Writing

“Writing isn’t hard – just get out a piece of paper an open a vein.”

I don’t remember who said that, but it’s a popular cliche among those who consider themselves to be literarily minded. The meaning of it, if you didn’t grasp at the outset, is that writing is a painful, personal experience that requires tremendous sacrifice from the writer.

I used to think that was bunk. I don’t anymore.

When this blog debuted in 2007,  I made it a goal to write something significant on a daily basis, and for well over a year, I was successful. I went through droughts now and again, but I always came back and had long stretches of lengthy posts, which, of course, were undeniably brilliant. I mean, come on. I’m Stallion Cornell.

You may have noted a dearth of postings of late.

I have excuses. Some of them are even actual reasons. But the heart of all of it is the unpleasant reality that writing, just as a process, has become far more psychologically difficult for me than it has ever been. This probably means I’ve become lazier and/or crazier, or both, but it frightens me that this may become the new normal.

So here’s what I’m going to do to prevent that.

Over the weeks and months, I’ve had dozens of ideas for blog posts, but I haven’t taken the time to flesh them out. So today, I’m just going to write down some of them, and, if you’re so inclined, please leave a comment and tell me which of these theses you’d like to see explored in a full-length essay.

Here they are:

1. The only way Hillary Clinton can avoid being elected president is if she becomes a Klansman and starts using the N-word in casual conversation. (And even that might not do it.)

2. If it took nearly half a decade to excommunicate John Dehlin, a man who makes his living by tearing down the truth claims of his former church online, then the idea that the Mormons are purging themselves of doubters and heretics is ludicrous on its face.

3. When I personally struggle with doubts, they’re never doubts about whether or not there is a God, as I find atheism largely ridiculous. My doubts always focus more on the character of God – i.e., what if God is actually kind of a jerk?

4. Most people who invoke scientific authority in political discussions do so because what they believe is diametrically opposed to actual science. 

5. The LDS Church’s missionary program needs to be re-thought from the ground up. I think that means no more knocking on doors, no more white shirts and name-badges, more specialization and online engagement, and a far greater emphasis on community service. Mostly, it means a great deal of localized experimentation, much of which will fail before it stumbles on an approach that will succeed.

6. Despite centuries of attempts, no one has yet produced an adequate explanation for the existence of The Book of Mormon other than the one offered by Joseph Smith. 

7. I have not encountered a new or interesting religious or political argument online for years, if not decades. 

8. The CW’s “The Flash” is the best live-action superhero story ever told, and “Agents of SHIELD” no longer sucks.

9. I know everything that’s going to happen in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and I’m still wildly excited to see it.

10. I have no favorite potential Republican presidential for the same reason I have no favorite Libertarian or Green Party candidate, as the none of the nominees from any of these parties has the slightest chance of ever becoming president.

Oh, and America has about ten years left. Fifteen, tops. But that might not be a bad thing.

There. Vein officially opened. Let me know what you think. 

Confessions of Languatron’s Bane

“Star Wars: Episode VII” recently resumed production after taking a two-week hiatus to allow Harrison Ford to heal. Rumor has it that the Han Solo actor broke his leg when a hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon was dropped on it. But other rumors say it wasn’t the Millennium Falcon’s door but, rather, the door of another spaceship altogether, the identity of which would likely constitute a spoiler for the much-anticipated sequel.

The Internet has no shortage of similar Star Wars spoilers. If you believe everything you read, you can piece together a workable plot of the film, despite director J.J. Abrams’s notorious penchant for on-set secrecy. (There’s a poster in his production offices that says “Loose Lips Sink Starships.”) Tight security notwithstanding, you can, with just a few Google searches, find out where Luke Skywalker has been for the thirty years since “Return of the Jedi,” as well as who this trilogy’s bad guy is and what he looks like. You can even see what Han Solo will be wearing in hot and cold weather.

That’s all presuming, of course, that these rumors are all true. And they’re not.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all of them are wrong. The Han Solo costume designs look particularly legit, and surely there are some nuggets of truth amidst the gossipy dross. But big genre movies like these tend to bring out the Internet trolls, many of whom spread disinformation just for the cheap thrill of getting away with it.

