Patrick Stewart

Blu-ray REVIEW: Dune (1984) by Holen MaGroin

Guest review by Holen MaGroin


DUNE (1984 Universal)

Directed by David Lynch

Frank Herbert’s seminal Dune is one of the most beloved and influential works of science fiction ever committed to paper. Despite its convoluted plot, world specific dialogue, and the presence of enough supporting characters to fill a football arena, readers have been captivated by the tale of lost humanity and political turmoil for over half a century.* The book’s epic length gave it the time it needed to develop compelling three-dimensional characters. Adapting such a complex story into a feature film proved to be so challenging that Arthur P. Jacobs, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ridley Scott all tried and failed to bring the book to the big screen. After three misfires, American surrealist director David Lynch was hired to helm the project in 1981. The film took three challenging years to produce, and upon completion, was a substantial critical and commercial failure.

In the years since its release in 1984, the film has developed a cult following, and for good reason. While it’s not everything a fan of the book would hope for, it’s certainly not as bad as it was made out to be upon its release. For people new to the series, the sheer amount of characters, alliances, and jargon can be overwhelming. Especially when Lynch was only given two hours with which to tell a five-hundred page novel. This is easily the weakest aspect of the movie. Much of the exposition is crammed in at the beginning of the film, and its delivery can best be described as clunky. The scene in which Emperor Shaddam IV explains his plan to destroy House Atreides to the Spacing Guild is so poorly written that it calls to mind a moment from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs in which the evil Lord Helmet turns to the camera after excessive exposition and asks the audience if they caught it all.

The sloppy exposition is exacerbated by the literal interpretation of Frank Herbert’s use of internal dialogue. Lynch’s decision to literally adapt the book’s internal dialogue by having the actors narrate each character’s thoughts and motivations is belligerent and awkward. The film too often relies on this internal dialogue that robs the movie of surprise and subtlety for the sake of clarity that it ironically fails to bring. Much of the dialogue is used to further the plot, as opposed to developing the characters. Certain characters are simplified out of necessity due to the relatively brief runtime, such as the formidable Harkonnens of the novel being turned into the disgusting cartoonish characters seen in this film. However, at only one-hundred thirty-seven minutes, the story could have been much more incoherent and disjointed than it ultimately was, but that doesn’t excuse it from being an underdeveloped mess.

While the story falters somewhat in comparison to the novel, it works surprisingly well taken on its own. Many of the theological questions of the book remain unexplored in the film adaptation, but the complex themes of political strife, globalism, and corruption are all addressed in the conflicts between the many groups gifted with power.  Each entity mistrusts the other, but must form uneasy alliances to stay afloat or to destroy common enemies covertly. The film balances these relationships remarkably well. Every group’s selfish motivation is made abundantly clear, yet each motivation prompts thought over their individual plans within plans.

Another area that the movie excels at is its tone. The novel had a very regal atmosphere, which the film captures in strides. It does a remarkable job at humanizing the bombast of the occasion. In a society where humans are trained more and more to act and perform like machines, the protagonist Paul Atreides triumphs with his innate sense of human morality and communal bonds with the Fremen. Kyle MacLachlan perfectly captures the innocence, the exuberance, and the pride of the character in the novel. Dune has a rich supporting cast including Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, and José Ferrer that help to elevate the material and capture its humanity.

Part of the film’s emotional success can be credited to the excellent score, contributed by Toto with one beautiful piece by Brian Eno. Toto fused orchestral arrangements with their instrumental rock prowess to create a hybrid score that is surprisingly exciting. It frames the most overblown scenes in a way that seems triumphant instead of pompous, and prevents the quiet emotional moments from buckling under the weight of the jargon. At the heart of all this technical jargon and political strife is a story about human characters, filled with human virtue, human emotions, and human desires. This score pulsates with humanity, and is something that Toto and Brian Eno should look at with pride.

