Cast of Star Wars VII Announced!

star-wars-episode-7Happy (early) May the Fourth everyone! This year, I thought I’d get on this fandom anniversary early by passing on some franchise news that was just released from Lucasfilm and Disney regarding the upcoming relaunch of the Star Wars franchise. After months of speculation, the cast for the upcoming Star Wars movie has finally been announced! The news came this past week in a post on StarWars.com, where  companies spelt it out for all the fans who have been eagerly awaiting the news.

In addition to Mark Hamil, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher – who will receive top billing as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia – Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker will also be reprising their roles as Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2. Also, the movie will star several notable actors in new roles, including acting great Max von Sydow (The Tudors, Minority Report, Snow Falling on Cedars, Judge Dredd, Needful Things).

starwarsAlso, Adam Driver (Girls, Lincoln), Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, Sucker Punch, Drive), Andy Serkis (who brought Gollum to life in LOTR and the Hobbit franchises), Domhnall Gleeson (who played Bill Weasely in the Harry Potter series), and British television stars John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were announced, though has is not yet been announced what characters they will be playing. But since the upcoming movie will be taking place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, it’s fair to assume that the focus will be on these characters rather than on the original cast.

In a photo release this past Tuesday (seen below), director JJ Abrams is seen having a roundtable discussion with the cast at Pinewood Studios in the UK. Note the body of R2-D2 which sits unboxed behind them, having no doubt just been brought out of storage. JJ Abrams, identified by his spiky hair and glasses, can be seen sitting to the left of R2, with Harrison Ford to his right, Carrie Fisher two seats down, and Mark Hamil seated opposite to the far left of the photo.

star-wars-episode-7-cast-announceWhen news of the cast was released, Abrams was quoted as saying:

We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.

This, the seventh film in the Star Wars franchise, and is slated for a December 18th, 2015, release. In addition to Abrams directing, he is also collaborating on the screenplay with Lawrence Kasdan, the man who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer.

star-wars-prequelsI think I speak for fans and geeks everywhere when I wish them all luck! Lord knows we could all use a really decent Star Wars sequel, especially when so many of us felt so utterly let down by the prequels! However, I think it is fair to say that Abrams and the rest should not be too concerned about what the fans and expect. If this latest installment is to be a success, it must not be overly aware of itself or its legacy. Such was part of what brought the prequels down in my estimation, and like everyone else, I just want to enjoy what comes next!

Good day and May the Fourth be with you all!

Source: starwars.com

Skyrim: A Video Game Review

the_elder_scrolls_v_skyrimBack with another video game review. And picking up where I left off last time (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) I’ve decided to follow up with its sequel – Skyrim! I was a bit late to the game with this one, having purchased it a few short months ago. But I’ve certainly had it long enough to appreciate it. All told, I’ve played it through twice, and bought all three expansion packs.

And let me tell you, its pretty damn awesome! In fact, I would even go as far to say that it is a big improvement on Oblivion. And since I loved that game and got endless hours of gaming enjoyment out of it, that’s hardly faint praise. But its true. In terms of the games interface, graphics, gameplay, storyline, quests, abilities, items, and detailed environments, everything looked, felt, and played better than the last one.

skyrim-mountainsAnd as usual, the latest installment in the Elder Scrolls series takes place in a new province of Tamriel. As the name would suggest, the setting for this game is Skyrim, the cold, mountainous climate that is home to the Nords and the birthplace of the Empire. As always, the game is a platform for some serious worldbuilding, and the game makers spared no expense or effort to give Skyrim a realistic look, feel, culture and backstory.

And another major difference between Skyrim and Oblivion is the fact that this time around, there is not one but two main quests that are closely intertwined. Of course, there are countless secondary and additional missions that you can do, but the main plot lines have to do with the civil war that has engulfed Skyrim, and the return of the Dragons, an event foretold in the Elder Scrolls which signals the end of the world.

skyrim-dragonsHowever, the focus is undeniably on the return of the Dragons, as well as the “Dragonborn” who’s return was also foretold. Basically, a Dragonborn is a person of Tiber Septim’s line who has dragonblood, and hence can speak the dragon language. Words in this language are known as “Word of Power” since to speak them is to unleash destructive and other magical powers.

As the main character, you are Dragonborn, and have the option of learning and unlocking Words of Power as the game goes on. This is intrinsic to winning the game, since these words not only convey power, but are necessary in helping you to defeat the dragons.

Plot Synopsis:
The_Elder_Scrolls_V_Skyrim_coverThe story opens some two hundred years after the events of Oblivion where the Imperial Septim line ended, and Mehrunes Dagon was defeated. However, the Empire now finds itself in dire straights after being defeated in the Great War by the Altmeri Dominion. As you come to learn, this powerful faction – which was founded by the Thalmor (a group of High Elves) – declared war on the Empire over the worship of Talos (aka. Tiber Septim).

After losing the war some thirty years prior, the Empire formally signed a peace treaty known as the White-Gold Concordat which, amongst other things, forbade the worship of Talos within the Empire. This decision led to many Nords feeling like they had been abandoned by the Empire, and eventually led a Nord named Ulfric Stormcloak to mount a rebellion. This began when Ulfric killed High King Torygg, thus plunging the realm into civil war.

The game begins much as the last one does, with you being prisoner by Imperial Forces. As you quickly realize, you are being take alongside a group of Stormcloak rebels and their leader – Ulfric – to the nearby town of Helgen for sentencing. Though you were taken by mistake, the Legion decide to send you to the chopping block anyway. However, your beheading is interrupted when out of nowhere, a massive dragon shows up and begins laying waste to the town.

Alduin_Helgen_1The dragon, you learn, is none other than Alduin, the mythic beast that was defeated in the First Age and who’s return to “eat the world” was foretold by the Elder Scrolls. Helgen and its defenders are quickly killed, but you manage to escape with either the help of a Legionnaire named Hadvor or a Stormcloak named Ralof. This choice will likely influence the main characters choice of which side to win in the war.

After escaping Helgen, you and your companion travel to the nearby town of Riverwood where you are asked to go to Whiterun – capitol of the Hold – and request aid from the Jarl. Jarl Balgruuf’s agrees, but asks for you assistance in retrieving the Dragonstone – an ancient tablet that marks the burial sites of all the old dragons. Apparently, the dragons have been rising from their graves to take on living form again, and it is happening all over Skyrim.

skyrim-screenshot-dragon-fireThe stone resides inside Bleak Falls Barrow, and is protected by Draugr – a race reanimated mummified Nords. After fighting your way to the stone, you come upon a Dragon Word Wall, where you learn your first Word of Power. After returning to Whiterun, word reaches the Jarl that a dragon is attacking nearby, and you are asked to go and help. After defeating the dragon, the player absorbs its soul, and everyone realizes you are Dovahkiin – aka. Dragonborn.