Trust me. I speak from experience.

The year was 2008, and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was getting ready to hit theaters. That meant that a bunch of movie sites were publishing “advance reviews” that warned that the movie was going to be awful. There were dozens of them, many of which were poorly written, and I started asking how so many illiterate nobodies were given access to what was the most hotly anticipated film of many a year. I concluded that most of these reviews were bogus, and I wondered what it would take to write such a thing and get one of the sites to pick it up.

You can see where this is going.

Yep. You heard it here first. For no good reason, I churned out a piece of nonsense that was essentially a “greatest hits” melange of all the tidbits I had found in other articles. I submitted it to AintItCoolNews.com using the silly pseudonym “Languatron’s Bane,” and I waited to see if they would take the bait.

They did.

“A more positive, yet far more damning, review of INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL comes in…” the headline screamed. The piece was peppered with such bon mots as “that’s not to say it’s a bad movie. It’s just an unnecessary one,” and “This is the “Free as a Bird” of Indiana Jones movies.” Despite the fact that I got a crucial detail wrong – I claimed that the movie included the line “It’s not the mileage; it’s the years,” and it didn’t – my error wasn’t enough to expose the fraud. Indeed, my review was quoted by a number of other publications, including the UK Telegraph. That’s right – my piece of hooey made it across the pond! I should have been ashamed of myself, and I probably would have been if I could have kept myself from giggling every time someone else fell for it.

There’s a lesson here. Writing fake reviews and making up phony information about movies isn’t something people ought to do, but people still do it, because it’s fun and because they can. Be wary. And look for my exclusive advance review of the next James Bond movie in my next post.

Temple of Dung

imagesThat’s a harsher title than it ought to be, as I don’t hate “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” But the revisionist history going on across the Interwebs as we mark the 30th anniversary of the first sequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” has me completely baffled. It’s also directly contrary to my own personal experience.

AintItCoolNews, for instance, posted a plethora of article under a series they titled “Fortune and Glory,” in which the writers talk about how underappreciated the Indy prequel is. Many of them admit they didn’t like it much when it first came out, but the intervening years have caused them to appreciate the film’s charms over time.

For my part, I loved “Temple of Doom” back in 1984.  The year previous, I had ditched school to stand in line to see “Return of the Jedi” on opening day, and I refused to admit, even to myself, how disappointing I found the third “Star Wars” entry. I had no such feelings about Indy II. It was non-stop action, with every sequence even more exciting than the last. Yet for me, the movie really hasn’t aged well at all. It’s got some of the best set pieces of the entire series, but none of them hang together in anything like a cohesive whole. It’s easily my least favorite “Indiana Jones” movie, and, yes, that includes “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” for which I’ve become a rather vocal apologist.

Of course, I’m operating from the premise that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is the closest thing to a perfect film ever made. Everyone kept saying how closely it followed the old black-and-white serial formula from my parents’ era, but I knew nothing about black-and-white serials. All I knew when I first saw Indiana Jones was that it was entirely original and unlike anything I’d ever seen. (I remember sitting in the theatre having to pee when I first saw it, but I didn’t dare leave my seat for fear of missing a single moment.)  This movie is still the template for how to do an adventure film, yet nothing that has followed has been the equal of “Raiders.” Nothing has even come close.

As a kid, I was captivated by the action, but as an adult, the movie endures because Indiana Jones isn’t just a generic action figure. You’re introduced to his idiosyncrasies early on – he hates snakes, you know – and the contrast between his fedora and professor personas makes him much more interesting.  And when we meet Marian drinking a sherpa under the table, we fall in love with her instantly. And what terrific bad guys! Belloq, the lazy weasel who steals the idol right after Indy’s done all the work! That sneering Nazi with the medallion seared into his hand! You’re just as eager to see the villains get their comeuppance as you are to see Indy succeed. “Raiders” manages to create indelible and unique characters in the midst of all the commotion, and that’s the main reason why it’s the masterpiece that it is.

