Monday, March 01, 2004

David Lynch's Dune, Surprisingly Good

Here's a review of David Lynch's Dune, originally posted to

I watched Dune yesterday, the only DL movie I hadn't seen yet. I don't know why I hadn't watched it, obviously being a huge Lynch fan, and also being a big fan of epic sci-fi. Just a note, I started the first book, but didn't really like it, and never made it all the way through. I think this may actually be the optimum condition for viewing the film, since I knew the basic characters, and setup, but wasn't attached the plot events. However, the reputation of the film led to a general apathy towards watching it. However, I watched it yesterday, and am really glad I did.

First off, I was shocked by how surreal the film was. The whispered thoughts device was Lynch's best move in making the film, since it cut down on massive exposition scenes, as well as giving us a good insight into the characters. It's something I've seen in some French New Wave films, but other than that, it's generally unused, but it's something that works really well if used right, as it was here.

And, for a mainstream film, the surreality of the whole thing was quite surprising. I expected it to be like The Elephant Man, in that you get occasional flashes of Lynch, but it's mainly a fairly straightforward film, but that wasn't the case here. There was a lot of strange stuff, and I saw
the roots of a number of Lynch ideas, seen in later films. The opening with Princess Irulan appearing against the background of the stars was phenomenal. The hand and dripping water dreams were very cool looking, and the repetition of the motif was very effective. The first scene with the baron was really nasty, and also quite cool.

I liked the whole 80's aesthetic of the film. It felt quite a bit like Blade Runner at times (Sean Young's voice probably did that), and I love that feeling of real sets, that you just don't get in current CG sci-fi movies. The spaceship effects may not have been the best, but I take it as a
stylistic choice, which makes for an even more surreal film. It was a visually dazzling film. Those hazmat uniforms on the enemy soldiers were amazing.

While it did feel like there were a lot of loose ends, the film held together. Rather than thinking of the plots that felt abrupt as problems, I see them as just snapshots of the world. I loved the ending with the rain, and Paul's sister.

Obviously, a lot of stuff didn't work. The Baron was awful, his cackling villainy was really inexcusable. And, I got the feeling that all the scenes with him were the same, he'd fly around, laugh awfully, and say he was going to kill Paul. And, since there were so many characters, you never really get attached to anyone, even Paul.

Stuff like the relationship with Channi was barely even developed, and I'd like to have seen a bit more of the Sting character (not in the bodily sense, that winged speedo was quite enough), but he was a much better villain than the Baron, and wasn't really featured. And also, considering
she was barely in the movie, I'm not sure why the Princess gave the opening narration.

I think David should really re-assess the film, since it's a great piece of work, and deserves a much better reputation than it has. So, after this, here's my ranking of Lynch's stuff.

Twin Peaks (Show)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Mulholland Drive
Lost Highway
Blue Velvet
The Straight Story
The Elephant Man
Wild at Heart

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Vintage: Invisibles Reactions

This was posted on Barbelith a couple of days after I finished reading The Invisibles. My opinions have changed since then, but it's now available for you to read, enjoy.

Yes I know there's a bunch of threads on volume three already, but most of them were devoted to whether the trade was out, or there's the fiction suit one, which I've read and cleared up some things, but I still have questions that aren't related to that topic.

Anyway, I just finished rereading Volumes 1 and 2, and read Volume 3 for the first time. The first two volumes are indisputably brilliant, and are even better on the reread. I saw nearly everything come together, and it was nearly flawless.

Volume III felt a lot more disjointed. Particularly in the first eight issues, it felt very removed from the rest of the series. While I enjoy Mister Six and Sir Miles, I wasn't as interested in those characters as I was in what happened to our main five, and the near absence of them in the beginning was rather annoying. Still, the stories weren't bad, as both Satanstorm and Karmageddon had moments of great merit. The opening pages of the volume as Flint and Harper go after the Shoggoth were great, with the brillaint quote, "Division X! Get the Fucker in the back!" That bit made me long for a Division X ongoing.

The apperance of Mason in Karmageddon was nice, and Edith's procession to death was striking. Still, the Marquis de Sade story felt superfluous.

The worst decision of Volume III was to introduce Helga and have so much of the story go through a character who we didn't know at all. She had no real set apperance, seemingly changing from artist to artist, and had no real set character. It would have been nice to have an additional issue that gave her backstory, like each of the team got back in Volume I.

The Invisible Kingdom was crippled by the art. Earlier, I found the weak art annoying, especially when compared to the brilliant work of Jiminez and Weston in Volume II; here it often obscured the storytelling. IMO, it would have been better to have Yeowell, Thompson and Weston each do one issue of the storyline, instead of the schizophrenic switching. In the moment that should have been the climax of the series, I missed that Jack had ingested the archons, and only got that when they talked about it after the fact. It was a good idea in theory, but didn't really work.

However, the writing in that last storyline was excellent. King Mob's phone booth discussion with Jacqui was great, and the gathering of everyone together at the end worked. Also, Audrey Murray saving Mob was a brilliant touch. And, the final page (which incidentally featured better art than nearly all this storyline), was great. My only real complaint about this arc was that it may have got too out there, at the expense of the narrative, and there should have been at least one more page with John a Dreams, even if he doesn't give an explanation of what happened to him, to have him speak with King Mob would have been great.