After returning to Whiterun, the Jarl names you Thane of the Hold and gives you a Housecarl (bodyguard) and the right to buy property. Afterwards, you hear a Dragon Shout calling from on top of The Throat of the World – Skyrim’s tallest mountain. This is a summons from the Greybeards, an order of monks who live in seclusion in their temple High Hrothgar near the summit. Once you travel there, the Greybeards begin teaching you the “”Way of the Voice”.

skyrim_delphineThis includes teaching you words of power and enhancing your Thu’um (your voice), as well as sharing the prophecy of Alduin’s return and how a Dragborn would emerge to do battle with him. As a further test, the Greybeards ask yo to retrieve the legendary Horn of Jurgen Windcaller. However, the player discovers the Horn has been stolen by another, who wishes to meet with the Dragonborn at Riverwood.

The thief reveals herself as Delphine, Riverwood’s innkeeper and one of the last surviving members of the Blades. She indicates that the Blades were once the guardians of the land against the Dragons, and she wishes to help in your quest. Together, you and Delphine travel to a Dragon burial mound where you witness Alduin reviving a Dragon, and must defeat him.

skyrim_thalmorembassyAfterwards, Delphine informs you that she thinks the Thalmor are behind the return of the Dragons. Not only have the Thalmor been hunting her and all other remaining Blades for some time, it stands to reason that they would stand to gain the most by helping the Dragons wreak havoc all over Skyrim and the Empire, as a prelude to renewed war.

Together, you hatch a plan to infiltrate the Thalmor embassy near Solitude and find proof of this. This consists of posing as a guest as a diplomatic party, and then sneaking off to search the embassy. After finding a series of diplomatic recrods, you learn that they are not behind the Dragon threat, but are searching for a man named Esbern, an archivist of the Blades Order.

skyrim_alduinswallDelphine then instructs the player to locate Esbern, who is known to be hiding in the sewers and ratways of Riften. This town is located on the opposite side of Skyrim, and is home to the notorious Black Briar family and the last known stronghold of the Thieves Guild. Together, the three of you then seek out Alduin’s Wall at Sky Haven Temple, where the prophecy of Alduin was originally written.

While the Blades set up in the temple, Esbern reveals that the ancient Nords used a special Thu’um against Alduin called “Dragonrend”, representing mankind’s comprehensive hatred for the Dragons, to cripple his ability to fly so they could engage him. To gain more information, you meets with the Greybeards again and they decide it’s time for you to speak with their leader, Paarthurnax.

skyrim_PaarthurnaxPaarthurnax, as it turns out, is an ancient dragon who was once one of Alduin’s most feared generals. He reveals that Alduin was not truly defeated in the past, but was sent forward to an unspecified point in time by the use of an Elder Scroll in the hopes that he would get lost. Paarthurnax tells you you will need that Elder Scroll so you can peer into the past and learn the Dragonrend shout to defeat Alduin.

This latest mission takes you to the College of Winterhold, where you are forced to join to get information. You are then shown to Urag gro-Shub, an orc who runs the Arcanaeum – the College library. He directs you to Septimus Signus, a hermit who was driven mad by reading the Scrolls and who now lives in a outpost in an iceberg located on the nearby coast.

skyrim_septimusIn his outpost, Septimus is working on a Dwemer Box, a massive combination box that contains a Dwemer artifact. He tells you that you must travel to the ruins of Blackreach, one of many ruins left behind by the highly advanced Dwemer civilization in Skyrim. He gives you the Attunement Sphere and the Blank Lexicon, which you will need to reach the Scroll once you reach the heart of the ruin.

This journey takes you deep underground, into a world of bioluminescent plants and terrifying Falmer creatures. Once you find your way to the heart of the ruin, you come upon a Dwemer Sphere, a massive combination structure that you must adjust a series of focal lenses in order to unlock. Once this is done, the Scroll is removed from the Sphere and given to you.

skyrim_alduinTaking the Scroll to the Throat of the World, you glimpse into the past and witness the heroes of the First Age engage and defeat Alduin using the Elder Scroll and the Dragonrend shout. With this knowledge, you then summon Alduin to do battle, and with the help of Paarthurnax, you defeat him and send him fleeing to Sovengarde – the Nordic afterlife. You are told that you must go to face him there so that he can be defeated for all time.

The only way for you to travel after him is to trap a dragon and force them to bring you to Alduin’s lair, from which you may travel to Sovegarde to face him. This involves asking the Jarl of Whiterun to use his great hall – the Dragonsreach – which was originally constructed to trap a dragon. The Jarl is reluctant to do this while the war rages on, which either requires that end the war first, or ask the Greybeards to mediate a temporary cease fire in the war.

skyrim_battle_whiterun In between all of this, there is the second major quest, which involves taking sides in the civil war. As Hadvor tells you at the beginning, the  best way to contend with the returning Dragons is to join the Legion and use their resources. But Ralof will urge you to join the Stormcloaks as a “true son of Skyrim”. Depending on which side you choose, you are either required to travel to the capitol of Solitude, or to the Stormcloaks seat of power in Windhelm to sign on.

Once you’ve taken a side, battle is joined, and your first mission is either to lead the defense of, or assault, Whiterun. As Thane of the city, this will either mean upholding your oath of office, or betraying it in service of your new liege lord, Ulfric. In either case, this is the first of many battles, which are followed by missions to various forts to seize strategic passes, culminating on a siege of the enemy’s stronghold.

skyrim_battle_windhelmAs you progress, you are given higher and higher ranks in the army and entrusted with tasks of increasing importance. At the end of the Imperial campaign, you and General Tullius and Legate Rikke lead the assault into Windhelm and fight your way into Ulfric’s palace. After defeating him and his bodyguard, he asks that you – the Dragonborn – be the one to take off his head, as he thinks this will be more appropriate.

In the Stormcloak campaign, the war culminates in the siege of Solitude, where you, Ulfric, and Galmar Stone-Fist fight your way through the streets and to the Legion barracks and force the surrender of General Tullius and Rikke before executing them both. Ulfric then declares victory in the civil war and declares himself High King of an independent Skyrim.

skyrim-sovengardeWith the civil war complete, the plot to trap a dragon in Dragons Reach takes succeeds and you manage to secure a dragon named Odahviing. He agrees to help you since many dragons are disenchanted with Alduin’s rule, and agrees to fly you to the portal to Sovengarde, which is located high in the mountains at an ancient fort called Skuldafn. Once there, you battle your way through Draugr and lesser dragons and enter.

Upon your arrival, you find your way to Ysgramor, the legendary Nord who, along with his Five Hundred Companions, drove the Elves out of Skyrim. Ysgramor informs the player that Alduin has placed a “soul snare” in Sovngarde, allowing him to gain strength by devouring the souls of deceased Nords. The player meets up with the three heroes of Nordic legend who defeated Alduin and, with their help, destroys the soul snare and defeats Alduin in combat.

skyrim_dragonrendThe player then returns to the summit of the Throat of the World in which Paarthurnax and the other Dragons wait. Paarthurnax explains that even though Alduin is defeated, they are in no condition to celebrate for he was once their ally and is still one of their kin. Having asserted his authority over many Dragons, Paarthurnax convinces those loyal to him to leave Tamriel.