In 1984, I didn’t really notice that the characters weren’t all that interesting in “Temple of Doom.” The movie is so busy – or perhaps “cluttered” is the right word – that you don’t realize until afterward that the Indiana Jones that was so fascinating in “Raiders” is largely absent here. Fact is, “Temple of Doom’s” Indy, up until the very end, is kind of a jerk. You don’t really notice at first, because there’s plenty of leftover “Raiders” affection for him, but if you take “Temple of Doom” as a standalone, this Indy is pretty boring.

Of course, he’s the height of complexity when compared to the shrieking banshee that is Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott. Even in 1984, I thought she was nails-on-a-chalkboard awful. I’m sure she’s a great lady in real life – Steven Spielberg fell for Capshaw on set and has been happily married to her since 1991 – but there’s a reason her career never went anywhere after this.

Of course, it’s not all her fault, as her character is supposed to be grating. But that’s the problem – “grating” isn’t fun to watch, unless maybe it’s “funny/grating” or “grating-with-a-heart-of-gold.” But Capshaw was none of that. She was just “watch-me-whine” grating. I think a better, more likable actress could have brought more to the part than was on the page and somehow make us not hate her, but Capshaw is ultimately the weight that sinks the film.

The only other character worth mentioning is Short Round, Indy’s kid sidekick who, almost by default, becomes the most interesting character in the movie. The scene where breaks the voodoo-esque spell on Indy is the most compelling moment in the entire film. But he’s largely undeveloped, and much of his shtick is a little too cutesy for my tastes.

As for the bad guys, there’s nothing to see here. Mola Ram is a stock villain pulled off the B-movie shelf.  He’s bad because he’s bad. Yawnsville. The MacGuffin – the Sankhara Stones – pales in comparison to the Lost Ark. Dramatically speaking, there’s not much to hold anyone’s attention.

That leaves the action sequences, which include the finest such sequences in the entire franchise. The Club Obi-Wan stuff is dazzling and the best opening sequence in all four films. The mine cart ride is a practical special effect tour-de-force that would be hard to recreate today, even with CGI. And then there’s the awesome rope bridge stuff at the end, which is still so audacious that it leaves my head spinning every time I see it. With stuff like this, it’s easy to understand how the 1984 me was able to overlook the fact that the rest of the movie kinda stunk up the room.

In the film’s defense, there is something to be said for the fact that Lucas and Spielberg didn’t follow the traditional sequel route and recreate the original movie beat for beat. (They essentially did do that with “Last Crusade,” but that was still far more satisfying than “Temple of Doom.” If you have to rip off a movie, “Raiders” is a pretty good source to steal from.) So the producers score points for taking a risk. It’s just that not all risks pay off.

Also, Willie Scott is the Jar Jar Binks of the Indiana Jones series. Meesa loathe her.

Deseret News X-Men column: The Stallionic Director’s Cut

In my recent X-Men continuity problems post, I promised more info the next day, and that additional info didn’t come. That’s because I adapted that post into my latest Deseret News column, which addresses the subject.

However, the size limitations of that column didn’t allow me to cover the issue completely. So I will repost the column, originally published here, and offer some additional thoughts at the end.

(Also, please note that the column doesn’t contain any significant spoilers, but my addendum does. I will ruin the ending for you if you’re not careful.)

______

The X-Men movies break their own rules.

By Jim Bennett, For the Deseret News
Published: Thursday, May 29 2014 5:12 p.m. MDT

 

Having seen all the X-Men movies, as well as the two Wolverine spinoff flicks, I was encouraged by the reviews that said that “X-Men: Days of Future Past” would finally clean up the mess left by the dreadful “X-Men 3: The Last Stand.”

This film series has been plagued by plot holes, and many wish that the third movie had simply never happened. “Days of Future Past,” with its time-traveling plot, essentially grants that wish by altering the past to create a new future that lifts the franchise out of the corner into which it had painted itself.

Now don’t get me wrong. I quite enjoyed “Days of Future Past,” and I consider it to be the best X-Men movie to date. The scenes with Quicksilver, the mutant with a need for speed, may well be the most entertaining moments of superhero cinema ever filmed. Taken as a standalone piece of entertainment, the movie is superb.

