CGI: Hollywood

just When I wrote about seeing the new version of Dune yesterday, I refrained about commenting how dismayed I was by all the CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) that haunted all the action scenes. During the CGI scenes, the action becomes more vague; and the sound is pumped up to fill in the gaps. The 1984 version had some primitive CGI, but the action scenes were more honest: There was real action, and not fuzzy animation.

My dislike of CGI is one reason I avoid superhero films, in which CGI is more dominant. I prefer when the actors are humans that move like humans.

It seems that the CGI specialists are in the ascendant in Hollywood at the moment. That won’t bother all the middle school fans who love that sort of thing, but it keeps me from films that appeal to that mind(less)set.

In the end, I wonder if the computer has—overall—had a baneful effect on the film industry.

Return to Arrakis

This afternoon, I went to the movies to see the new Dune: Part One directed by Denis Villeneuve. I went expecting not to like it, but ended up liking it a lot—but not quite so much as David Lynch’s magnificent 1984 Dune, as fragmentary as it was. What threw me off were all the stills of Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. I kept saying to myself, “Why, he looks like a whiny little bitch!” In the actual film, he was quite good, at least as good if not better than the wooden Kyle MacLachlan in the David Lynch film.

Where the 1984 Dune came across as fragmentary, Villeneuve’s version plugged many of the gaps, such as the death of Duncan Idaho and the role played by Liet-Kynes, who seems to have changed both gender and race in the new film. (No matter, Sharon Duncan-Brewster was not only stunning: She could act!)

Frank Herbert’s original book is probably the closest the science fiction genre will ever come to a true epic. And as such, it is pretty much unfilmable. The new film does not tell the whole story: It stops just as Paul Atreides and Jessica are accepted by the Fremen, but does not show how Paul and the Fremen defeat the brutal Harkonnens and the whole empire. That was the weakest part of Lynch’s masterpiece, and I suspect that it would take a bit of doing to make it as interesting as Part One.

Whichever version you choose to see, I highly recommend you read the novel first. It is incredibly dense, but it manages to carry you along. To be confronted by the likes of the Bene Gesserit, the Spacing Guild, CHOAM, and Tleilaxu Face Dancers without having encountered them in the novel might be a bit much for most viewers. I’ve read the novel three times in the last half century, and I love it—despite its many flaws. As I said, it is probably the closest to an epic that you will ever see in the sci-fi genre.

Good Bad But Not Ugly

José Ferrer, Sting, and Sian Phillips in David Lynch’s Dune (1984)

There are movies which one likes but almost no one considers to be really good. Yet one watches them hungrily every time they appear on television. In that category for me are the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, both parts of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, and—last but not least—David Lynch’s Dune.

I have read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune several times, and all the sequels at least once, even the over-long God Emperor of Dune. I love the mythology that Herbert created and could hardly wait for it to be turned into film, though I knew the story was so vast that it was virtually unfilmable.

Arch-Villain Sting as Feyd Rautha in an Expansive Mood

I could easily enumerate the flaws of David Lynch’s film version as well as anyone: Kyle MacLachlan was his usual wooden self. The story was too big to be filmed. There was too much dreamy interior monologue about the sleeper awakening. Some characters, like Chani (Sean Young), Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan), Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart), and the Shadout Mapes (Linda Hunt) were wasted. And so on ad infinitum.

But the first hour of the film is outstanding, featuring some of the most outrageous steampunk set designs. The villains, the Harkonnens, are truly horrible, especially the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. It’s only when Paul and his Bene Gesserit mother are among the Fremen natives of Planet Arrakis that things get a tad sketchy.

I still love the film, having seen it about a dozen times.

Later this month, another version, covering only the first half of the novel, is to be released. I will review it after I’ve seen it.