Why the classic movie DUNE is a hot mess

I remember watching DUNE in the theater and thinking, “Whoah.”

Then again, I was a whippersnapper with no taste when it first came out. So on Old Movie Night, we popped in DUNE and fired it up.

Oh my.

There’s no doubt that DUNE is a hot mess. The question is, why?

Suspect No. 1: Horribly Cheesy Special Effects

This is a good place to start. You can’t excuse David the Lynch for not having access to better special effects, not when this movie came out after all three of the original STAR WARS movies were out.

Check out the trailer and tell me the effects are up to snuff, even for the era.

So, the effects in DUNE are Dr. Who-level lame. You expect the rocks to some styrofoam they bought off the old Star Trek set.

But bad effects aren’t the main reason this film is a hot mess. An audience will forgive bad effects if the story and characters are compelling.

Suspect No. 2: All Kinds of Crazytown

You don’t hire David the Lynch to direct a normal movie. You hire him to spice things up and go a little nuts.

Being absurdly weird can earn your movie cult status, with college kids playing it simply for the biggest excesses and worst moments of wackadoodle.

Moderately good or bad things are mediocre and boring. Give me stuff that's horrifically good or amazingly bad, then we'll talk. Kthxbai.

Moderately good or bad things are mediocre and boring. Give me stuff that’s horrifically good or amazingly bad, then we’ll talk. Kthxbai.

Then again, the tough part is once you base-jump off the Cliff of Normalcy, there’s no guarantee your chute will open.

And this film sprints away from Normal, stiff-arms Edgy and slides right into Bizarre.

This is half of the reason the film is a hot mess. You’re constantly distracted, sometimes by the bad effects, but more often by the weird, bizarre and gross sideshows that don’t truly move the story. The Baron Harkonnen’s massive zits get a ton of screen time. The Guild Navigators are grotesque. The bad guy troops have reverse mohawk hairdoes while the good guys wear surplus World War II uniforms. It’s constantly and consciously odd, which pulls you out of the story.

But if the story kept moving, I wouldn’t have had time to focus on all the weirdness.

Suspect No. 3: Ponderously Beating the Audience with the Cudgel of Pretentiousness

This is the true culprit.

Audiences will believe in sorcerers and elves if you don’t explain them. They’ll buy lightsabers and aliens who are into M & M’s — but not if you get pretentious and deep trying to explain all those things.

See, audiences want to believe. If you set things up from the start, they’ll stick with you. What you can’t do is (a) switch mid-way though a normal book or movie to say “Hey, actually the hero is a vampire. Surprise!” (b) commit the Hollywood sin of double-mumbo jumbo — trying to have a story that’s about dragons and trolls … plus space witches with lightsabers or (c) constantly stop the story to intrude with pretentious narration and dialogue that’s on the nose.

It’s that last sin that DUNE commits right away, with a long narration setting things up following be another and another and another.

Every time the story moves forward two inches, somebody has to stop to explain it to the audience for three minutes, as if we aren’t smart enough to watch the story and understand.  It feels less like a movie and more like a lecture. Then the credits roll.

I bet there’s a supercut of DUNE somewhere, a lot like STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM EDIT where some kind person sliced out all the boring nonsense, like Jar Jar Binks and all the talkative scenes where George Lucas is patiently over-explaining things to you and ruining the Force forever by saying it’s caused by space bacteria or whatever. No.

DUNE breaks new ground with the Unnecessary Voiceovers by having every actor whisper a voice-over of what they’re thinking, which is usually stuff the audience already knows, but hey, beat them on the head with it again.

Which is too bad. There are great actors in here like Kyle MacLachlanPatrick StewartSting and Jürgen Prochnow. A less wacky, less ponderous film with the same cast would have been awesome, even with the same cheesy special effects. It would also be far shorter and more watchable.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, The Big Screen

Why boy bands — and girl bands — will haunt us forever and ever

Why is there an endless supply of cheesy all-boy bands?

The thing is, there always has been, and always will be. Because they are meeting a market demand for a demographic that will never, ever go away: tweenagers. Specifically, tweenage girls.

Smart music moguls know this. They also are smart enough to realize that a bunch of 16 to 20-something boys are far, far more likely to hang around playing Call of Duty for 12 hours a day instead of sweating out dance moves while planning possible world tours.

They also know that a group of good-looking singers, male or female, is inherently more attractive than a single singer. There’s science to this. There’s also the fact that a solo artist means betting against them going to rehab, firing you as their manager, deciding to become a punk rock singer or otherwise turning into the Justin Bieber monster of today and losing all his fans.