But when considered part of a larger whole, “Days Of Future Past” only served to exacerbate the X-movie continuity problems it was ostensibly designed to fix.

Let’s start with the problem of Professor Charles Xavier, as portrayed by Patrick Stewart. This character died about halfway through the third movie. His body was blasted into a million pieces, and it was kind of a big deal. Yet at the beginning of this latest outing, Patrick Stewart’s Xavier is back, front and center, battling the bad guys without missing a beat. Nothing in the “Days of Future Past” time-shifting narrative allows for this possibility, and the professor’s passing never even gets a passing mention.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one who was bothered by this.

When I’ve raised this issue, some are eager to point out that Professor X did, in fact, return from the dead in a post-credits scene at the end of “The Last Stand.” Well, yes. But he did so by transferring his consciousness into someone else’s brain-dead body — someone who presumably didn’t look exactly like Patrick Stewart. In addition, Professor X is still in a wheelchair at the outset of “Days of Future Past.” So even if this body donor was somehow Xavier’s identical twin, it makes no sense that he would have an identical spinal cord injury, too.

I wrote up a lengthy diatribe about this subject on my blog, and I included several other continuity issues that nagged at me. How did Magneto get his powers back after losing them in X3? At the end of “The Wolverine,” Trask Industries is just starting construction of the mutant-hunting Sentinels who are the “Days of Future Past” bad guys, but in DOFP, the Sentinel program begins back in the Watergate era. What’s with the 40-year discrepancy?

And as long as we’re ranting, why is Xavier both ambulatory and bald at the start of X3 when he’s paralyzed with a full head of hair at the end of “X-Men: First Class?” I mean, come on! How dumb do they think we are?

After posting a link to this on Facebook, my sister commented, “Holy crud, you’re nerdy.” She’s right; I am. In fact, I’m so nerdy that I’ve actually had some personal experience in this area. I’m writing a young adult novel, and recently my editor pointed out some places in my manuscript where the plot was inconsistent. At first, I didn’t think it was that big a deal. This is my fictional world, after all. Don’t I get to make the rules?

“Yes,” she told me, “you make the rules. And readers will be completely unforgiving if you don’t respect them enough to follow them.”

Those are wise words for nerds and X-Men alike.

______

That’s the column. Now here’s an addendum with a few other errors that didn’t make the final cut.

What’s the deal with Wolverine’s adamantium claws?

Remember, they were sliced off at the end of “The Wolverine,” and in the dreaded post-credits scene of that movie that brings Patrick Stewart back from the dead, reignites Magneto’s powers, and delays the Sentinel program by four decades, Logan still has the bone claws. But by the time “Days of Future Past” rolls around, the adamantium is back. How did that happen?

I mentioned that to a friend, who shrugged it off and said, “he probably just got an upgrade between movies.”

Neat! An upgrade!

Except the process by which he got them in the first place was so traumatic that it dominated two other movies – “X2-X-Men United” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”  – and was even referenced in “Days of Future Past” as the most stressful moment in Logan’s life. What are the chances he would voluntarily submit to going through that again just for some kind of “upgrade?”

It’s thoughts about being injected with adamantium that threaten to knock Wolverine out of the past and back into the future – which brings up another glitch, but one that isn’t specific to this movie per se. The whole concept of time travel always opens itself to bizarre continuity concerns in every story that uses the idea, and it’s hard to really hold some of these against anybody.

Still, it seemed strange that Kitty Pride had to keep doing whatever it was she was doing to Logan’s temples in a real-time parallel to the events happening in the past. It was as if Kitty’s virtual massage was happening simultaneously with Wolverine’s Watergate-era antics, when one took place fifty-plus years in the past. The illusion of concurrence is convenient for the narrative, but it really doesn’t make any practical sense. It’s even more improbable when you consider that Logan’s time in the past spanned several days, if not weeks. Are we really supposed to believe Kitty was in deep concentration, day and night, without food or drink or bathroom breaks, for the same span of time Logan was cavorting through history?

