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DUNE (1984)
SKY HIGH (2005)


Dune  Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, hordes of others. Director and screenwriter: David Lynch, based on Frank Herbert's novel
I really enjoy David Lynchís version of Dune, but then Iím not sure Iím the most objective voice where Lynchian matters are concerned.   With one notable exception, Iíve enjoyed all of Lynchís work, finding it a body of visual and audio stimulation unlike anything else Iíve seen in the theatre.   At worst, heís self-indulgent, but even then itís an interesting indulgence. 

He seems to work best when heís filming his own ideas, which is why a lot of Dune seems forced and awkwardónot really grasping the underlying threads of Frank Herbertís massive novel, he seems unable to focus on the core elements, thus giving everything equal shrift.   While his own narratives are linear, theyíre not exactly straight-forward and the need to include the various details of Herbertís story makes him apparently cram them in wherever he can.  Thus, characters come and go, sometimes delivering a line or two before dying or disappearing.   Because they were in the book, theyíre not compressed into fewer characters; theyíre all here.

Similarly, there are a number of scenes that seemed shoehorned in because they appeared in the book.   Iím thinking particularly of the scene with the hunter-seeker, which, while interesting and extremely eerie, doesnít seem to lead anywhere.  As a result of this scene, Paul meets the Shadout Mapes, but nothing comes of this meeting.  

Add to this dialogue that approaches comic-book talk (ďItís further than I thought.  Weíll never reach the safety of rock.  A worm is sure to come.  Iíll use this thumper.  It will distract the worm.Ē  This is all one unbroken speech) and endless interior monologues and voice-overs (to be fair, these were all over Herbertís book, too) and what you have is a mess.

But, I emphasize, itís an entertaining mess, a mess that if nothing else shows us a future world in which the inhabitants arenít just 20th century Americans transported into space.  The patterns of thinking and ritual are a really interesting look at future homo sapiens.   People in this world are apparently conditioned for the roles they fill in society, and this interesting notion is allowed to float around the film and inform a lot of the action (I'm thinking here of Dr. Yueh's actions).

And itís an astonishing looking (and sounding) mess as well.   Everything, from the smallest machines to entire planets, has an incredible look.   These arenít the standard spaceships and things weíve come to expect from science fiction films.   Ships from different worlds, for example, reflect those worlds in their design.  

The worlds themselves all appear to be themed as well, based on the dominant native environment.  Caledan is all wood and watery skies; Arrakis is baking sand and rough stone walls; Caitain is interior gold and luxury; and Geidi Prime is pipes, oil and antiseptic machines.  

Iím sure it helps to have read the book before you see this, otherwise itís probably a confusing mass of vying intrigues.   Iíd read the book years before seeing the movie and some partsólike the worm attack on the spice harvesterówere exactly the way Iíd envisioned them, reading the book.  

In sum, itís got way too many stars, too many characters, and little attempt is made to untangle this for an unwary viewer.   But it looks and sounds like nothing youíve ever seen, easily out-doing George Lucasí paltry digital imagination.   See it as a sensory experience, if nothing else.

 



Sky High  Starring Michael Angarano, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston. Director:  Mike Mitchell. Screenwriters: Paul Hernandez, Bob Schooley, Mark McCorkle.
The box for Sky High has a quote from the New York Times, describing the film as ďa clever combination of Harry Potter and The Incredibles,Ē and I bet thatís exactly the way the film was pitched, too.  That seems to be the norm for movies these daysóinstead of an original idea, offer a combination of well-regarded (and profitable) franchises and youíll get your film produced.

Mind, I donít want to leave you with the wrong impression.  Sky High is a lot of fun, taking its well-worn clichťs on a cool theme park ride, with all the expected highs and lows.  Itís an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half.

Itís not without a couple of short-comings, the biggest of which is the feeling of over-familiarity.   Yes, itís Harry Potter (the hero goes to a new school and heís a complete fish out of water) and The Incredibles (everyone has a super-poweróthere are even two kids who hang together and have super-speed and stretching ability).   But despite this ďflawĒ looming large over the whole film, one expects this, and in fact may be the reason one has rented this, so it doesnít really interfere with the entertainment. 

The first quibble that interfered with the film was that the villain is ridiculously easy to spot, so a big revelation scene later in the film doesnít have near the impact it should have.   I mean, the villain was so obvious that I felt the heroes were pretty dim for not seeing it right away.

Secondly, and I donít think Iím spoiling anything hereóthe hero starts school without any powers (not everyone develops them at the same time).  He may, in fact, never develop any powers and has a lot of anxiety over trying to break this to his father.   This being a Disney film, eventually, he develops his powers and saves the day.  But I have to wonder if it might have been a much more involving story if he hadnít developed powers, and remained just a normal person to the end.   He and his parents would have had to come to terms with this, and it would have been neat to see how a normal person, using normal abilities, might have resolved the conflict with the villain.  Instead, any deeper emotional issues were just swept away with the advent of the superpowers and the transformation into super-kid.

My suspicion would be that if the story went the other way, the film would have been a box-office disaster, because no one wants to watch ordinary people in a world of super-heroes.  Perhaps rightly; the whole thing is a wish-fulfillment fantasy, and making it more ďrelevantĒ to the (non-super-powered) audience members is probably not what anyone really wants.   It adds a layer of reality to an entertainment that really canís support it.  Still, I think it might have been interesting. 

Be that as it may, itís a fun film.  There are a lot of good jokes and some funny characters with interesting powers.  Besides, how can you not love a film with Bruce Campbell in it, playing a guy with super-loud powers?