée Chalamet (Homeland, Call Me By Your Name) as Paul Atreides. The young heir to Duke Leto is torn by his duty to his father, his love for his mother, and his own feelings of inadequacy, all lathered in the realization he is being played like a pawn in someone else’s game. Chalamet navigates this storm every bit as well as Jason Mamoa‘s character, Duncan Idaho, pilots an ornithopter.

 Can it really be this good? Yes, but then, I’m biased. As I said I’ve been in love with this story most of my life. Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune are books I’ve gone back to numerous times. To see it made large with such skill is a joy to behold.

 That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, however. I want to address a couple of things that I think are responsible for many of the negative responses to the film I’ve seen on ‘anti-social’ media.

First off: This is only half a movie.

 That’s right; in fact, it says “PART ONE” right at the start and I think at least some of the people who hated the movie or found it boring seemed to have missed this point. The big reason the 1984 version failed (other than being underfunded and over-acted) was David Lynch tried to squeeze 600+ pages of novel into a two-hour movie. (OK, fine – it was 137 minutes. Still WAY too short.) Even Patrick Stewart couldn’t save it.

 Villeneuve doesn’t make that mistake. He spends three hours showing us the first half of the first book, and even then, choices needed to be made. So, if you are looking for the exciting triumphal climax and denouement, you’re in the wrong theatre. What you will get here is universe building, a bit of backstory, and establishing the crisis our hero must contend with. As noted, that’s why it’s called “Part One”.

Second:  This movie was made for fans of the book.

 I say this because Villeneuve’s doesn’t spend a lot of time on exposition. Now, too much exposition is indeed a bad thing; character voice-overs are best in small doses. However, sometimes the uninitiated need a little help making the transition.

 For example: (Kinda, sorta, but not quite spoiler alert.) If you’re coming at this cold, especially from a world where not only Sci-Fi but real life are so inundated with computers their presence is pretty much a given, it might help to understand that computers, as we know them, don’t exist in the Dune universe. Instead, human abilities have, over 10,000 years of civilization, evolved to the point where doctors can assess a patient largely by touch and sight alone (no scanners needed), those who manage vast financial concerns can roll their eyes into the back of their heads and perform complex calculations with the speed of your laptop, and interstellar pilots can navigate the hazards of faster-than-light space with only the mind-altering assistance of The Spice. The movie could communicate this fact a little better.

 Now, making movies for a niche market can be risky, and finding creative methods of exposition is certainly challenging; but then, when that market contains millions of individuals who grew up with Dune as part of their most formative years, a director might not feel the need.

One more thing.

 This is not so much about the movie Dune, but about film making in general. When are we going to get over this tendency toward “dark” cinematography? I get it, it’s a dark story with dark themes, but really, does that mean we can’t dial back the f-stop a little and let us actually see all those wonderful details you worked so hard on? Or is that the point? You cheaped out on the set details so we’re turning down the lights.

 In the case of Dune (tiny spoiler) floating light globes are the main source of lighting in many parts of the house/mansion/castle. Fine. I get it. But why do these high-tech lighting globes have the lumen output of the nightlight I have plugged into my bathroom outlet? “Film noir” does not mean closing the blinds and dimming the LEDs!

All that said…

 In the final analysis, there’s no such thing as a perfect adaptation, but I think this one comes really close. In fact, for all its limitations, the worst part of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One is the excruciating wait for Part Two in October 2023.

The Face in the Mirror

Back when Donald Trump first emerged on the campaign trail I, like many others, couldn’t imagine him getting the nomination let alone being elected. Then, when I heard so many Christians trying to tell me that this lying, cheating, womanizing, self-obsessed misogynist was God’s choice for President of the United States and therefore the de facto “Leader of the Free World” I shuddered at the very thought of it.

There was no part of me that could accept the idea that when God looked out over the landscape seeking a suitable occupant for the White House he saw Donald J. Trump, paper billionaire and paper human being, and said, “There’s my man!”

But now, six years later, on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration, I’m not so sure.

One phrase that we’ve heard more than any other the last few weeks, especially since the attack on the Capital in Washington is, “That’s not who we are.”  However, the fact remains that this would not be happening if that statement were true.

The occupant of the White House, whoever they are, is very much a reflection of who America is as a people, as a society, as a nation; and for the last four years we have been forced to take a good long look in the mirror and the face staring back at us has been Donald Trump.

“For now we see in a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face.”

For some time now the heat of political correctness has been steaming up that mirror preventing us from seeing all the imperfections. Donald Trump’s presidency wiped away the fog and forced us, and the world at large, to take a hard look at who we really are. The real us, with no make-up, no fashionable outfit, no perfectly coifed hairpiece; just the unadorned true face of North America.

It happened because Trump gave Hilary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” free reign to prove just how deplorable they could be. People who had formerly concealed their hate behind a mask of political correctness were empowered to voice their hatred in the name of patriotism. We also learned that the basket was much bigger than we thought it was.