Perhaps the most egregious problem, however, is the one that many reviewers are calling a triumph. At the end of “Days of Future Past,” history has changed, and it’s as if “X3: The Last Stand” never happened. DOFP   brings both Jean Grey and Cyclops back from the dead and wipes the slate clean. It’s a bit like the end of the first “Back to the Future” movie, when all the bad stuff in Marty McFly’s life is replaced by a much hipper family and a cool new car.

There’s a significant difference, though. In “Back to the Future,” each of the changes in the new future is directly related to Marty’s adventures in the past. So Biff is now a groveling loser because he was humiliated at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance, and Dad is now a successful sci-fi author because he followed Marty’s advice, so he has more money and confidence to create the future to which Marty returns.

None of the changes in the “DOFP” follow any similar logic. Sure, the Sentinel program collapses, but the events of the first three X-films had nothing at all to do with the Sentinel program. So why wouldn’t they still have happened? Jean Grey’s transformation into Phoenix was the catalyst for all the badness. How did she avoid it in the new timeline when it was made clear that it was inevitable? This is just sloppy storytelling all the way around.

Yes, this is nerdy. Yes, it’s “just a movie.” But these holes demonstrate that the producers think it’s “just a movie,” too. Which means that the people who made these films ultimately stopped caring about them somewhere down the line.

And if they don’t care, then why should we?

UPDATE: An email from a column reader explains all!

“The reason your [sic] confused about the reason why Professor x is back you do not watch the end credits of films at the end of xmen last stand the end credits shows professor x alive also the end of the wolverine he was alive.”

Well, that certainly clears it up, in case your [sic] still wondering.

Honestly, why would you take the time to email a columnist when you clearly didn’t read the column?

X-Men Problems

X-Men-GermanSo I saw “X-Men: Days of Future Past” with my twin boys last night.

We had a good time. It was a good movie, probably the best of the X-films, with the possible exception of “First Class.” If you like this sort of thing, rest assured you will enjoy yourself during the watching process.

I am not particularly interested in reviewing it. It’s good. Quicksilver’s ten minutes are some of the best superhero moments ever filmed. Go see it. I will not stand in your way. I will, however, spoil the plot details for you from here on out if you have not seen it. (So, you know, spoiler warning, abandon all hope, yada yada yada.)

One of the big selling points of this movie has been that it’s designed to clean up the continuity messes made over the course of the X-film series. And according to every review I’ve read, it has succeeded brilliantly in doing so.

Well, I am here to tell you, unequivocally, that it hasn’t. If anything, it has made the problems far worse.

Does anyone recall “X-Men 3: The Last Stand?” You probably shouldn’t, because it was wretched. But lots of things happened in X3, things that ought to be consequential in DOFP. “The Last Stand” was the one where Professor X dies halfway through, where Magneto loses his powers at the end, and where Wolverine impales Jean Grey and James Marsden’s Cyclops dies offscreen in the first reel so Marsden could go play Lois Lane’s cuckold in “Superman Returns.”

By the end of this new movie, none of that actually happened. Isn’t that great? DOFP washes away all the X3 stink. Except the consequences of the X3 events ought to have been adequately addressed by the DOFP plot, and, for the most part, they’re ignored completely.

Let’s begin with the good professor, shall we? In X3, his body is completely obliterated by Jean Grey’s telekinesis, and they have a funeral for him and everything. Yet he pops up in the post-credits stinger of last year’s “The Wolverine” movie alive and well. That didn’t bother me, as I presumed they’d explain his miraculous rise from the dead in “Days of Future Past.”

Nope. They didn’t even mention it.

And before you get all geek-huffy on me, I recognize that there was a post-credits resurrection moment for Dr. X at the end of X3. We’re therefore supposed to assume that this was how he came back, and there’s no need to waste any screen time in explaining it further.

But for pity’s sake, doesn’t anybody remember how he came back?

