Sunday, January 29, 2012

RUTZ Classic Movies: DUNE

Directed by David Lynch

 Line that stays with me:  “Without change something sleeps inside us and seldom wakens”

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together.

I want to start this essay by saying, please watch this film on Blu-Ray. I don’t think any other format has done this film justice. A mighty epic hidden under murky darkness, technology has saved this film. Without Blu-Ray, Dune is a hard film to love. You can’t see all the details and everything looks muggy even in the DVD version. So please do yourself a favor and watch it on Blu-Ray, give a feast to your eyes. Too much to look at it, I promise. 

Dune is the sore thumb in the Lynch catalog. He’s even admitted that maybe he shouldn’t have directed it and the film as it stands is not truly his cut. There have been rumors of a director’s cut for years and till this day, nothing. I don’t think he wants to go back there.  Can’t blame him, that was over twenty years ago and when you watch the film on BLU RAY!...You will know he did more than put his time in. This is the film he decided to direct instead of “Return of the Jedi” (George Lucas offered David Lynch to direct “Return of the Jedi”, crazy 80’s) I’m glad he did, because he got to make a sci-fi epic that was oddly enough truly tailored for him. 

Now let’s get things straight, Dune was not a simple “Work for hire” film for Lynch.  This is a personal epic, told through the classic Frank Herbert’s novel Dune.  David Lynch wrote the screenplay and his voice is heard all throughout the film. Luckily Frank Herbert and David Lynch have similar visions. It’s a very interesting match especially now after watching more of Lynch’s offerings.

Lynch, always the painter, never puts up one ugly frame on the screen. The set designs, costumes, and makeup have been put together with precise care. It’s a joy for me to just watch the colors on the screen and how great they complement each other.  Those visual treats can especially be enjoyed in the various wide shots in the film. Pause the film during one of those great wide shots and catch the massive amount of work that has gone into this film which you probably have never noticed. Only major flaws are the special effects but hey it was the 80’s! At least the special effects are effective (Those worms look serious.) the same cannot be said about every CGI mess that comes out these days.  Many of the film’s important moments happen in dream sequences, something which David Lynch has now mastered, that “Dream Sense” in his films. If you truly want to understand Dune on another level, pay attention to those dream sequences. It’s all about the images.  

What makes David Lynch’s Dune so exciting to watch though is the same energy that makes all his film exciting to watch, he’s not afraid to make a FUCKING MOVIE! I don’t know what it is these days, filmmakers have become wimps, afraid to make a movie a MOVIE, and instead we get crappy personal sappy sad stories that we are supposed to “relate” to.  Watch “2012” if you want a sample of that nonsense. Heroes in movies used to be just that, heroes, we’re supposed to be watching a “Hero’s Journey”.  Great directors know that you have to take a risk and make people believe in some crazy shit. Whether it’s Indiana Jones or Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) great films don’t tell you about a sad story, it shows it to you, that way you and film are on the same page.  This is where Dune truly excels, it’s not afraid to be a movie with its over the top dialog and score. It plays every scene with epic intentions as it should.

Great Over the top dialog examples: Let’s enjoy them, thank you David Lynch!

·         Gurney Halleck: Behold, as a wild ass in the desert, go I forth to my work.
·         Paul: Father... father, the sleeper has awakened!
·         Piter De Vries: It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
·         Gurney Halleck: Not in the mood? Mood's a thing for cattle and loveplay, not fighting!
·         Baron Harkonnen: He who controls the Spice, controls the universe!
·         Alia: And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!
·         Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV: Bring in that floating fat man, the Baron!
·         Paul: I remember your gom jabbar, now you'll remember mine. I can kill with a word.
·         David Lynch Cameo: But sire we can’t leave all this spice.  (Every time I hear that line I instantly become the happiest person in the world, and the line that comes after that puts me over the top: DAMN THE SPICE! )  

Dune is the story of young Paul Atreides, the chosen one who must rise up against the evil Baron Harkonnen, save his people and avenge his father’s death. It takes place in the year 10,191 and the film’s outlandish theme was created by Brian Eno, now doesn’t that sound epic. Every scene in the film plays out with that sort of bravado. Whether it’s the voiceovers from various characters, or Patrick Stewart charging into war with a Pug in hand (Classic!) the film never distracts you with “Reality” instead it pulls you in with its compelling characters, twisting storyline and powerful images. It helps that David Lynch knows how to create a great villain. In this film, Baron Harkonnen, with all those disgusting pimples gushing with pus, is one of the nastiest villains ever put on screen. It makes rooting for Paul very easy and gets you wrapped up in the story. These elements I’m speaking of are the fundamentals of a great film. Not being afraid to show people another world, and delivering that vision with hardcore dedication. Movies (Documentaries not included) should not be too concerned with “Reality” but more concerned with a “Reality” maybe one we can’t see, thus letting us dream. I believe filmmakers should take us to another place and time. Make that place real and let us be voyeurs. There is nothing worse than a sappy movie trying to “connect” with you, with characters you don’t give a damn about.  Dune talks like a movie, acts like a movie, sounds like a movie and looks like a movie, wish more new film directors had Lynch’s balls. Nothing is spoon fed in DUNE you must use your brain to keep up and to truly discover all the mysteries within.  