But if you’ve got choreographers, songwriters and PR people on staff, then hey, you’ve got a machine, a license to print money, and all you need are some good-looking kids with some talent. And it’s actually not smart to bet everything on what you think is your most talented quartet of boys, because tastes in music are fickle for grownups, much less tweenage girls. If you’ve got a factory capable of cranking out boy bands, the best thing to do is keep on cranking them out, because soon enough, the boys will (a) get too old for your demographic or (b) your best singer will go solo and (c) the band will die.

We saw this with the ’90s with bands. But it’s just as true today. One Direction is a reality-show band put together by Simon Cowell’s machine.

And to be honest, girl bands are the same thing, aimed at the same demographic. Think it’s tweenage boys going to Spice Girl concerts or all these Japanese girl bands? Nope. It’s tweenage girls.

This makes perfect sense. Fans of action movies will show up at the megaplex and buy $9 popcorn whether the hero shooting zombies is a muscled tough guy or a hot-but-tough girl. Genre, not gender, determines audience.

When you get older, and hit college, you start to develop taste and would rather die than get caught listening to a NKOTB song. Instead of becoming popular by following the tweenage herd, you seek popularity by being a hipster who only listens to indie bands nobody’s heard of, bands you adore and then abandon at the first sign of success. THIS IS THE LAW.

So though I enjoy making fun of boy bands (and girl bands) as much as anyone, you have to admire how producers create and package these machines. It takes a village to raise a boy band, and to count all the profits before they implode. But by then, you’re on the next one.

Related posts: Music Video Monday’s Greatest Hits

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award. Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 2 Music Video Monday

SELFIE by The Chainsmokers is timely and brilliant

Nothing is more trendy now than taking a selfie. Everybody’s doing it: teenagers, movie stars, rock stars, wannabe stars, your grandma, Ellen at the Oscars.

It’s a selfie pandemic.

This music video nails the whole selfie trend. Added bonus: the song rocks and the video is spot-on.

Warning: there’s a bad word or two in here, if that sort of thing puts you in therapy.

Related posts: Music Video Monday’s Greatest Hits

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award. Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 2 Music Video Monday

Why THE LEGO MOVIE works like magic

Movies based on toys, or cartoons from the ’80s designed to sell toys, tend to suck like Electrolux.

THE LEGO MOVIE is a happy exception to this rule. It’s worth talking about how they accomplished that trick.

They didn’t do it with snazzy special effects and big-name actors. Just about every film based on toys has great CGI explosions and big actors who aren’t so big that they won’t cash a giant check: BATTLESHIP had Liam Neeson, TRANSFORMERS had Megan Fox, G.I. JOE movies have had the Rock and Bruce Willis.

What makes this movie about interlocking bricks any different?

Reason Number 1: The Humility to Make Fun of Yourself

You don’t see the other toy movies doing this. They try hard–too hard–to be serious, and real, and only tangentially related to all the toys they want your kids to buy.

THE LEGO MOVIE has the guts to poke fun at itself, not once or twice, but during the entire film. Relentlessly. Brutally. Hilariously.

Reason Number 2: Subverting and Smashing Conventional Storytelling

This is the real secret. THE LEGO MOVIE picks up typical Hollywood structure by the throat and body slams it to the asphalt.

A normal action movie features a cartoon hero (Schwarzenegger or Stallone, Bruce Lee or Bruce Willis) who’s tough and cool in Act 1 and doesn’t change by Act 3. In fact, this hero doesn’t change, suffer or grow in any of the sequels.

Instead, the writers of this movie picked a hero who’s an Everyman that the prophecy says will become great and powerful, and save the world … except he never really gets those powers, and the prophet (Morgan Freeman!) admits in the end that he made it all up. There is no prophecy.

In parallel, the screenwriters take Batman, who stands in for your typical cool/tough hero, and show that he’s actually a hot mess. Is he still tough and capable? Sure. But you see the real man behind the façade, and it’s funny and insightful.

The villain is where the writers truly nail it.

In a typical action movie, there’s a cartoon villain doing evil things for no apparent reason other than he’s a villain and that’s what they do. Then in the finale, the hero kills the villain in a dramatic one-on-one gunfight, swordfight or fistfight.

Not this time.

The villain in the Lego world is President Business, whose secret identity is Lord Business, and his evil plan is to freeze the Legos into position with his super weapon, the Kragle (Krazy Glue) while the hero is the only one who can stop him with the Piece of Resistance (the cap to the Krazy Glue).