The film also succeeds in its unique visual aesthetic that perfectly brings the spiritual and transcendental aspects of the novel to the screen with style. Thanks to the surrealistic tendencies of its director, this film is full of striking visual moments, particularly those that depict Paul’s prescient visions. The scene in which Paul takes the water of life in the desert and unlocks his full mental potential is especially breathtaking. It lacks the narrative depth of the novel, but makes up for it by explaining visually what the film’s clunky dialogue often failed to clarify on its own.

Dune is by no means a great film, and it doesn’t live up to the timeless reputation of the novel it’s based on. It is a cult classic from a decade known for producing its fair share of cult cinema. While many fans of the book and members of the general public look at this movie with disdain, I always walk away from it having been entertained, if left yearning for a better adaptation. We may get this adaptation now that Dennis Villeneuve is directing a new version of the film set to release in 2020. This 1984 version is flawed, and even its director calls it his worst film (I disagree; I think 1990’s Wild at Heart would take that position). The fact that I originally sought out the Dune novel because I was such a big David Lynch fan and wanted to read the book before seeing the film may paint me as a biased source, but I consider the positive attributes of the film Dune to (just barely) counteract the many negatives.

3/5 Sandworms

Author’s Note: Get the Blu-Ray if you’re going to watch it. It is a substantial improvement over any other version of the film. Dune was always a bit of an ugly duckling, but this Blu-Ray edition has gone the distance to clean up the visuals to present what is by far the best looking version of this film ever released. And whatever you do stay away from the 3 hour extended/T.V. cut that is so bad the director removed his name from the credits. It’s a butchered mess that mixes up the musical cues and needlessly edits material back in from the cutting room floor. The theatrical cut is the only version available on Blu-Ray, so it shouldn’t be too hard to avoid the bastardized extended version.

 

* Because of its generous detail and epic world-buildingLeBrain

 

 

Blu-ray REVIEW: Ted 2 (2015)

TED 2 (2015 Universal)

Directed by Seth McFarlane

What happens when you let a bunch of now-grown Star Trek nerds from the 80’s make a movie? Apparently, they make Ted.  If you let ’em do it twice, you get Ted 2.

I really don’t know how this works, but Ted 2 provides ample proof of its own Trek-nerdiness.  Forget the fact that the climax takes place at New York Comic-Con.  Do you realize how many Trek actors appear in Ted 2?

  • Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard), as he was in the first Ted, is the narrator.  (Don’t forget he is also currently CIA Deputy Director Bulloch on Seth McFarlane’s American Dad! )
  • Nana Visitor, better known as Major Kira Nerys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is an underrated performer with a good role here.  She still looks amazing.
  • LeVar Burton (Geordie LaForge) appears in a brief clip from Roots as Kunta Kinte, but I’m still counting it.
  • Pushing it here, but Ron Canada (from Canada!), who plays the judge in Ted 2, did guest shots on three different Star Trek series.
  • Best of all is Michael Dorn (Lt. Worf) as Rick; gay lover to Patrick Warburton’s Guy.  Took me a while to pick up on the fact that it was Michael Dorn.  Only when he showed up in uniform at Comic-Con did it sink in!
Dorn and Warburton as...well, you know who.

Dorn and Warburton as…well, you know who.

So: McFarlane likes Star Trek.  That’s obvious.  He likes a lot of stuff, and Ted 2 is less a story than a running series of references to other movies.  From Jurassic Park to the cheesy ending to Contact, these characters walk and talk quoting movies all the friggin’ time.  It’s all they do!  One thing you will see and hear less of going forward:  Star Wars in any McFarlane production.  According to the audio commentary, the friendly relationship that Seth used to have with Lucasfilm has vanished since they were sold, and Disney have made it pretty clear that further collaborations will not be happening.  So you can kiss the idea of a Family Guy: The Force Awakens goodbye.

