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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

AMC right now is showing Dune: the finest homo-erotic glorious heap of a sci-fi epic that 1984 had to offer!

Alfred Hitchcock once said that Smokey and the Bandit was his "favorite guilty pleasure" of a movie. And that's pretty much what David Lynch's adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel Dune is for me.

The short version (the one that Lynch allowed his name on, and not the "Alan Smithee" extra-long version that has much more cool stuff in) is on AMC right now and I swear they've messed with it more... as if it wasn't messed-up enough already. For one thing at the beginning of this one I noticed that the Guild Navigator's voice was different, somehow. It didn't sound as menacing as I remember it. Come to think of it, it was different: it's definitely not the same voice as is the Navigator's in the longer version (which was the same voice as the short version). Maybe AMC decided to make it sound clearer to the audience or something.

Geez, I've always been conflicted about this movie. I read the novel Dune in September 1990, when I was a junior in high school and... yeah, it was definitely one of the book that most changed my life. So much metaphor in it about religion, and economics and addiction and the costs that come with "playing it safe". The stagnation of cultures and how it is more often than not countered by the outbreak of crusades (or jihads)... Dune the novel was the *perfect* nutshell education about the pattern of history. And when David Lynch got his hands on the film rights he almost pulled off a perfect adaptation.

EXCEPT for all the unnecessary bizarro crap that he just couldn't resist "being David Lynch" about and had to throw in. I mean, "weirding modules"...?!? Where da heck did THAT crap come from?! The Navigators need the prescience they gain from the spice to guide the ships through space and that's from the novel but when it comes to guiding those ships with their anuses ummmm... no. I don't wanna touch what Lynch did with the Harkonnens but since we're on the subject: what was the man thinking?! Sure they were a decadent lot in the novel, but not this bad: that scene where Baron Harkonnen pulls the "heart plug" on the nubile young boy slave with the flowers that he kisses and molests as the kid is bleeding from his aorta and dying as the life seeps from his eyes (oh yeah the naked kid is wearing a giant transparent Glad-Bag, parse that as you will) is just... wrong, dude.

The only time I've been this confused about an item of pop culture came a few years later when I listened to Richard Harris singing "MacArthur Park":

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!
I say again: "whu honey?" Go back to teaching at Hogwarts, Dumbledore: this croon's shining moment only came when "Weird Al" Yankovic turned it into "Jurassic Park".

I spent months after reading the original novel trying to find Lynch's film version on video. It finally came on a local teevee station on Easter Sunday in 1991... on my 17th birthday as it happened. I watched a bit at home then went over to my grandmother's house for Easter dinner. She let me watch the rest of it there and when the Reverend Mother appeared with those messed-up teeth Granny asked me what I was watching and I told her "It's the movie version of Dune" she looked back at the screen then me and said "whatever it is, it looks weeeiiird." Was really sweet, seeing my 84-year old grandmother laugh at a crazy sci-fi movie like that. But then, she was one of the few members of my family that ever "got" my whole Star Wars craze, too. The day after the Episode I toys went on sale I had to watch the local news at her house, 'cuz I was first in line for the 12:01 AM opening at Toys R Us to get the new Star Wars toys. And I was trying to explain how "we would be the first to set our eyes on a virgin pile of unsoiled mounds of Star Wars merchandise." And then a few days later when I camped out for Episode I tickets. She never ceased thinking that it was really cute that her 25-year old grandson could still be this big a kid.

It was on my 17th birthday that we watched this messed-up flick together.

It was on my 26th birthday that we had her funeral. I was one of the pallbearers. It wasn't a very happy birthday.

Dear Lord... five years later and I still miss her.

Maybe that's what keeps drawing me to David Lynch's Dune: for all the visual assault that it is, to me it represents a very tender moment that I shared with my grandmother, who remains one of the sweetest and most influential people in my life and who I will always regret never lived long enough to meet the girl who became my wife. It was the kind of moment where a kid who's a little (or a lot) more different than most realized that he was not only loved unconditionally by someone, but that person loved him enough to make an effort to appreciate what made him tick. I sure wish I could tell you what made her tick... but I can't, except to say that she simply loved everyone, whether you were family or not, or white or black or even gay or lesbian, which a few wound up coming to visit her house more than once. EVERYONE was welcome to put their feet under her dinner table (and believe you me she wasn't going to let you leave until she was sure you'd stuffed yourself with all the homecooked food you could possibly want, no matter WHO you were). She loved you whether you believed in God or not: she knew He loved them despite that, so she'd better learn to love them too.

Sheesh, never thought I could have so many thoughts and feelings associated with a David Lynch movie.

Anyhoo, I know the Sci-Fi Channel remake a few years ago kept a lot more things faithful to the book, but Lynch almost accomplished a perfect adaptation here. You can tell that he was hitting on all the right cylinders so far as Herbert's themes went... if only he hadn't mucked it up in so much other crazy imagery. For whatever reason, I'll prolly never buy the DVD but I always have to catch this whenever it's on the tube.

BTW, the Dune novels themselves - the ones that Frank Herbert wrote - are a magnificent series and prolly the most epic and thought-provoking only after Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Yeah, I appreciate most of the other science-fiction classics. I even wound up using Isaac Asimov's Foundation years ago while doing practicum as a student teacher, as a way of introducing the themes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to high school students. I've been keen on some of the more obscure ones (speaking of which, Philip Jose' Farmer's Riverworld novels are science-fiction's greatest secret and whoever did the Sci-Fi Channel adaptation should be dragged out into the street and shot) and someday I'm praying that someone like Peter Jackson will do a big screen version of Harry Harrison's West of Eden. But other than Tolkien, no other sci-fi/fantasy writer molded my thoughts on things as a teenager than did Herbert. Be warned though: the first three books in the Dune series you can coast through. It's when you get to God Emperor of Dune that you REALLY have to swim against his unrelenting torrent of philosophy and theology. And by the time you get to the last one that he did, Chapterhouse: Dune... well, let's just say that I've heard from way too many people that that novel triggered WAY premature adolescence in a lot of guys. But if you get to the very last pages of the very last novel and you're in the know on things, you'll catch the very sweet homage that Herbert makes to his beloved wife Beverly (who had just passed away from cancer). And so far as that "too many unfinished threads" thing goes, a few years ago someone found some computer disks that had Frank Herbert's notes and outlines for an ending chapter to the entire saga, and according to the official Dune website Herbert's son Brian is using that to base two forthcoming novels - Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune - that should wrap everything up. Hope they're better than the recent "Butlerian Jihad" Dune novels he did with Kevin J. Anderson... those were BIGTIME disappointment in my book.

(Okay, I better finish now, before I start ranting about how Kevin J. Anderson messed up Star Wars back in the mid-Nineties. He did write my all-time favorite Star Wars novel though: Darksaber. But I'll scream about that later.)

One thing's for sure though: I never stopped being this kind of a geek. Or ever grew out of being a kid. Not really. Granny wouldn't have wanted me to stop being like this either. And that's not what my dear wife or my closest and dear friends have ever wanted: they like the fact that, at heart, I'm still a big kid. And if I still watch weirdfest movies like the original Dune, well... what's the harm in that, eh?

Because in the end, it's what keeps me young forever. And what keeps me looking out for the simple things in life... like love and truth.

(Oh yeah, AMC is showing Mad Max with Mel Gibson later tonight. Let's see if this is the "new" version that has the original undubbed Australian accents :-P)