And the white, evangelical Christian church, desperate for a Martin Luther King Jr. of it’s own, had finally found him. We took down the cross from our sanctuaries and raised the Confederate battle flag in its place along with the Stars and Stripes. We worshipped a westernized version of Jesus that put the modern church in the role of God’s chosen people and convinced ourselves that we could do no wrong.

But we were wrong. We just couldn’t see it, mostly because we didn’t look, or didn’t want to admit what was there. Oh, we heard the cry of the disadvantaged, the poor, the black, the Asian, the native Nations, the LBGTQ, just to name a few; but how many of us went out of our way to lift them up out of their disadvantage? How many of us, while genuinely sympathizing with their plight, continued living a guilt free life secure in the bosom of our white privilege?

“There is no one righteous, not even one.”

The more astute (or the more defensive) of you will notice my use the the collective pronoun “we”. You are likely wondering why a Canadian would lump himself in with the deplorables to the south, or you are defensively protesting that “we aren’t like that, that is not us.” But is there as much difference as we think? The church in Canada cannot rest on it’s laurels any more than can the church in the U.S., or the church in Europe, or in Africa, or anywhere else for that matter. The church everywhere has much to answer for.

Because Donald Trump didn’t make things the way they are anymore than my bathroom mirror is responsible for the face looking back at me. I’m not sure where it started, but it didn’t start with him; he just gave the ugly truth a higher profile. It didn’t even start with the Republican Party, or the American church. It started long before that as the church in all it’s various incarnations has sought to influence politics and dictate the way in which all people should live whether they believe or not. It might even have started with Constantine making Christianity the state religion of Rome for reasons that some consider likely more political than religious.

But wherever or whenever it started it continues as long as we ignore the one who said “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s

So yeah, maybe Donald Trump was indeed God’s choice for president. Maybe God looked at America, and the church in particular, and decided we needed a wake up call. Does that mean I owe the 45th president a vote of thanks? Hardly; no more than I should give Judas a pat on the back for his betrayal of Jesus, even though it ultimately led to the the hope of salvation.

But I do owe God my gratitude for the lesson I think I’ve learned. I thank God that issues of racism and privilege are getting attention more in keeping with what they deserve rather than just lip-service from “woke” policy-makers. I thank God that though I never desired to own another human being myself, I now better understand how my life in the 1% is founded on the actions of those who did. I thank God that I am reminded that I need to examine my own beliefs and how I follow the teachings of Jesus in my day to day walk and hold myself accountable to His words. I thank God that the church can no longer take its privilege for granted and must also examine itself to see where it went astray. And I thank God that the instrument of His instruction didn’t get a second term.

One question remains: Now that we have seen the face in the mirror, what are we going to do about it?

Mercy, not sacrifice

Like many of you I’ve spent the last week trying to process the events in Washington DC. Watching the church embrace the alt-right has been a huge source of anxiety these last four years. Not the greatest, the Pandemic holds that honour, but it has certainly been up there. I’m appalled, worried, saddened, and yes, even shocked, though frankly people should have seen this coming.

As the events unfolded, I was reminded of the lyrics of a Shawn Mullins song from the album Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us. It’s called Give God the Blues (you really should check it out) and the verse makes a statement very relative for these times (emphasis is mine).

God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that

There is a real tendency among Christians to invoke the notion of a “Christian Nation.” Personally, I tend to balk at this. Mostly because the history of the so-called Christian nations has not been what I would call Christian in its character and actions. In the grand history of such nations and empires, from Rome through all of Europe through to America, more decent God-fearing people have been martyred by those acting under the authority of the church then by all the enemies of the church combined.

It’s completely understandable then that many people are questioning the validity of Christianity as a faith, as a religion, as a lifestyle, as… well… anything based on the behaviour of those who claim to follow Jesus and his teachings. Not surprisingly, Jesus had something to say about this.

22Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!  (Matthew 7:22-23)

In my mind this verse (and others like it) should drive all the arrogance from any believer. Note that these people were doing all the things that we tend to associate with great faith. They cast out demons, they prophesied, they performed miracles, they did it all. So why does Jesus respond the way he does? I’m going to suggest they lacked one key ingredient to their faith.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Matthew 9:13)

On the surface this sounds kind of strange because didn’t God instruct the Jews in the offering of that would amount the thousands of sacrifices a year of everything from grain and oil to lambs and bulls? So, what gives? Paul puts it this way…

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

There wasn’t a whole lot of love or mercy on display in Washington this week.

One More Time…

It seems like I have been here a hundred times before but in reality it’s only about a dozen. Every year I decide it’s time to reboot the blog and every year I get distracted and end up ignoring it. So why am I trying again?

For the same reason a lot of people are trying to re-invent their lives; because 2020 sucked large and I need to figure out how I’m going forward. So let’s give this can one more kick shall we. Not sure what it’s going to look like or what I’ll have to say but I feel the need to write again, mostly just for me I guess.

So read it or don’t, stay or leave, come along or go elsewhere. But I’m going to be here posting whatever, whenever… one more time.