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.

One Shirley, Two Actors

I know… it’s been a while. But hey, when life does give you a few minutes to yourself – parking in front of the computer is rarely what you want to do as “down time”; so the blog stays idle until there’s a compelling reason to post something. Well, something has come up… so, here you go.

I’m sure many of you have seen, or have at least heard about, the movie Shirley Valentine. Before it was made into a movie in 1989, it was an amazing play written by Willy Russell. Starting the last Tuesday in April, 4thWall Productions will be staging a production of Russell’s play and they have invited me to design the soundscape for it. It’s what is sometimes referred to “in the biz” as a one-hander, which means there’s only one actor on stage for the whole play.

That’s one actor, delivering all the lines, for two hours, every show. And when there are two shows a day for five days in a row, that’s a lot of work; especially if, like most actors in Canada, you need to hold down a part-time or even a full time job just to pay the bills. Add in the kids, and soccer/hockey, and… well, you get the idea. What’s the solution? Before I answer that question, let me tell you a little about Shirley Valentine in case you are among the uninitiated.

Shirley is in a place a lot of us find ourselves at one point or another. She’s in her forties, her two kids have moved on, the bloom has fallen off the romance with her husband and when she takes the time to sit down and have a glass of wine and think about it, she’s saddened by the fact that life is not what she imagined it would be. She wonders where it all went sideways and what happened to all the dreams she had when she was younger. So she goes looking for them and also discovers, as a wise Greek philosopher once put it, “Dreams are never where you expect them to be.”dreams

So what happens? Well, that would be telling now, wouldn’t it?

But, back the solution: as my title suggests, the trick is one Shirley, but two actors! You get two people to share the role, trading off one performance to the next. In this case that also means two Jennifers; first, my good friend Jennifer Barson, whom I’ve enjoyed working with a number of times, and second, my new friend Jennifer Cornish, whom I certainly hope to work with again. Two great actors sharing one tremendous role to the delight of all. It’s a remarkable thing to watch them work. Same story, same dialog, same blocking, but, in a manner of speaking, two great plays. You may have to come see it twice!

So this is my invitation to you my faithful reader, to make your way to the Fergus Grand Theatre in, of all places, Fergus, Ontario and take in a remarkable show. Grab a date and enjoy an evening show together, or round up the book club and grab a matinée. It all starts on Tuesday, April 26th and runs two performances a day (2pm and 8pm) through to April 30th. Tickets are just $25.

To buy tickets online… CLICK HERE!


Jamie the Very Worst Missionary: “I need you” by Great White.

I’ve been reading Jamie’s blog for a while now and I am always touched by the intimate looks at her family life most. This one is a great encouragement to us all not to stifle creativity when we encounter it, whether in our children, our friends, or ourselves.

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary: “I need you” by Great White..

Do It Like Disney? Lessons the Church Could Learn.

I’ve never been to Disneyland or Disney World but as a kid the Wonderful World of Disney was a Sunday staple in our household. We would all sit in from of the TV eating roast beef sandwiches (leftovers from lunch) and enjoy the program week after week.

So when I read this post at Soul Caffeine I was washed over by a small wave of nostalgia, but I also found myself in agreement with his basic premise. What do you think?

What Church’s Could Learn From Disney

Shalom.. Dennis