However, there is an alternate ending which takes place if the player obliged the Blades earlier in the game and killed Paarthurnax as punishment for his crimes while serving under Alduin. In this version, the player returns to the Throat of the World and speaks to Odahviing, who tells you that you have inherited Alduin’s position and that he will serve at your pleasure from now on.

Expansions:
DragonbornIn this regard, Skyrim kicks the crap out of its predecessor. Whereas Oblivion had expansion packs which seemed good, but not great, Skyrim’s three packs really impressed the hell out of me! These included Dragonborn, Dawngaurd, and Hearthfire, each of which offers additional quests, items, and abilities; and not in the tack-on, lower-quality types offered by the last game.

In the Dragonborn expansion, you are tasked with traveling to Solstheim, an island off the eastern coast of Tamriel inhabited by Nords and Dark Elves. Once here, you learn that the last Dragon Priest and one-time ruler of the island, a man named Miraak, is attempting to take it over. Naturally, he sees your emergence as the latest Dragonborn as a threat, and you must do battle with him.

skyrim_solstheimIn order to do this, you must learn from the Skaal people of the island who possess specialized magic. It also requires you cut a deal with the Hermaeus Mora, the Daedric Prince of forbidden knowledge and Miraak’s apprentice. In exchange for getting the Skaal to surrendering their secrets to him, he gives you the ability to travel to the realm of Apocrypha and fight MIraak. In the end, Mora betrays him and offers you the chance to become his new apprentice.

Additional items offered in this package include Nordic weapons and armor, which are of superior quality to most offered in the game thus far. In addition, you also gain the abilities to create armor and weapons out of Stalhrim (an ice-blue mineral), Chiton, or bones- which includes dragon bones and dragon scales. These are pretty deadly and pretty frightening to behold! I should know, I know have a full suit and arsenal of them!

skyrim_apocryphaAnd then there is the Dawngaurd plug-in, where an ancient vampire clan is returning to Skyrim. As usual, this has to do with a prophecy foretold in the Elder Scrolls that tells of the coming of eternal darkness. The vampires that belong to Clan Volkihar, led by Lord Harkon, seek to actuate the prophecy by performing a ritual involving a mythic bow and a blood sacrifice.

After recruiting Harkon’s own daughter (Serana) to your side, you manage to obtain several more Elder Scrolls, the bow itself, and are then forced to travel to another mythic realm, and eventually confront Lord Harkon and his clan at Castle Volkihar off the north-western coast of Skyrim. Once complete, the Dawnguard returns to its old glory and you and Serana are made permanent members.

skyrim_dawnguardAnd last, but not least, is Hearthfire, where things get a little different. Instead of offering additional quests that have to do with other prophecies, Hearthfire gives you the ability to purchase land in Skyrim and build your own tailor-made houses on them. This requires you to amass building materials – such as quarried stone, wood, clay, and various iron components.

With these secured, you are then able to build a home from the ground up, adding different wings and special sections – which include a Great Hall, a Kitchen, an Alchemist Tower, Trophy Room, Storage, Cellar, Bedrooms, and Entrance Foyer. You can augment these further with furniture, furnishings, a stable, a carriage, a bard, a smelter, a forge, a shrine, and about a hundred other options.

skyrim_hearthfireBetween Windstad Manor, in the salt marshes in Hjaalmarch, Lakeview Manor in the forests of Falkreath, and Heljarchen Hall in the Pale, you have the option to build three manors. And of course, you need a Housecarl to look after them and have your pick of three. And what’s also cool is that the expansion gives you the option to adopt two children, and you have your choice of four possible ones.

Having played them all, I can tell you that I enjoyed them all, particularly the first and third. If you happen to buy Skyrim, splurge and get the expansion packs!

Summary:
As I said already, this game was absolute awesomeness! Much like Oblivion, the production value was extremely high, and it features the voices of several well-known actors. This includes actress Joan Allen who does the voice of Delphine, Max von Sydow as Esbern, and Christopher Plummer as Master Arngeir of the Greybeards. All of this goes real well with all the world-building and detailed environments.

What’s more, I liked how the two main quests were intertwined, the one very much dependent upon the other. This gives you a chance to engage in some immersive medieval-style warfare, and also provides an opportunity to fight it out with beasts several times your size. I was especially impressed with this last aspect, which is something you don’t see in the gaming world often.

tamriel_mapIn addition to dragons, there are also giants, mammoths, and giant anthropomorphic robots that defend the Dwemer ruins. In most games, going up against larger-scaled enemies can look and feel awkward. But here, it both looked and felt natural, and was mighty fun to play at. And of course, there were countless other enemies that were just as cool to fight.

But what I especially loved about Skyrim was the way they managed to once again create a realistic setting, with a world that contained a highly interactive environment, wind-blown snow, rustling trees and bushes, and people who looked and moved in realistic ways. And as always, the cultural aspects of the game, which included food, drink, literature, ingredients, and items that are peculiar to Skyrim’s culture, but also includes items from other provinces.

skyrim_mountedAnd like the last game, you have quests which are connected to the guilds. In this case, this includes the College of Winterhold, which is the holdover from the Mages Guild in Skyrim, and the Companions, which is the local version of the Fighter’s Guild. Joining them means taking on quests which will allow you to climb the ranks and take on their enemies, ultimately earning the position of leader. There are innumerable other quests, plus the ability to amass abilities and bonuses based on amassed experience.

And of course, you can amass property, money, and personal possessions galore. But unlike Oblivion, you also have the option of getting married. This can be to any central character from the story, and can even be same-sex, if you’re so inclined. Combined with the Hearthfire ability to adopt and build your own home, you have the ability to create an entire family in this game. Kind of like Second Life, only set in Tamriel. Way better!

Of course, I could go on and find more to praise about the game, but some things you just need to check out for yourself. Consider this my long-winded wringing endorsement! And just for fun, I thought I’d post the trailer since it was pretty impressive too:

Conan, Then and Now

Conan, Then and Now

When I first started doing sci-fi movie reviews, I knew I wanted to tackle Conan sooner or later. It was one of the Fantasy entries I was making room for, and I thought a comparative analysis, old versus new, would be a cool idea. Well, I finally got around to seeing the new one recently, and am all set to pit the original against the remake. I’m not sure if there’s a word for fans of an original beating a remake, but I think the word Fanbashing (which I might have just made up) will suffice! And by that I mean the beating of something BY fans, not the beating OF fans.

Okay, first up, the original version!

Conan The Barbarian(1982):
This movie is a cult favorite for many reasons. On the one hand, it was a pretty good fantasy epic that adapted the long-running comic book series by Robert E. Howard to the big screen. On the other, it was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakout role. Prior to this, he had spots in B-movies, tv shows, and the cult hit Pumping Iron. After this movie, he would go on to do The Terminator, Predator, Commando, Raw Deal, The Running Man, Twins… in short, every A-movie that he’s known for. But to me, the strength of this movie lies in its direction and storytelling. I tell ya, there are traces of quality and genius that are not commonly acknowledged.