Finally, Glitterdammerung had me rather confused, but I loved it. Even though I didn't get the specifics, I got the emotional significance. Mob's reunion with Robin was a great moment, and the final page was excellent. And the art was finally great.

Overall, I think it'll probably work better as a reread when I'm not looking forward to finding out what happens at the end, and can better appreciate the journey it takes to get there. I'd have loved to see more of our core team, and Mason, but I guess that wasn't to be. The counting down mechanism does accentuate some of the flaws, since as each issue passed it made me think more that we're getting so close to the end of the series, and we still haven't heard much from the main characters. Still, that's focusing on the negative. There were a lot of brilliant ideas in the book, and, like the rest of the series, will probably improve on the reread. And, I think that more than the other volumes, this really makes you think in different ways, and abandon all preconceptions of the universe in order to understand it, which is ultimately what Grant probably wanted to happen.

That said, I'm unclear on some things, and would appreciate it if someone could give me their opinion or the general thinking on the answers.

1. So, John a Dreams found a new kind of time machine that allowed you to completely leave the 3D and 4D planes and experience a new level of existence, in which you can inhabit multiple conciousnesses in multiple forms throughout different times? And through this, he became the gray spirit and was corrupted into Quimper, the Gnostic Satan, and Jack Flint?

2. It's probably impossible to answer this question, but what was "real" in the series? Was it all part of Robin's novel, or was it some massive multi-player game that people can tap into and experience certain characters, through a fiction suit? Or was Robin writing the novel some sort of view of the future, in that she somehow saw what would happen to her? And is "The Invisibles" mentioned in 2.20 the book written by Sir Miles? And if the story isn't a game, Mob just created a game based on his experience, and Jack plays some of it in the last issue?

3. How was Robin Edith? Were they both a manifestation of Barbelith, in that they are both essential parts of moving the race toward its higher evolution, and bringing about the new age of a sentient universe? I'm thinking that Edith's miscarriage could tie into the idea that Quimper is a representative of an abortion that Grant's girlfriend had. And one more thing, if Quimper is the baby that King Mob and Robin have, did they have him in his evil form, or was he born good, a manifestation of John a Dreams, and then corrupted into evil, or was he born evil? Or was Robin being pregnant, a comment on the birth of the universe?

4. On the last page of the series, is Jack returning to Barbelith, and returning home? Is that why he's the only person left in the white void? And on the last page of the previous issue, what point is being made concerning reality? I got the idea that Jack is saying that because we've read the book, it's as real as if it actually happened, and he's essentially recruiting someone who read the book to help him out, and she ultimately becomes Reynard of the last issue?

5. I know Morrison is outdated two-sided thinking is, and we have to expand, but what exactly is he advocating through the series, because both the Invisibles and the Archons are apparently fighting in vain, for nothing in particular.

6. If it's a rescue mission, who are they rescuing? And what's the deal with "Edith says to call on Buddha," in relative times, when is it first said, where is it distorted to, and when is it heard?

7. What has happened to Robin when she returns to the future. I take it that she understands the structure of time, that it all exists at once, and we are basically all in a time machine journeying slowly to the future, but what is meant by the comment about love she says to King Mob? I get the idea that love is supposed to be all that matters, but is there anything more specific? And, when they send her in the time machine, they send her to the end of the world, because she seems to have lost the machine? Or did she go to Barbelith, become enlightened and then come back for Mob?

8. And, what did Morrison think of the art in the Invisible Kingdom, obviously if he wanted the Ashley Wood pages redrawn, he knew there was a problem, but did he ever comment on the rest? Also, has Morrison ever commented on why the major characters of the series pretty much disappear in this volume? I've heard he said that he got lost in Volume II and this was going back to the original plans, but was there every anything more than that?

I know there's probably very few concrete answers for these, but any thoughts would be great, or if somebody could point me to interviews where Morrison talks about Volume III, that'd be awesome also. I've only seen interviews from pretty much before the series ended.

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Warren Ellis: Hypocrite?

This is about the comic book writer, Warren Ellis. Up until last year, he ran a web forum, where he preached waiting for the trade, instead of buying individual comics, and also was vehemently anti-superhero. Now, he has signed on to write Ultimate Fantastic Four.

From Barbelith

In response to a few things on the thread.

I think the WEF certainly hurt Ellis' output, and gave him this reputation as one of the top writers in the medium, when (other than Planetary, IMO) he's never produced anything truly great, certainly nothing on the level of Moore or Morrison's better work. It always amazed me that he had time to read every single post on the WEF, and reply to hundreds of them a week, yet he was so slow writing the script to Planetary 16 that Cassaday had to take on six issues of Captain America to fill his time.

By the end of the WEF, Ellis had only Transmet coming out on any kind of a regular basis, and while still good, it was so decompressed that what would have taken six issues at the beginning of the book took 12-18 by the end. Look at Back on the Street, or particularly Lust for Life, versus the end of the book. The beginning had some tightly structured stories, that were well told. By the end, there were so many essentially pointless splash pages that reading it in 22 page chunks was futile. Ellis' greatest contribution to the medium is probably the two page spread which contributes very little to the story, but takes up space.