There’s a scene in X3 where Charles Xavier is teaching a class on mutant ethics. He cites as a case study the healthy body of a man with no consciousness. If a mutant had the power to inject his consciousness into this brain-dead body, would that be an ethically acceptable thing to do? Before he can get an answer, however, the demands of the plot interrupt him, and the issue is never raised again – until the very, very end, when the woman monitoring the brain-dead dude hears him speak with Patrick Stewart’s voice. So Xavier has leapfrogged all ethical obstacles and transferred his mental hard drive into all-new hardware.  Presto! Our hero has returned!

Yeah, that’s swell. Except nobody seems to notice that our hero has returned in someone else’s body. Why, then, does he still look like Patrick Stewart?!

In Googling this, I came across an explanation from X3 director Brett Ratner, who apparently said in the DVD commentary that this body belonged to Professor X’s identical twin. Um, ok. That’s ridiculously lazy writing, as there’s never been any reference to Xavier having a twin brother who has been a vegetable on life support for six decades or so, but fine, that’s probably the best you can do.

So why does this convenient, out-of-nowhere spare body donor on reserve in case of Xavier’s death also have a spinal cord injury? Shouldn’t Patrick Stewart’s Professor X be up and walking now that he’s traded in his old fleshware for the new? Nope. he’s still tooling around in his really cool wheelchair. Why? Well, because. Stop asking questions.

As for Magneto, his return to form didn’t bother me as much in light of the last pre-credits shot of X3 when he barely moves a metal chess piece without touching it. But that’s a far cry from the kind of magnetic firepower he wields in the third movie. But OK, the future part of the third movie takes place decades after X3, so his powers could have come back over time. But what about the post-credits scene in “The Wolverine?” Magneto’s back in full force there, and that movie shows Wolverine dealing with the aftermath of the third film as if it happened relatively recently. So the X3 mutant “cure” wore off pretty quickly, didn’t it? Doesn’t that entirely negate the entire premise of the third film?

DOFP did nothing to resolve the myriad of  continuity issues with that Xavier/Magneto/Logan moment in the second solo Wolverine movie. There are so many crammed into such a short span of time that they simply stagger the imagination. Rewatch it, and then come back to me.

There, as Wolverine walks through airport security, he sees TV ads for Trask Industries that suggest they’re just starting to roll out the Sentinels that make life for all mutants hell on earth. These ads are being broadcast circa 2013.

But in “Days of Future Past,” the Sentinels are rolled out by Richard Nixon way back in 1973. You can say that this whole process was sped up by the events in DOFP, but at the beginning of the new movie, they announce that Mystique’s murder of Bolivar Trask at the Paris Peace Accords sets the Sentinel Project in motion in the timeline of the original X-films. Yet in that timeline, the first mention of the Sentinels project isn’t until 2013! What accounts for the four-decade discrepancy here, other than extreme sloppiness?

All right, maybe if you have really strong belief suspension skills, you can assume that Trask Industries has been building Sentinels all along, and nobody’s ever bothered to bring it to our attention. But even if the audience didn’t know that, surely Wolverine would have. Yet when he’s approached by Professor X and Magneto at the airport, they warn him of the grave threat that threatens to destroy all mutants, and it’s the first time he’s heard about it. Magneto even says that there are “dark forces building [present tense] a weapon that could be the end of our kind.” So the idea that the Sentinels have been coming off the assembly line since the Watergate years pretty much falls apart.

There are so many more problems, and I’m already over a thousand words. More tomorrow.

Retrek

All right, at the outset, know that there will be spoilers. Not little spoilers, mind you, but big, freakin’ Luke-I-am-your-father-Rosebud-was-a-sled-it-was-Earth-all-along-damn-you-all-to-hell spoilers. In fact, I’m going to post a spoiler picture, so watch out for that, too. The point is that if you haven’t seen “Star Trek Into Darkness” and you want to see it without knowing what happens, you’ve probably read too much already. Look away! Be gone with you! Abandon all hope, or whatever. Seriously, why are you still reading this?

All right. So. “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

On Facebook, I posted the following mini-review: “Star Trek. Kids loved it. It made me mad.”

I received several replies, including one very common-sense question: “Did you go actually believing you would like it?”