For starters, the casting was superb. Arnie excelled as the brooding, badass known as Conan, James Earl Jones as the hypnotic, charismatic villain Thulsa Doom, Max Von Sydow as the Northman King Osric, and Mako as the narrator/wizard. Hell, even Sandahl Bergman and Gerry Lopez were good as Conan’s love interest and sidekick, Valerie and Subotai. In addition, the story itself was quite creative, weaving epic fantasy and adventure in with real-world history and Nietzschean philosophy.

Despite its small budget and less than pristine production values, you got a real sense that there was a lot of talent and attention to detail went into making this movie. For one, it was directed by John Milius, who’s credits include being the co-writer or director of such movies as Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry, Red Dawn, Flight of the Intruder, and the HBO series Rome. Oliver Stone (Born of the 4th of July, JFK, Natural Born Killers, Alexander) was also attached as co-writer next to Milnius, and famed producer Raffaella De Laurentiis (DuneDragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Dragonheart, and The Forbidden Kingdom) helped produce it. In short, a lot of talent went into the creation of this film, and I personally felt it showed!

For many, this movie is a guilty pleasure, being one of those B-movies that’s fun in spite of being cheesy. But for me, this movie is also a sleeper hit and a true cult classic, being smart in a way that few people recognize.

Plot Synopsis:
The movie opens with the famous quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Mako, the famous Japanese-American actor, begins narrating and identifies himself as Conan’s chronicler. He sets the scene by telling us that its the “Hyborian Age”, which takes place “Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Aryus…”, meaning somewhere between the mythical pre-historic age and the invasion of the Aryan conquerors into the Mediterranean (ca. 40,000-10,000 BCE).

We are then shown an extended scene where a sword is being forged (an apt metaphor) and Conan’s father explaining to him the Riddle of Steel. This “riddle”, which we are never told, runs like a vein through the movie, something which the viewer is no doubt meant to figure out for themselves. After being told of this riddle and of the war-god Crom, both of which are very important to the Cimmerian people (of which Conan is part) we then see his village being set upon by marauders. After killing everyone in the camp, Conan’s mother attempts to shield him when the leader of these attackers shows himself.

We then get to see the villain make his first appearance. Clad all in black, his green eyes beaming, Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) manages to hypnotize Conan’s mother and take her sword from her. He then decapitates her in front of the young Conan and sells the poor into slavery. Conan is thus left with only the vague impression of who these men were, which is taken from their black standard of two snakes standing before a black sun. What is most effective about these scenes is how little dialogue takes place. Everything is conveyed through the visuals, the sense of horror and confusion coming through with glances and music instead of lines and declarations.

The next few scenes catalog Conan’s formative years as a slave: pushing a massive wheel in an open field until he is the only slave left (and six feet of pure muscle!), being thrown into the slave pits to fight for the entertainment of others, and then becoming a warrior schooled in the arts of swordplay, hand to hand combat and letters. In keeping with the movie’s Nietzschean theme, we see Conan growing stronger from all this, his hard labor, life of violence and education forging him like his father’s sword.

But the big inciting event happens when one of the slavers, someone he has known since he was a boy, sets him free. Not knowing where to go, Conan runs into the wilderness and chances upon a burial tomb belonging to an old Cimmerian King. In there, he retrieves a sword which he keeps for himself, and sums up the fortuitous experience with one word. “Crom!” That says it all! In this one encounter, Conan is reminded of his people, what his father taught him, and chooses to retrace his origins and find those people that killed his people.

This journey leads him to another chance encounter with an old witch who tells him of a prophecy. In short, the prophecy speaks of a man who would come, who would be king by his own hand, and who would drive the snakes from the land – you know, basic prophecy stuff. But its this last part that intrigues Conan. Remembering the enemy’s standard, he asks the woman what she knows of these snakes. But as always, there’s a price! In exchange for sleeping with her, she tells Conan that he must go to Shadizar in the land of Zamorra – crossroads of the world (a clear reference to Gomorrah and possibly Babylon) where he will find his answers. Having consumated, she then does the black widow thing, turns into a demon and tries to kill him. Conan narrowly manages to toss her into the fire, and which point she becomes a specter and retreats. “Crom…” he says. Yeah, that’s getting to be a real catch-all at this point.

Onto the next scene, where Conan wakes the next day to set out. But before taking to the wilderness again, he finds an archer named Subotai (modelled on Ghengis Khan general and clearly meant to look like a Mongol archer). He claims to be a thief and offers to help Conan, and the two become fast companions and travel buddies. Over a dinner of wild game, Conan tells Subotai of Crom and the Riddle of Steel. Like all Cimmerians, we learn that Conan must tell Crom what the riddle is when he travels to Valhalla, otherwise he will be tossed out. Again, we are given hints but never told of the significance of this. Much like Conan, it seems this riddle is something we are meant to determine for ourselves. This is definitely one of those points of unappreciated quality I mentioned earlier. The genius is there man, it’s there!

When they arrive, they find a city that lives up to its inspirations – big, walled, decadent, and smelly. Replete with whores, drugs, and tons and tons of vendors. And of course, the snakes, which come in the form of snake cult that worship Set – a snake demon-god that was inspired by actual mythology. They decide to break into the temple, and in the process meet Valeria, a beautiful thief who is also determined to steal from the cult’s richess. The scenes that follow are like something out of Caligula or the Old Testament, people in long robes sacrificing a virgin to a giant snake who lives at the heart of the temple. And of course, plenty of rubies, precious stones, and a giant gem (the Eye of the Serpent) that the snake itself protects.

In any case, Conan, Subotai and Valeria manage to kill the giant snake, thwart the sacrifice and steal the prized jewel, narrowly escaping by jumping off the temple’s high tower. Celebrating their new found riches, Conan and Valeria experience a budding romance, and Conan gives her the prized jewel in the form of a necklace. However, the good times are cut short as Shadizar’s ruler – King Osiric, a northman like Conan – has them arrested and brought before him. They suspect their heads are going to roll, until Osiric tells him their audicity in robbing the temple has earned them his respect. Seems the cult of Set had taken his daughter away from him, and he’s prepared to give them enough jewels to buy a small kingdom if they would kind enough to fetch her back.

Subotai and Valeria would rather cash out now, the latter even telling Conan that she would like to settle down with him now. However, Conan still wants his revenge for what Doom did to his people, and sets off alone. In the course of journeying forth, he comes upon a strange hermit who lives next to an ancient burial ground where the bones of dead warrior have been arranged in battle formation next to standing stones. Seems the hermit is none other than Mako, the wizard who is Conan’s chronicler. After getting acquainted and  learning of the location of Set’s followers, Conan is off again, leaving the wizard with the distinct impression that they will meet again, and that he will play an important role in Conan’s sage.

