Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sands of time

I'm one of those people who really likes Dune (1984), David Lynch's neither-fish-nor-fowl adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic. Far too expensive to be a "head" movie, but far too expansive for multiplexes, it's the sort of movie where the ushers handed out a glossary of terms before it began, as if that would help. (All it did, I'm sure, was exasperate viewers hoping to plop themselves down in front of a typical Christmas season diversion.) Lynch tried to conform to Hollywood convention, like, for example, casting fine actors, but no real stars, except maybe a feral Sting (pictured) in his post-Police days. There are plenty of terrific special effects, but they're mostly weird and squishy. It meets the audience halfway, but no more. And so it ate Beverly Hills Cop's dust (Eddie Murphy in his prime, but the appeal of that franchise was too basic for my rarefied tastes). My sophisticated college friends made fun of me for appreciating its otherworldly merits, and when the way-out-there Blue Velvet hit it big two years later few viewers took a retrospective look back. (It has a certain "Velvety" texture, but for the uninitiated is too ponderous to ponder. The DVD edition includes a longer, ersatz version that sweeps footage off the cutting room floor; Lynch, however, had nothing to do with the clumsy editing.)

In 2000 the Sci-Fi Channel aired a TV miniseries that took its time to spell things out more clearly, and I like it very much, particularly Vittorio Storaro's inventive-as-always cinematography, which gave the more modestly budgeted production a lift. It was a deserved hit. The sequel, Children of Dune, was a mash-up mess, but the fault, if one can assign blame, is Herbert's for not sticking with any sort of embraceable narrative.

And there it stood: A movie that no one thought could be made from a difficult source, but was, and made for a cult flop, and a middle-of-the-road TV film. So I almost fell out of my chair this morning when Variety revealed that another feature film version is in the works. It's from the producers of the TV one and director Peter Berg, whose Mideast melodrama The Kingdom made my worst films list last year. Apparently it will be a "green" version, with the work's ecological sentiments brought to the forefront. Hoo boy, I can hear the turnstiles clicking in anticipation of that. Audiences that made deserts of theaters showing good-for-us Iraq movies are unlikely to return to sandy Arrakis for preaching about our environmental ills, and I doubt that Berg (a studio hack) will finesse the exposition and elements that thwarted the first theatrical go-round.

The feeling must be that the books, movie, and TV films have accumulated enough mass in the popular culture to justify the effort at another bigscreen stab at the material. What I presage, like the seers in the storyline, is a blunt, sledgehammer, CGI thing on the cards, if it gets airborne. Still, I should dig up my glossary and prepare copies for a new audience likely to be puzzled all over again, but in a different, inevitably less intriguing way.

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