That’s a hard question to answer. Yes, I’m something of a Trek purist, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 reboot, although My Esteemed Colleague, the purest of purists, did not. (More on him later.) I even wrote a column for the Deseret News scolding purists for their unwillingness to embrace the new Trek incarnation, thereby preemptively defending a movie I hadn’t seen. I had also wrote multiple posts outlining the reasons that Cumberbatch was going to be Gary Mitchell, not Kahn. Allow me to quote me:

Again, Khan makes no sense. Not an inside Starfleet guy; no reason for vengeance on Kirk in this continuity, and repeated, emphatic denials from everyone involved with the movie that Cumberbatch isn’t Khan.
– Stallion Cornell, “It’s Gary Mitchell,” December 6, 2012

Those emphatic denials left no wriggle room or gray areas. “It’s not Khan,” insisted Simon “Scotty” Pegg. “That’s a myth. Everyone’s saying it is, but it’s not.”

Oh, wait. Yes, it is. We lied.

See? Spoiler pic there.

I don’t like being lied to, but all’s fair in love and movie promotion, I guess. And the fact that they chose Khan as the baddie isn’t, on its face, a crime against nature. To borrow from Nicholas Meyer, who directed Khan’s last big screen outing, it’s not whether or not you use him; it’s whether you use him well.

Khan is utterly wasted in this movie.

That’s true whatever else you may think about the film. Khan isn’t really the bad guy; Admiral Marcus is – although we’ve seen his type before, too. He’s a Federation version of Christopher Plummer’s Klingon warmonger in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” Khan’s beef with Marcus is justified, and he ends up joining forces with Kirk, which, given the plot, makes all the sense in the world.

Then something stupid happens. It’s not the first time something stupid happens in this movie, and it’s certainly not the last.

When NuSpock phones up Leonard Nimoy for no particular reason, that sent up a red flag that the movie was about to go off the rails. He skypes old Spock in the middle of the confrontation with Marcus to ask about… Khan. Khan, who is currently on their side; Khan, who is ancillary to the dilemma they now face; Khan, who wants to bump off Admiral Marcus even more than they do. How about “Did you know an Admiral Marcus? Was he a power-mad loon?” No, the script has to feature Khan, because, well, he’s Khan, and we’ve wasted him up until now.

And what does Nimoy say? “Oh, Khan! He’s bad! Very, very bad! The baddest guy we ever faced.” (Which is not true, by the way, but I’ll let it slide. I can only get overheated over one thing at a time.)

So then the movie proceeds to fulfill its own lame prophecy, and Khan, who gets possession of the most powerful starship ever built, proceeds to blow the Enterprise out of the water because… well, he’s Khan! KHAAAAN! EEEEEEEEvil Khan! Remember what Grandpa Spock just said? Khan’s just so enormously bad, with a deep streak of incurable badness! He doesn’t want to escape in his trans-warp supership and go wreak havoc somewhere, no! He just wants to beat up on Kirk, because, well, that’s what Khans do.

And therein is the problem. This Khan should have absolutely no beef with Kirk. Which is why this movie falls woefully short of the film it’s so desperately trying to emulate. “The Wrath of Khan” was a masterpiece largely because it drew on fifteen years of history, on relationships between characters and fans that spanned two decades, and a long-simmering grudge ripe for an epic revenge.

This movie has none of those things. So what does it do? It tries to borrow “Wrath of Khan’s” gravitas and pass it off as its own.

Which brings us to… the scene. You know the one I’m talking about.

Up until Kirk’s “death,” I was having a rather pleasant night at the movies. There’s no denying that this was a well-constructed piece of entertainment, and I confess that I very much enjoy the cast, who have made these roles their own. Chris Pine is a bonafide movie star, and he carries the film effortlessly. Scotty had more to do, which was a welcome addition. I was disappointed that Bones was sidelined for much of the action, as he was the best thing about the first movie. But now, I even like Zachary Quinto, who bothered me in the first film, primarily because he was a tenor and Nimoy is a baritone, and I didn’t buy that he could be a younger version of the old Spock. But there was less older Spock to compare him to, which allowed me to accept him on his own terms. I thought he acquitted himself well, even as he was repeatedly forced to erode the integrity of the character of Spock. (More on that later, too.)