What follows are some rather hilarious scenes as Conan finds his way to the cult and tries to infiltrate them. First, he finds them wandering in the wilderness like a bunch of revellers. One of the priests takes an obvious, and borderline homosexual, interest in him. After asking him to speak in private, Conan then beats the snot out of him and steals his robe. He then travels back to the Temple of Set, dressed in the ridiculous robe, and attempts to pass for a priest. “What do you see in there?” some woman asks as he stares into a pool of water. “Uh… Infinity?” says Conan, which the woman seems to approve of. Then, Doom reveals himself along with his chief followers. Conan recognizes them all from when they murdered his people, and slowly approaches them up the Temple steps. However, during a big speech in which Doom, like a true cult leader, predicts the End Of Days, Conan is attacked, beaten and brought before him. It seems they smelt the intruder…

After getting a lecture on how bad he was for ransacking Doom’s temple in Shadizar, Conan then tells Doom exactly who he is – the boy who survived the massacre of his people, and how has come for revenge. Doom’s response is nothing short of perfect. He admits that he does not remember, that he must have done it in his younger days when he too sought to understand the riddle of steel. However, he explains, he’s found a new power that puts steel to shame: the power of flesh! He demonstrated this by asking an accolade to come to him from the cliffs above, and the accolade jumps to their death! “That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Such a waste…” He then orders Conan to be crucified, so he can contemplate Doom’s role in making him what he is, and how he squandered it for reasons of revenge.

Conan then dies pinned to a tree, but not before Subotai and Valeria find him and bring him back to the wizard – aka. Mako! He then performs some ritual whereby his spirit is pulled back from the netherworld, and Conan is resurrected. However, they are warned that their will be a price, life for life, etc. But Valeria says she’s willing to risk it because she loves him, which foreshadows what’s to come. The three then set off to invade Doom’s temple and save the princess, but Conan once again has his own plans. In the course of breaking in, they come upon Doom’s men and a big ol’ brawl ensues! Doom is absent from the fight since he morphed into a giant snake and slithered from the room (bit hokey, but okay!). The three then escape with the princess, but Doom makes an appearance on the cliffs above and fires a poisonous arrow/snake into Valeria’s back. She dies, and Conan and Subotai take her body back to the wizard to give it a warriors burial – a big pyre on top of a mound!

Conan, Subotai and the wizard then prepare for an assault, as it is clear that Doom’s men will track them back to the wizard’s home. Turning the standing stones, the warriors remains and every inch of the place into a fortified encampement, Conan then prays to Crom for the first time in years. He asks Crom to grant him revenge, to look upon their valor as they stand against many. He finishes with a line that is both badass and appropriately Conan: “And if you do not listen… then TO HELL WITH YOU!” It takes a special kind of person to tell a god to go to hell, doesn’t it? In any case, battle ensues and its the best part of the movie!

One by one, the bad guys fall as they are either unhorsed by Conan’s sword, shot by Subotai’s arrows, stabbed by the Wizard’s spear, or killed by the booby traps they’ve set up. It all comes down to Conan and Doom’s chief thug, who is wielding Conan’s own father’s sword! Conan is very nearly killed, but is saved at the last second by what appears to be Valeria’s spirit. In keeping with Norse mythology, she appears as a Valkyrie, a warrior spirit since she clearly made it to Valhalla after all! Conan then chops the thug up, breaking his father’s own sword in the process and taking what is left of it back. He then sees Doom ride back to his temple, and decides to use what’s left of his father’s sword for one last duty.

Confronting Doom on the steps of his own temple, Doom tries to pull his hypnotic routine on him. He tells Conan that he is essentially his son, that he made him what he is, and asks him what will he be when Doom is dead. Conan appears to be genuinely falling for it, but then swings his father’s sword around and cuts Doom at the neck! Doom then falls to his knees, where Conan proceeds to hack his head off and toss it down the steps to his followers. He then sets the temple ablaze and marches down the steps and off into the night, Doom’s followers looking on in awe. Conan and Subotai then rides off with the princess, returning to the west to bring her back to her father.

The movie then ends with a picture of an older, bearded Conan sitting on a throne, the epilogue saying that he would go on to become a king himself, as was profesied. But of course, that is another tale 😉

Strengths/Weakness/Impressions:

As I said already, this movie is a personal favorite. One of the best selling points for me was the low-budget, high-quality nature of it. Yes, the production values weren’t the best, and some of the acting was a little B-grade too, but the writing, direction and plot contained unmistakable signs of quality and even touches of genius. Rather than going for a pulp fantasy movie, a la Xena and Hercules, John Milius, Oliver Stone, and Raffaella De Laurentiis seemed committed to creating a story that was grounded in history and realism as well as epic adventure. In this respect, the movie was keeping with Howard’s original vision of the franchise. Howard, like Milnius and Stone, had a passion for history and enjoyed working with settings that were real enough to be credible, but still vague enough to allow him to be inventive while at the same time unconstrained by the pressures of historical accuracy.

But of course, this critique would not be clear without some examples: One, Conan’s people are clearly inspired by Norsemen. They live in wintery forests, wield heavy iron swords and worship the “God in the Mountain” Crom, who is apparently warden of Valhalla and keeper of the Riddle of Steel. Doom’s men, the black riders, were clearly inspired by the Huns – dark riders and conquerors who inspired terror and rode over their enemies. James Earl Jones costumes and appearances were also designed to look as Asiatic as possible, his long hair, green eyes and robes adding to the sense of mystique that surrounded him. It was also a testament to his character that he didn’t speak until well into the movie when he is reintroduced.

Ah yes, and the men that Conan takes up with after becoming a warrior slave were also a clear reference to the Mongols. Their costumes, talk and values are all indicative. Consider the following scene where Conan is in the “Mongol” camp:

Mongol General: “What is best in life?”

Mongol: “The open Steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.”

General: “Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?”

Conan: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!”

Yep, Mongols clearly! The city of Shadizar in Zamorra was also a brilliant piece of set design, calling to mind all kinds of Orientalist, Arab world and Sodom and Gomorrah type motifs.

But perhaps the biggest strength of the film was the thematic consistency of it. The quote by Nietzsche at the beginning not only previewed the plot, it was present throughout the movie as a constant theme. When Conan confronts Doom near the end, he is confounded by the twist Doom puts on his terrible deeds. Would Conan have really grown up to be the warrior-badass he is were it not for the actions of Doom and his henchmen? Hell, Doom even sounds perfectly sincere when he claims that he MADE Conan what he was, and that Conan would be lost the moment Doom was no more. Rather than being some evil megalomaniac, he seemed to capture the essence of Nietzsche’s amoral philosophy quite perfectly.

And lets not forget the Riddle of Steel, which fits in with this philosophy like one of them round pegs! Though we never are told point blank what it is, enough hints are given as to what it might be all about. For one, steel is strong and formidable, unlike flesh which seems weak by comparison. However, steel is useless without flesh, a mere object that is dependent on the hand that wields it.  On the other hand, it could be said that steel is much like people in that it is forged. When it is first extracted from the Earth, raw ore is much like a raw person; but tempered and shaped through constant exposure to extremes and violence, it becomes a deadly instrument, capable of great and terrible things. I tell ya, the metaphor is thick here!