Unfortunately, characters that quote stuff is as deep as it gets.  Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny has divorced Mila Kunis, because she was trying to change him too much.  Well, yeah…that was the whole plot of Ted 1.  Wahlberg wanted to grow up and marry Mila.  Now he decides that’s actually not what he wanted, after fighting for it so hard in the first movie.  In Ted 2, we see Marky Mark hanging around with Ted a lot, and we see him getting into plenty of hijacks, but Mark Wahlberg is little more than a non-character sidekick in this one.  Ted is Ted; a foul-mouthed Peter Griffin who gets away with it by being a teddy bear.  Newcomer Amanda Seyfried steals the movie with her likeable lawyer character, Sam L. Jackson.  And yes, she has not heard of the actor Samuel L. Jackson, nor does she pick up on any of Ted and Johnny’s movie quotes, and that’s the driving force of the trio’s interactions.  Seyfried is a wonderfully talented actress with a very expressive face, and she easily outclasses everyone she’s in a scene with (except obviously Morgan Freeman).  To her credit she’s a good sport about her famous large blue eyes.  They are the butt of a few jokes in the movie — the best ones actually.  Seyfried is obviously a good shit and I bet she’s fun to have a beer with.  She also gets to sing, and that award-winning voice performs the original theme song “Mean Ol’ Moon”.

The plot, such as it is, was inspired by the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man”; I shit you not.  This is even acknowledged by McFarlane in the commentary.  Ted and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) have been married a while but it’s not working out.  So, they do what every struggling couple in America does to heal their relationship:  have a kid.  At first, you think the movie will be about Ted and Marky Mark getting into hijinks and capers, trying to steal donor sperm from demigods like Tom Brady.   Then it awkwardly shifts to a legal slant, with Ted having to prove he is a person and not property in a court, just like Lt. Data did in Star Trek.  Data had Captain Picard to defend him, and McFarlane says that Amanda Seyfriend’s opening comments in the courtroom scene were inspired by Picard’s.

In Star Trek, if Data were declared to be property, then Starfleet could have cut him open to mass produce intelligent androids to serve as a working class.  In Ted 2, Giovanni Ribisi’s evil Donny wants to do something similar.  He convinces Hasbro that they can take Ted, and cut him open to see what makes him tick, and repeat the magic.  Billions of dollars would be made.  All this hinges on him being declared property in court.  There would be few repercussions for Hasbro to steal a teddy bear, compared to a person, to dissect it!

You have to give McFarlane credit for a great Mel Brooks-inspired opening musical number, and a brawl finale.  You have to admire Amanda Seyfried’s abilities, and Pantene Pro V-perfect hair.  Otherwise Ted 2 is a lazy retread.  I don’t mean “lazy” in the sense that it wasn’t hard work.  It clearly was hard work making this movie, doing the perfect CG bear and motion capture.  The reason we don’t talk about the bear much is that he seems perfectly real at all times.  No, I mean “lazy” in the writing.  There are plenty of funny jokes, situations, and lines.  There are no characters we care or even know much about.  How did Seyfried’s Sam, age 26, become a lawyer who can play guitar and sing better than 95% of the ladies currently in the top 40, all while suffering debilitating migraines that require her to constantly smoke marijuana?  How???  It’s hard to get involved in the characters when they’re so obviously not human, and I’m not referring to Ted!  How does Marky Mark support himself?  Does he still have a job?  We never see him at work.

Best gag:  A Liam Neeson cameo.  Stay tuned for the post credit scene.

Special features:  Unrated version of the movie, audio commentary, gag real, deleted scenes (mostly alternate lines from scenes in the movie), and plenty of making-of featurettes.  The “Creating Comic-Con” feature was interesting, from a Trek nerd point of view.  Check out how they made that giant starship Enterprise that hangs from the ceiling.  It’s just based on a model that McFarlane had on his desk!

Blu-ray annoyance:  These text info-boxes advertising other movies pop up on every menu, unless you specifically look for the setting that turns them off.  That’s…mildly vexatious.

Stupid infobox.

Stupid infobox.

Joke tagline: Ted 2 – more of the same, but now with Seyfried!  Whose last name I can now pronounce correctly, thanks to the commentary.

3/5 stars

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ted (2012 blu-ray)

“Death to Ming!” – Sam Jones

TED FRONTTED (Universal, 2012, directed by Seth MacFarlane)

I don’t often go out to the store to buy a movie on the first day of release anymore, but I did for Ted.  I grabbed it at the local Best Buy and immediately popped it in, since I missed its theatrical run.  I’m a Seth MacFarlane fan, see?  I like Family Guy and recently American Dad too.  If you don’t like those shows, chances are, you probably won’t like Ted either.  May as well stop reading now.