The writers make the bold choice to break POV here, to switch over to the real world for the first time, showing a little boy playing with a city of Legos in the basement. It’s a museum that his father set up, with signs everywhere warning against not touching what has been perfectly constructed based on the exact instructions.

These aren’t toys, his father tells him. They’re interconnecting plastic construction modules.

In real life and the Lego world, the hero doesn’t win by killing the villain, who has the upper hand. There’s no miracle comeback by the good guys.

The Lego hero echoes the language of the little boy and convinces Lord Business / Dad in Real Life that he doesn’t have to do this, that he’s the most amazing and talented person, who could build anything, and that it doesn’t have to be this way.

There’s an acid test for any story, when you’re trying to figure out who’s the hero. Sometimes, it’s not obvious.

In this movie, the person who makes the biggest leap is the villain, who gains insight and makes the decision to reverse course and allow his son (and daughter) to play with what had become a Lego museum, a no-fun zone.

A brave and brilliant choice, and to me, that’s what makes the movie different.

Bonus featurette:

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Leave a comment

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, The Big Screen

KISSING IN THE RAIN by Patrick Doyle is perfect

Movie soundtracks are typically (a) silly pop songs by whoever is hot at the moment or (b) orchestras cranked up to 11, whether you can afford John Williams, Hans Zimmer or some dude you know who owns a synthesizer.

Sidenote: That last method actually worked with the soundtrack for the Terminator movies.

But we are here to talk about a little snippet from the soundtrack of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, one of five zillion deep romantic dramas that Ethan Hawke has starred in.

Here’s the music video with footage from the actual motion picture and such:

See? Sometimes, you don’t need words.

You don’t even need images for this music to make you feel something.

Most soundtracks are repetitive. The theme from the Terminator movies is well-known because it’s simple and repeats itself five zillion times. Dah-don-don-don-DON.

This bit of music works for me because it ebbs and flows, changes and grows. I’ve heard it a hundred times and it hasn’t gotten boring. And it arouses different emotions in different parts. Subtle ones that silly pop stars and Hans Zimmer can’t touch, though I do love myself some Zimmer craziness.

So: Patrick the Doyle, who I’ve never heard of, I salute you, not only for this piece of musical gold, but for having the guts to also have piano goddess Tori Amos do the song SIREN on this same soundtrack.

Bonus: compare the original theme for TERMINATOR

with the more evolved version in TERMINATOR 2:

Related posts: Music Video Monday’s Greatest Hits

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award. Represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

2 Comments

Filed under 2 Music Video Monday

BriWi nails RAPPER’S DELIGHT

One of the best things about late night on the Glowing Tube is this man named Jimmy Fallon, who recently took over the Tonight Show from Captain Lantern Jaw (hey, the ’70s called, and they want their hair back, then the ’50s called, asking for their jokes back).

In all seriousness about men paid millions to be silly on the teevee, it did feel like Jay Leno was a cartoon from the ’50s, telling jokes that were stale when my grandfather heard them. Nice guy and all. Just boring.

Jimmy the Fallon, on the other hand, is an innovation machine.

Slow-jamming the news was one thing. Now he’s got BriWi (Brian Williams) doing classic rap songs, and the results keep getting better. Check it out.

Related posts: Music Video Monday’s Greatest Hits

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award. Represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

5 Comments

Filed under 2 Music Video Monday, The Glowing Tube

007 the Crow solves epic eight-step puzzle using TOOLS

Crows are wicked smart. I’ve watched them pick up nuts, fly, then drop them on the asphalt.

This wild crow, nicknamed 007, solved a crazy complicated puzzle the very first time he saw it.

Brilliant. It’s one thing for smart birds to show off after they’ve been trained for a lifetime to, I don’t know, sing Broadway tunes or tell dirty jokes. It’s another thing for a wild crow to pop in, spot some yummy food in the puzzle and do all this stuff using tools to get at it. I believe octopus (octupi?) can do similar stuff, like unscrewing jars and such, so it’s only a matter of time before the SyFy Channel comes up with CROWTOPUS EATS MANHATTAN and then CROWTOPUS VERSUS SHARKNADO.

007 the Crow, I salute you.

The Red Pen of Doom’s Greatest Hits Collection: 10 Epic Posts

  1. Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?
  2. The Mother of All Query Letters
  3. Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller
  4. The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  5. The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books
  6. A BOWL OF WARM MILK AND MURDER
  7. 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys
  8. Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
  9. The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  10. Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

2 Comments

Filed under 5 Random Thursday, Animals, monsters and monstrous animals, Muffin chokers