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 Scientific Foreknowledge of the Jewish Sages

There’s a new book out by Israeli professor of engineering at Ben Gurion University, Haim Shore, called “Coincidences in the Bible and in Biblical Hebrew” that I think I’m going to see if I can get a digital download for my reader. In it Shore examines a number of remarkable instances of ancient Jewish sages contemplating notions passed down through their scriptures and traditions that lead them to some remarkably accurate scientific conclusions. And they did it all without experimentation or even clinical observation hundreds and even thousands of years before scientific discipline caught up with them.

Author Adam Jacobs give an intriguing review of the book in the following article for The Algemeiner. You can check out Jacobs’ review at the following link…

The Scientific Foreknowledge of the Jewish Sages.

My thanks to Dr. Claude Mariottini for bringing the article to my attention.

John Carter of Mars – 100 Years Later

When I was a kid there were two books that served to make me a life long reader. The first was Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”, the second was “A Princess of Mars” the first book in the Barsoom Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Barsoom is Burrough’s fictional local name for the planet we call Mars. The planet first appeared in the story “Under the Moons of Mars” serialized in All-Story Magazine  in 1912. It’s the story of a Confederate Civil War captain named John Carter who finds himself mysteriously transported to the planet Mars and gets caught up in the warfare happening there between the different races competing for control of Barsoom. Not unexpectedly, he also gets caught in the arms of the princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris.

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the novel’s publication Disney will be releasing it’s John Carter Movie early next year. I’m really looking forward to it as I still enjoy rereading the series from time to time. Most industry mags say it’s the most expensive movie Disney has ever made and, visually at least, the trailer would seem to back that up.

Now, lets just hope they didn’t spend all that money screwing the story up.

Resistance vs Pacifism: a Biblical view

Jesus And Nonviolence: a third wayI would like to admit up front that I have always had something of a problem with the traditional pacifist interpretation of Jesus’ command in Matthew 5, “Do not resist an evil-doer.”  It has always seemed to me rather like the Prime Directive of Star Trek’s Federation; a convenient excuse to do nothing and just stay out of the way. Too often in the history of the church it has done just that, standing idly by while the downtrodden are oppressed all in the name of ‘turn the other cheek.”

I have just finished reading Walter Wink’s book “Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way” and I have to say few books have ever thrilled and challenged me so much. It’s only 103 pages (small pages at that) but each page caused me to rethink years of teaching that I have received on passive-resistance. Consider the following:

When a church that has not lived out a costly identification with the oppressed offers to mediate between hostile parties, it merely adds to the total impression that it wants to stay above the conflict and not take sides. The church says to the lion and the lamb, “Here, let me negotiate a truce,” to which the lion replies, “Fine, after I finish my lunch.

This message [Matthew 5:38-41], far from being a counsel of perfection unattainable in this life, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed. It provides a hint of how to take on the entire system in a way that unmasks its essential cruelty and to burlesque its pretensions to justice, law, and order.” [Square brackets mine for clarity]

When we demonize our enemies, calling them names and identifying them with absolute evil, we deny that they have that of God within them that makes transformation possible. Instead, we play God. We write them out of the Book of Life. We conclude that our enemy has drifted beyond the redemptive hand of God.”

This is my first exposure to Walter Wink and that may be more of a statement to my reclusivity than his obscurity, but I will certainly be searching out his other titles in the future.

I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a Biblical stance on social justice. Actually, even if you’re not looking you should read this anyway and start.

Shalom.

Jesus and nonviolence: a third way – Walter Wink – Google Books.

Why Christians Can’t Agree About Christian Fiction

Let me begin by saying that for many years I was not a reader of Christian fiction. I usually found it incredibly bland with predictable plots, two dimensional charcters, and storylines that all ended with exactly the same result – bad/unsaved guy/girl gives his/her life to the Lord. I stayed away from it like the lactose intolerant avoid Dairy Queen.

Authors like Mike Duran are changing that. Smart, imaginative plots, characters and storylines with unpredictable endings. Problem is for some people they aren’t “Christian enough”. Mike is also a great blogger and the following article touches on the two camps he’s observed in Christian fiction. Check it out and then come back.

Why Christians Can’t Agree About Christian Fiction.

As someone who reads a fair bit and has even written about fiction here, I’m curious; which camp do you fall into? Holiness or Honesty? Or do you percive a third camp? Do you read Christian fiction at all?

Answer in the comments.