Still with me?  Good.  Because this is a fuckin’ funny movie!  Once you get past the concept of the walking talking driving tweeting teddy bear who loves coke and prostitutes.

Patrick Stewart narrarates our intro, as we meet John Bennett, a little Star Wars loving boy who gets a teddy bear for Christmas.  He doesn’t have many friends, so one night he wishes that Teddy was alive.  Connect the dots from here.

Ted becomes a world famous superstar phenomenon (Johnny Carson show and all), only to crash and burn hard by the 1990’s.  Now today, he sits on John’s couch drinking beer, smoking pot, watching Flash Gordon; the 1980 bomb that starred Sam J. Jones as the titular Flash.  And once again, the lush strains of “Flash”, by Queen, fills the room.  This is all fine and dandy until Mila Kunis (insert hot girlfriend way too good for immature boyfriend here) says enough is enough.  If Marky Mark and Mila are to stay together, Ted’s gotta move out and get his own place.

Their lives pretty much go down hill from there.  Ted gets a job at the local grocer and starts banging a checkout girl on top of the lettuce.  But John just can’t separate himself from his best bud, especially when Sam J. Jones himself turns up to party with the boys.   Can John achieve the balance between friendship and domestic bliss that eludes him?

Throw in an evil, creepy stalker played perfectly by Giovanni Ribisi, and cameos by Norah Jones and Ted Danson as themselves, and you have a movie.

I’m not going to sit here and lie to you by saying that this is substantially different from any other bro-mances you’ve seen out there.  There’s the girl who’s fed up, the jerky male romantic rival, and the two dudes, one of whom wants to get his life together while the other seemingly holds him back.  If you’ve watched Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, or Seth Rogen films, you know where I’m going.

What makes Ted so much better than any of those movies (which I already like anyway) is MacFarlane himself.  Yes, Ted does sound like Peter Griffin (even acknowledged in the film) but that voice just works for this bear!  Ted is easily one of the sickest, yet lovable characters in cinema history.  A horny drug using teddy bear has never been depicted on film before, as far as I know.  Of course, Ted needs Johnny as much as Johnny needs Ted.  They are a movie pair, and they can never be happy apart.

The blu-ray gives you the “unrated” (boobs) and theatrical versions.  There’s a DVD, a digital copy, all that extra crap that I never use.  Deleted scenes, gag reels, commentary, all that good stuff.   Still, there’s no point buying a movie unless you plan on watching it more than once.  I’ve watched Ted five times so far, and I still love it.

I guess I have a thing for f-bomb dropping teddy bears that sound like Peter Griffin.  What does that make me?  Ahh, who cares.

4.5/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: The Captains (2011)

This review is for Sebastien!

CAPTAINS 1

THE CAPTAINS (2011, directed by William Shatner)

Who else but William Shatner should do a documentary on all the major Star Trek captains and the people who played them? Shatner obviously knows the rigors of a weekly TV series, and the impact that Star Trek has on a career. With that in mind, Shatner boards a Bombardier jet to speak with Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine.

William Shatner is excellent as an interested, intelligent interviewer. Just watch him with Patrick Stewart. Listen to his questions, as he probes. These are some of the best, deepest Star Trek interviews you will ever see. Shatner clearly has a talent for conversation. This is a remarkable side of the man that has carefully crafted a later image as a funny guy. The only place he awkwardly stumbles is with Avery Brooks.  Brooks, also a very intelligent man, chooses to answer many of his questions by tinkling away at a piano. That must have been strange….

If you are a fan of Star Trek, old generation, next generation, any generation, then this movie is recommended. It will certainly help you get to know and appreciate these great actors who played the captains. William Shatner accomplishes this with an appropriate mix of humour (watch how he meets Kate Mulgrew) and feeling. Mix into that some wonderful footage of him clowning around at conventions, too.

Great film. Shatner’s best directorial offering.

4/5 stars