The last thing I want to say about this classic film is that it is my favorite coming of age story. Maybe because the coming of age story is so hidden, just like it is in real life. Many people say The Graduate (Great Movie) is their favorite coming of age story but I’m not the college type and its message is too direct for me. Unfortunately, coming to terms with your future and the man you will become is not. It is very hazy and complicated becoming a man. Paul goes through it in Dune, just like we do. From losing his father, to rising into a bigger position in life, he faces this and more all the while scared yet hopeful. Just like us he must concern himself with war, while still trying to answer the simple/complex question: “Who am I”. That’s where I think Dune succeeds like some sort of miracle. You are trying to grow up, to become the man (Or Woman), many people want you to be and even you want to be, but you don’t know yourself that well yet, you do not know if you are up for the task plus there’s a war and innocent people are dying. Paul dreams and wakes up searching for signs, looking for that next step in his life, and there’s no Yoda. Just his dreams, his parent’s guidance (Some of us don’t have that) and pure hope. That’s where Dune succeeds and mirrors itself with its striking images. The dark beautiful truth of becoming a man, you will do it all by yourself. 

ABOUT RCM: Rutz Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: John Carpenter's In The Mouth Of Madness

Monday, January 16, 2012


Directed by Wes Anderson

Line that stays with me: “I still wish I could breathe underwater” 

Essay Warning: There are no spoilers or story details. I want to offer the emotion that a film can access within us. Plus I think the best way to watch a film is by not knowing anything about it. Just Go In…So if you haven’t watched this film yet please don’t read this essay. Read it afterwards so we can enjoy the “feeling” together. 

I’ve been trying to write this essay for almost two weeks now. The only explanation why I have taken this long to write what seems to be a simple film essay, is the fact that this film encompasses many aspects of my life. This film, when released, was my own personal Star Wars. I watched it five times at my local cinema and yes I paid each time. This film to me is a dream come true and a sad swan song of sorts, since it will be a while before anyone will get $65 million to make a film of its caliber.

“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” came out in the winter of 2004. It didn’t win any awards and it tanked at the box office. Wes Anderson took a huge risk bringing this film to the screen. This is the film he followed up after the success of “The Royal Tenebaums”. That film made over $50 million at the box office and got nominated for a few Academy Awards. So I’ve to come believe that after the success of “The Royal Tenebaums” Wes Anderson was offered the “Do whatever you want director deal” which many have squandered (The Postman, Heaven’s Gate, Matrix Reloaded just to name a few.)

All “wanna be” directors dream of that day; the day some company gives you a crazy amount of money to make whatever film you want. Seriously, how else could one explain how somebody got to make a film that takes place in water (budget no-no) shot in Fellini’s Cinecitta Studios and stars Bill Murray, who has not been box office gold in the last decade or so (The Man Who Knew Too Little, nuff said.) Wes Anderson took a risk. He could’ve played it safe but he chose not to and I believe he did it for us. That’s why I look at this film and many great films that require sacrifice as gifts. 

The gift of “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is that it offers us a chance to be children again. There’s a reason for the unique color scheme that makes it seems like you are watching a Nickelodeon cartoon. For God’s sake the film’s score composer long time Wes Anderson collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh use to score the Nickelodeon cartoon “Rugrats”. A mood, and feeling, of childhood are embedded in this film. Many of the creatures on the screen are animated and the soundtrack is always jubilant. One of the greatest moments in the film is watching Bill Murray feed a beautiful Killer Whale. Scenes like that or the one that takes place up on a hot air balloon, are pure child like moments. Later you realize that scene is really about a girl interviewing her childhood hero and what a beautiful way to interview someone you use to hold up so high. 

You can look at the film as an adventure. The great adventure that very few of us our offered in life, which is freedom. Steve Zissou got to travel the world and be a celebrity. The very dreams that kids have today and I’m sure many of us had. On a boat in open sea with your best friends and that’s all you do for a living. It’s hard to even imagine a life like that. It reminded me of drawings I made as a kid of me and my friends living under the same roof. Our heroes get to live that life for us and create art. Another beauty of the film is basically embracing that lifestyle. A life spent creating entertainment for people. People that later look up to you.

The heroes we look up to. How many of you out there are afraid to meet your heroes? This film basically shows a boy and girl meeting their childhood hero. Which is such a great question for a film, to test, simply ask yourself, who was your hero when you were 5 years old. Now imagine dropping into that person’s life right now and finding out all the sad truths of their lives. Which I think would be the case if I walked into Jim Carrey’s life right now.

Most people in the entertainment industry don’t live a simple life. They have the power to get up and do things that we can only dream of. In most cases that power corrupts some of their ideals along the way. I’m not pleading a case for celebrities but we do have a unique relationship with our heroes since we are ones that gave them the “power”; this film tries to understand the effects of that relationship. All with the cheeriness and joy of a child to not make the film’s subject too dreary. That is such a rare and beautiful idea that it drives me mad. We adore them; they get fame and fortune but can never live the “normal” life of having a family and a home. Steve Zissou does not know the pleasure of reading a book to his unborn child, he lived like a rock star, even had an African Mistress thus he could never imagine being a father. That’s the life he’s afraid of and can not understand because he’s chosen to live, to be our hero, to be our rock star.

In the back of his mind, I’m sure Steve wonders what his life would have been like if he was part of his son’s life but he will never know because of the lifestyle he chose. A lifestyle that many of us want our heroes to live, subconsciously some of us consciously, we want them to be crazy for us. Any legendary artist has that to their credit. From Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson, our heroes have had their moment of pure wonderful madness. We wonder why they do these crazy things that are so damn interesting. I’ll end this review with 2 things that show Wes Anderson’s brilliance for empathy. In the last scene of the film you watch Steve Zissou pick up Klause’s nephew Werner and put him up on his shoulders. Maybe like he always wanted to and he finally got a perfect chance. The last thing is a verse from one of the songs in the film “30th Century Man” by Scott Walker. “See the dwarf and see the Giant, which one would you choose to be”. 

ABOUT RCM: Rutz Classic Movies is dedicated on writing film essays for films that in Rutz's opinion, have not gotten the credit they deserve. Next Essay: David Lynch’s Dune