I think Ellis' greatest problem is the hypocriscy inherent in his writing vs. his online commentary. Ellis spent years on the WEF disparaging "pamphlets," and basically creating the wait for the trade atmosphere. Then, he creates Global Frequency, a book designed to be read in singles, targetted at an audience that has been trained to disparage the single. Not to mention, encouraging people to buy that run of miniseries he did, which should have been put out as OGNs, but instead were packaged as three issue minis.

This isn't to mention the fact that while spending all his time disparaging superheroes, he goes out and writes a series of miniseries that are basically superheroes without the capes. And, then he brings out Ultimate FF, which is going against all he's been talking about for years.

I used to post to the WEF on occasion, and it was a really strong community, that I wish was still around. But, it also gave Ellis an inflated sense of self worth. It was not a good place to discuss his work, becuase any attempt to even suggest a flaw would be met with flaming, often from Ellis himself. So, now without his promotional machine, his sales have suffered.

As for the question of whether there can be really good writing in comics, I think the answer is undoubtedly yes. Work like Watchmen and The Invisibles represents a strong artistic vision from the writer, and accomplish feats that could not be accomplished in any other medium. Bad writers give comics a bad name, but at its core, it's a much easier medium for a writer to get their vision across than film.

Comics and Auteurism

Originally from Barbelith

A lot of the people in this thread recognize that film is the medium most often used as a comparison when reviewing comics, which leads some people to believe that comics are an inferior medium than film.

However, up until fourty or fifty years ago, film seen in a similar way to the way in which comics are now, namely an inferior medium that can only ape the tendencides of other media (at that time literature). In addition, at the time most directors worked in the studio system, without a strong degree of control over their work, much like your average comics writer can't really alter the corporate superhero title that they work for.

In the 60's, the auteur system emerged, and the individual director became more valued, even in the Hollywood studio system. I think this is what's starting to happen in comics right now. The writer is becoming much more important, as a marketing tool, and as a creative force, even in the corporate superhero title. And stuff like the Vertigo line is similar to the writer/director emerging in the 70's.

Until the emergence of the auteur system, a lot of people saw film as only a medium for staged plays. However, these auteurs were crucial to furthering the unique language of film as a medium.

Comics have been around for a while, but they're just starting to move beyond the "studio era." And I think as unique writers become more prevalent, they will sculpt even more so the unique visual language of comics.

And according to the classical definition of an auteur, an artist whose work has a thematic coherence, I think Grant Morrison and Alan Moore stand out by far as the only two comics writer you could really call auteurs.

Does liking something that's popular make you uncool?

Originally posted on Barbelith.

Just by virtue of posting here, you probably consider yourself a bit smarter/cultured than the average person out there, and as a result, your taste in films, TV and books is obviously above average. At least, I like to think that mine is. So, I often find myself subconsciously not liking the movie or book that's really popular at the moment.

I remember when Fellowship of the Ring came out, I was really psyched, and no one else around me was. I went on opening night alone, because I couldn't get anyone else to go on a week night. I absolutely loved the film, and was talking it up to people who were really skeptical about. A year later, it's time for Two Towers, and I've got a posse of eight people ready to go with me on opening day, and it seems like every person I run in to is really psyched about the film. Then, tonight I'm watching the Oscars, and people are really rooting for Return of the King to win stuff, and seeing this enthusiasm, I'm almost rooting against the film on some level, whereas I was celebrating every Fellowship victory. I actually think RotK is the best film in the trilogy, but it's almost more difficult to get excited about it when it's so popular among everyone.

There seems to be a moment when a film goes from being "your" film, to becoming a completely mainstream film. The film itself hasn't changed, but some of the cache of watching it has. An example of a film where this is happening right now is Donnie Darko. About a year ago, you say you're watching Donnie Darko, and people either say, "What?" or, for the minority who've seen the film, you sort of make a connection, like you're part of a secret group who've seen the film. However, now, it seems like everyone has either seen the film, or at least heard of it, and it loses some of that secret club feel. I don't think the Barbelith thread on Donnie Darko would be as full of joy if the film wasn't discovered like a secret on here, instead was heard about through more mainstream channels.

So, instead of being a cult film, it's almost become institutionalized, and as a result, it's not as cool to name drop the film, since practically everyone's seen it. You can see this sort of thing in early 90's film with Star Wars references. Before the re-release in '97, the films were basically dead, and dropping a reference put you in touch with the select group who remembered the film, and gained you some street cred. You could make a good argument that Kevin Smith's entire career is due to the Star Wars reference in Clerks.

So, do you find yourself feeling a backlash when a film you like becomes popular and mainstream? It may be tough to admit, but on some level, when you hear people at your job or school you don't respect talking about a film you used to really love as a cult thing, do you find it tough to be passionate about the film anymore? After all, no one says that independent, undiscovered crap, but mainstream Hollywood crap is thrown around quite readily.

This is a place for me to archive my postings from various places on the web, and in the process, create a little time capsule of my thoughts at a particular time.