In the end, the worst that can be said about this movie was that it was a tad cheesy, a tad hokey, and that at times a little wooden in terms of its acting. That and the low budget nature of it all, which was quite apparent throughout. But for anyone who doesn’t mind looking a little deeper, this movie had plenty of respectable stuff just waiting to be noticed. And really, it made Arnie’s carreer and probably didn’t hurt Stone’s, Laurentiis’s or Milnius’ either. Granted, the studio then made the horrible mistake of producing Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja, two horribly dumbed down sequels that did very poorly, but time has been kind to the original. It has made many a list as one of the top sci-fi fantasy cult classics of all time, and even inspired a re-imagining this past year.

But that, as they say with this franchise, is another tale… 😉

Conan the Barbarian (1982):

Entertainment Value: 8/10

Plot: 8/10

Direction: 9/10

Total: 8.5/10

Dune, the movie (and miniseries)!

Wow… when I first started doing these movie reviews, last week, I knew that at some point I’d have to cover the book-turned-movie that inspired me to write! And truth be told, I actually saw this movie before reading the book. Yes, Dune was just like Lord of the Rings for me, a film that I was drawn to because I knew it was based on a classic. And upon learning that the movie was significantly different from the book, I decided that at some point, I’d check the latter out. However, it was not until years later, with the production of Frank Herbert’s Dune (the six part miniseries that was much more faithful to the novel) that I finally put my money where my mouth was.

Well, you know the rest… sort of. Short version, it inspired me; long version, I read the first three books, had to return them, then read all six… twice over. Guess you could say I liked them, though I got to admit, not as much as some people! Since I first posted my thoughts about Dune and its Descendents, I’ve learned that their are Dune fansites out there where its all they talk about. And boy do they know their stuff! So let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to the good folks at Jacurutu and Hairy Ticks of Dune! Keep up the good work!

I think I also mentioned somewhere that movies based on books, especially where they differed, would get special attention. To make good on this drunken boast, here’s my review of Dune (1984, directed by David Lynch) and Frank Herbert’s Dune (the 2000 miniseries that premiered on the Sci-fi network). First up, Lynch’s adaptation of Herbert’s Magnum Opus!

(Background—>)
Since 1971, six years after Herbert wrote Dune, attempts were made to adapt the novel to film. Several directors tried and failed, among them Arthur P. Jacobs, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ridley Scott. However, all came up short. Then, in 1981, the Italian film producer Dino De Laurentis decided to tackle it and brought in relative newcomer David Lynch to direct it. This did not mean that the two did not go through hell to create it though! The movie did not hit the screen until 1984, Lynch distanced himself from the work, saying he was denied final cut privileges, and several versions have been released over the years. The original was a two-hour movie that glossed over much that happened in the book and simplified the plot. A three hour version was also released, but this too was guilty of the same faults (i.e. glossing and simplifying). But then again, how do you do justice to a book that is as dense as Dune while still making it fit into a two hour format? Hell, even a three hour format is pretty damn tight, and Lynch cited pressure and deadlines as a reason for the disappointing final product. So really, its lack of commercial success and mixed reviews are entirely understandable. But, as Nietzsche said, “God is in the details”. So let’s get down to the particulars and see just what made the original flop and the miniseries work.

(Synopsis—>)
The original movie opens with an intro that parallels the novels, but which seems, in a movie format, to be both confusing and misleading. Princess Irulan (played by Virginia Madsen) gives us an overview of the known universe, set to a background of stars. She lets us know what year it is, how her father’s the Emperor of the known universe, and how the spice runs everything. She also introduces the namesake of the movie, the planet where all spice in the universe “flows” from – Arrakis, aka. Dune. Now here is why this is confusing. Aside from this intro, she has voice over lines for the rest of the movie, and one line of dialogue in the opening scene. But otherwise, we don’t hear or see from her until the very end, and even then she’s just a stand-in. A glorified prop. This is faithful to the novel, in which every chapter opens with a quote from her Histories of Muad’Dib and what not, but like I say, doesn’t work here. In a movie, if someone’s doing the intro, you’d expect them to have some kind of role throughout the movie.

Moving on, the original movie then introduces us to the Spacing Guild by having them confront the Emperor about a possible conspiracy they got wind of. They demand that the Emperor explain the key elements to them, which is really just an excuse for some exposition. I should mention that none of this takes place in the original novel, and it feels like a total info dump, especially if you’ve read said novel. There, Herbert took his time to build up the conspiratorial relationship that existed between House Harkonnen and the Emperor and used dialogue to put it into the background, which is something they should have done with the movie. Dropping it on the audience all at once just seems forced. Oh, and once the Emperor is done explaining his conspiracy, the Guild adds their two cents: if Duke Leto Atreides is to die, could he throw in the son as well? Why? They try to explain that later. In the meantime, we are left to wonder for ourselves, and the Emperor even asks this obvious question in an internal monologue. I should note that this ALSO did not happen in the original book. In fact, the Guild never made any demands at all and had nothing to do with the conspiracy that gets Act I rolling. So again, no real need for this, except to set up the truncated, simplified plot they went with. The scene did involve some cool costumes though, not to mention a big, animatronic navigator in a pressure tank; all of which was pretty original since the appearance of navigators was never described in any great detail. But for the most part, this scene is kinda useless. It also sets up the rather annoying and persistent habit this movie has of relying on internal monologues. I’m reminded of Blade Runner, where Scott felt that need to include narration in the theatrical version, something which was left out of the Director’s Cut. And as time has proven, the latter was better, relying on the actors and direction to establish things and convey information instead of just telling the audience what’s going on.

The movie then moves to planet Geidi Prime, the home of the Harkonnen’s. This scene I actually liked, at least until the dialogue really started to flow. The reason was because the sets were actually very cool. They create the kind of dark, fearful atmosphere that you would expect from a director like Lynch. But then, a big expository speech is made in which the Baron (Kenneth McMillan) and Mentat Piter De Vries (Brad Dourif) explain to Feyd (played by Sting!) and his brother “The Beast” Rabban, what their plan is, in painfully simple terms! “We got us a conspiracy here, and nobody can know about it, k?” I mean, c’mon people, a little subtlety! They go over the top just a little to make the Baron look evil here too, like how he’s got disease ridden flesh that a doctor has to lance constantly, or how he molests some boy to death, or how Rabban and Feyd enjoy the spectacle immensely. I mean, we get it, they’re evil. Move on!

Speaking of moving on, we are brought to Caladan next, home of the Atreides. We meet Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) as he’s brushing up on his planet studies from what appears to be an iPad/audiobook. And of course, more internal monologue is used to tell us what we need to know about these places. And it’s annoying as all hell! “Geidi Prime, home of our enemy…”, “Kaitain, where the Emperor lives…” “Arrakis… Dune… Desert planet…” Then, we get to meet Paul’s tutors, who stand still and stare at Paul long enough for the narration to introduce them all. Really? Why not just freeze frame it, or better yet, NOT have Irulan introduce them? Seriously, it looks like they’re in a stage play and are waiting for the damn chorus to stop talking so they can say their lines. Okay, so there’s Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart, aka. Captain Picard), Thufir Hawat (Freddie Jones) and Doctor Yueh (Dean Stockwell, aka. Al from Quantum Leap). More expository dialogue follows as they dump info on Arrakis, the Fremen, the giant Sandworms, the spice, their enemies the Harkonnens, and how they suspect the Emperor’s in league with them. Then we get a quasi-action scene as Paul takes down a robot using a Weirding Module (a gun that relies on sound, already mentioned in the movie). Do I even need to mention that these things were never in the original book? In truth, they are kind of neat, and the settings used for this scene are also lavish, just like the ones used to reconstruct the emperor’s palace and Geidi Prime. But, you kind of get the feeling that they are setting the tone for the rest of the movie at this point, like all the money went into wardrobe and sets and none was left over for decent writers!

After beating up the robot with his Weirding gun, Paul meets up with Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow), who tells Paul he’s proud of him and explains how their move will do them good in spite of the danger. Why? Some stuff about how the “sleeper must awaken”. Now of course this is a case of foreshadowing, but even with all the info dumping and internal monologues, its never quite clear what this means, even by the end of the movie. The Lady Jessica is then introduced, Paul gets to meet the Revered Mother, and she tests him with that funky black box that induces pain. This is also in keeping with the novel, as it establishes that Paul might be the Kwisatz Haderach*, and that there is a conspiracy in the works against Paul’s father. Unlike the previous scenes, this one doesn’t feel so info-dumpish. Maybe that’s because its actually pretty close to what was in the novel, so the writers didn’t feel the need to be so expository. But alas, this good scene is followed by a pretty stupid one in which Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan) is intro’d and Paul says good-bye to him, since he will be going to Arrakis with an advance party to check the place out. What makes this scene stupid? Two lines of dialogue: “May the hand of God be with you,” says Paul. “May the hand of God be with us all,” replies Duncan. Just substitute the word Force and you’ve got a lawsuit on your hands. What the hell! That wasn’t even a subtle attempt at ripping off Star Wars, which was by 1984, the most popular sci-fi franchise of all time! What were they trying to do, cash in on one-liner recognition?

We then cut to the Guild transport ship where we get a special effects montage that is meant to illustrate the mysterious process of how a navigator “folds space”. This, as the novel explains, is an instantaneous form of space travel, which is dependent on navigators who have heightened, spice-induced mental abilities to merge time and space. Whoa! Okay, while the special effects in this scene are not up to current standards, it was still pretty cool. And I did love the models used to create the scene, mainly because you get a real sense of grandeur from them which is what Lynch was clearly going for. In the novel, Herbert emphasized that the Guild ships were really, really big! So kudos for more good set work, David. That’s one thing this movie keeps doing well. Then, cut to Arrakis, where the ship has deposited them safely.

What follows is several scenes in which we see the Duke’s men deploying and settling in. Lady Jessica also meets the Fremen and we find out that they also have legends that involve a Messianic figure that parallel the Bene Gesserit’s. We also get a good long scene where Doctor Kynes (Max Von Sydow), the planetary ecologist, takes them to the desert in an ornithopter and we get to see a worm attack a harvester. Again, kind of cheesy by current standards, but the scene is quite well done and does a pretty good job of conveying Paul’s wonder and the obvious tension over being attacked by a gigantic beast. Then, an attempt is made on Paul’s life, they find booby traps, yadda yadda, yadda. And all the while, Paul becomes more and more entranced with Arrakis, the spice, and his own fate. Then, after ALL that build-up, the Harkonnens and the Emperor finally attack! The combat scene is short, people die, Doctor Yueh betrays the Duke, and Paul and his mother are ushered to safety. Duncan also dies way too soon, having lost the better part of his page time and any involvement he had in making sure Paul and his mother survived. But this was obviously done in order to speed along the movie, which was already going long and had lots to cover still.

Speaking of which, Paul and his mother then find themselves in the desert where they narrowly escape a worm and the Fremen find them. Now this part, mainly the scene where they see the desert Fremen for the first time, I got a problem with for three reasons. First of all, they totally change the reason why Paul takes the name Muad’Dib. Its the name of a desert mouse, not the damn “mouse shadow” that’s on the planet’s second moon! Why’d the movie writers change that anyway? Was the book’s version not messianic enough for ya? The nerve! Second, the acting is wooden, from Stilgar (Everett McGill) to Chani (Sean Young), and just about everyone else in this scene! Everything they say just sounds laughable and cheesy. Third, they speed through it like they’re in a huge rush, which is precisely what the movie does from this point onward! Like I said, its as if they acknowledged that they’ve already spent half the movie on Act I and need to rush through Acts II and III. So from this initial encounter where Paul and his mother are welcome into the tribe, we are rushed to the Fremen’s hideout where they show Paul and his mother one of their moisture traps, the Reverend Mother dies and Jessica take her place (in the process drinking the “Water of Life”** and altering her unborn daughter, Alia), Paul begins teaching the Fremen the “Weirding Way” (still sounds weird!) and they begin their campaign against the Harkonnens, and Paul and Jessica fall in love. Totally, totally rushed! Scene by scene, minimal time is given to establishing the significance of these events, Lynch relying on internal dialogue and narration to relate what the audience needs to know. Even the scene where Paul rides the worm feels rushed, and its got the epic music and a freaking Sandworm!

To make matters even worse, Irulan’s voiceover is cued again and we’re told that Paul then spent the next two years waging war against the Baron’s spice production, Alia grew up way faster than any normal child, and Paul and Chani fell in love. Really? All that just happened, huh? And we’re only an hour and fifteen minutes in? Wow, were making great time! Naturally, the book did this too, but it dedicated plenty of page time filling in those gaps. They didn’t just phone it in! I know, I know, time constraints, but even in the long version, it’s the same. Just a montage of shit blowing up, then we come to the scene where Paul meets Gurney again – whose taken up with some smugglers since the attack – and they join forces. I should also mention that the movie then skips a whole bunch of scenes that took place in the novel and moves right to the part where the Emperor comes to Arrakis to demand answers. He does this, in the movie, because the Guild demanded it of him. Again, not in the damn book! In the book, the Emperor intervenes because the Baron’s incompetence in suppressing the rebellion demanded it, not because the Guild is pissed. Then, we learn why the Guild wants him dead. They say so, and Paul sees it in his dream. They are afraid he’ll drink the “Water of Life”, apparently, because… Well, we’re not sure why at this point. And we’re not even sure why Paul will do it, aside from the fact that we’re told, point blank, that he HAS to. His visions are interrupted, you see, and he needs to take the water of life to regain it and “become what he is meant to be”, or some such prophetic shit!

Anyway, Paul achieves a higher state of awareness after surviving the ordeal, as is demonstrated by a series of watery images and more internal monologue. The truth, he realizes, is that the worms create the spice and the two are interrelated. Duh! But apparently, drinking the water has not just restored his visions but given him control over the worms too. Oh boy! Do I even need to say it? NOT IN THE BOOK! In the original story, Paul drank the water to gain full awareness, which is something every Bene Gesserit sister does and Paul knew he’d have to do sooner or later to see if he was the Kwisatz Hadderach. And he didn’t gain control over the damn worms in the process! What’s more, the Guild didn’t give a shit about any of this, nor did it ever even come up, mainly because they didn’t suspect he would take control over the spice-producing worms in the process. That was all invented by the movie’s writers, and it was pretty damn flaccid, you ask me! It was the simplification I mentioned, and for any fan of the novel (or anyone with half a brain, for that matter) it was a letdown. This, apparently, was what his father was talking about when he said those prophetic words: “The Sleeper must awaken.” Well, seems it has. Makes no sense, but whatever…

So, Paul and the Fremen get a hold of a whole lot of Sandworms and decide to attack the Emperor, who’s arrived on Arrakis in his Imperial fortress. And this climactic action scene is, once again, rushed and pretty sloppy. Lots of tracers and lots of things blowing up, but hardly a satisfying fight scene with the kind of urgency or desperation you’d expect. I mean, I know Paul’s prescient and has already foreseen victory, but that doesn’t mean it should be all one-sided. Then comes the final scene where Paul is dictating terms to the Emperor, a scene which is truncated and underdeveloped by any standard. Yes, he does order the Emperor to abdicate and give him power, which involves marriage to Irulan (who appears in this scene, but says nothing), and yes, he tells off the Mother Superior; all of which is in keeping with the original novel. But nothing is mentioned as to how Paul plans to back up these demands. In the novel, his victory is not complete since the Emperor still has the armies of every noble house sitting in orbit, just waiting for him to say “attack!”. He cannot bring the Emperor and the entire universe to heel until he threatens to destroy the spice, which he knows about because he’s stumbled onto the secret of how water is lethal to the worms. “He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing”, as the novel put it. But in the movie, the Emperor is about to protest until the Guild simply tells him to shut up, because apparently, they “know what he can do”. Uh, mind telling the rest of us? Paul controls the worms, so does that mean he can shut off spice production? Tell the worms to simply stop making it? What?

But all that gets pushed aside so Paul and Feyd (aka. Sting) can have their final knife fight scene. Of course, Paul kills him, and makes his proclamation, also from the novel. “We Fremen have a saying. ‘God created Arrakis to train the faithful’. One cannot go against the word of God’. Then comes the two stupidest parts of the movie, nice that they saved them for last! First, Irulan’s final voiceover of the movie explains that Paul ushered in some kind of golden age. “Where there was war, Paul would bring peace. Where there was hate, he would bring love.” Are you freaking kidding me? I could mention that this is a total perversion of what happened in the novels, where in fact Paul’s reign brought in successive Crusades against the world’s that resisted him, killing billions, but I think I’ll just point out how this makes no sense. For starters, this bringer of peace and love, is this the same guy who just waged a war against the Harkonnens for two years, a war that was based on tons of guerrilla/terrorist-style attacks? The same guy who brought down the Emperor’s army by using a tactical nuke, followed by a full-frontal assault that involved monster-like creatures? Second, just how is this messianic emperor (who happens to have an army of skilled religious zealots at his disposal that see him as a living god and obey his every comomand) going to spread peace and love? Boxes of candy and flowers? Get real! It’s “Do as I say, or freaking die like these other bastards!” Why the hell they even threw this line in in the first place is beyond me! It totally goes against everything the book stood for, which was a sense of historic and humanistic realism. Paul wasn’t no Gandhiesque Jesus figure who loved his enemies and fell on their swords. He was a bass-ass prophet with the toughest army on the block, who smote his enemies hard, fast, and where it hurt! Second, its just plain stupid!

Oh, but I’m forgetting the other stupid thing. Paul makes it rain. Yeah, that’s right. As a demonstration of his powers after he’s killed Feyd and brought everyone to heel, he uses his mind and makes the skies open with tears. Um… what??? What the hell is this, more totally over the top messianic crap? The man is NOT God, in spite of his freaky powers or what his followers think of him. Furthermore, as the extended movie already established (not to mention the novel, many times over), water is poisonous to the worms! This is why Arrakis is a desert planet, for chrissakes! The worms altered the ecology so they could survive. So making it rain would automatically kill all of them and shut down spice production forever! And, as the novel and movie both mentioned, spice is the life blood of EVERYTHING! Without it, people die, and I don’t just mean from the total breakdown of trade, commerce and transport. I mean they start Jonesin’ and freaking die! True, the book did dedicate vast amounts of page time explaining how the Fremen want to alter Arrakis’ ecology so it will be lusher and more hospitable, hence all the moisture traps, but this plan involved centuries of ecological engineering, with great care being given to ensure that some patches of desert would remain so the worse could survive. So not only was it a completely over the top, Ten Commandments-style trick, it also contradicted everything established in the movie – and more importantly, the novel – up until this point.

Ah, screw this! Roll credits!

(Synopsis—>)
Okay, no two ways about it, I didn’t like this movie. Obviously, my love of the original book has much to do with that, but so does my commitment to a well-drawn out, well-written story! And while I liked the sets, the costumes, and felt they did a good job of casting, that’s about as far as my love went. The dialogue moves between wooden and preachy, their are far too many expositions being made, the internal monologues are as annoying as they are persistent, the pace is rushed, and the plot feels like a cut and paste job. Once again, I must acknowledge that time constraints and production difficulties were responsible, but that doesn’t change the fact that it feels like they cut a whole lot of corners in this movie, then pasted on some half-assed plot lines in their place to make it fit and still make sense. Well… not exactly make sense, but you get the point. And I’d be one of the first people to admit that this was inevitable since Dune really can’t be made into a two or even three hour movie, but that doesn’t change the fact that the end result was still pretty bad. Not all bad, mind you. In fact, the first hour or so is actually pretty enjoyable if you don’t know what to expect. But then, it all kind of goes to hell and by the end, you get the feeling even David Lynch was saying it “screw it, roll credits.”

And as was to be expected, the movie was panned by critics and did poorly at the box office. A cult classic like Dune you’d expect to not garner a lot of attention at first, but at least you’d hope it would get the attention of critics and command a cult following. Alas, this movie did neither, and it was for this reason that the miniseries was made some sixteen years later. Essentially, many felt that the Dune franchise, with all its adherents and devoted fans, deserved a second shot at a worthy adaptation. And by opting for a miniseries format – three episodes, two hours each with commercials – they would be able to do it justice. And you know what, they did! But more on that in my next installment…

Dune:
Entertainment Value: 6/10 (good for the first hour, then not so much)
Plot: 3/10 (weaaaaak!)
Direction: 8/10 (nothing wrong with how Lynch shot it!)
Total: 6/10

Endnotes:(your welcome!)
* A superbeing the Bene Gesserit were conspiring to develop through selective breeding. A male that would combine all their powers of genetic memory, prescience, and super-human kills.
** The liquid exhalation of a sandworm that is excreted in the course of their dying, which the Bene Gesserit rely on to achieve higher awareness. The “trial” involves drinking the poisonous water and converting it by using their mental acuity. Those who survive achieve higher awareness, those who fail die.