But once they got to Kirk taking the Spock side of the glass door in an overdramatic death scene, I got bugged. Then I got angry. And the movie lost me completely, never to get me back again.

Here’s the problem. Thematically, “The Wrath of Khan” is, above all else, a thoughtful meditation on aging and death. Kirk has made it to middle age without ever face his own mortality, and he’s prided himself on his ability to cheat the Grim Reaper at every turn. When Spock dies, Kirk is forced to confront death in the most unsettling and disturbing way possible, watching his longtime friend expire right in front of him. The scene works on its own merits, but it has tremendous power born from the characters’ relationships with both the audience and each other.

By way of contrast, “ST Into Darkness” is thematically barren. It’s not a meditation on anything; it’s a loud, brash popcorn flick. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with loud, brash popcorn flicks. “Iron Man 3” was awesome. (More on that in another post.) In addition, the characters don’t have Shatner and Nimoy’s decades of association to draw upon, and the audience isn’t nearly as invested in them as they were in the old guys. So when they decide to drop a lead weight of bathos into what has, up until then, been a fluffy piece of cinema cotton candy, it’s clumsy and labored.

And then the stupidest thing possible happens: Spock, who has just bawled his eyes out and demonstrated no ability to contain his emotions, yells “KHAAAAAAAAAN!”

It made me laugh. Even worse, it was designed to make me laugh. How could it not be? Shatner’s “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN” shout is now an iconic element of almost every Kirk parody ever performed. This was a callback to something that’s become a joke. Who undercuts the dramatic tension of its most “poignant” moment with a punchline? Someone who sorely misjudged the nature of these characters, that’s who.

It reminded me of the terrible moment (amid a sea of terrible moments) in Shatner’s execrable “Star Trek V” where they come face to face with God Himself, who then asks to borrow the Enterprise, to which Kirk then asks, “What need does God have of a starship?” And the audience laughs, because they recognize the fundamental absurdity of everything they’ve watched until now. Seeing Spock’s Khan shoutout was the last straw. After that, the movie had abandoned all pretense to integrity. There was no longer anything worth caring about.

Once the roof caved in, I found myself questioning all the moments I had previously enjoyed. Yes, it’s exciting and fun, but think about how absurd the opening of the movie is. They don’t want to lift the Enterprise out of the water because the locals will see it, right? Well, wouldn’t they have seen it when it went under the water in the first place? Kind of a big ship, isn’t it? And why did it have to go under water? We can beam things to any spot on the surface from orbit, can’t we? They may have made up some hooey about the volcano offering interference or something, but they undermined that when they beamed Spock out of harm’s way. And, really, why did Spock have to be down there at all? Why not just drop the cold fusion bomb and let it blow up on its own?

Hey, if you really do need a guy there for some reason, why not use Harrison Khan’s ridiculously powerful portable “trans-warp” device which can zip you from downtown London to downtown Kronos in the blink of an eye? And when they discover that device, why not trans-warp beam a handful of Starfleet SEALS to Khan’s location, slit his throat, and then beam them back?

Why is Khan on Kronos, anyway? Sure, it’s convenient for Marcus, who wants to start a war, but isn’t Marcus Khan’s sworn enemy? Why would he accommodate him with a hideout that plays directly into his agenda, other than, you know, lazy writing?

And then there’s Kirk’s resurrection via Khan blood. McCoy even removes one of Khan’s crew to put Kirk in a cryotube. Doesn’t that guy from the tube have genetically enhanced superblood, too? Yes. Don’t they know that? Yes. Do they ignore it for no logical reason and go after Khan in an overwrought chase sequence instead? Why, yes, they do, in fact!

To be fair, these plot holes are much smaller than the first film’s were. But I don’t mind plot holes as long as the thing can still hang together as a cohesive whole. This movie couldn’t accomplish that. It tries to be all things to all people, and it hurled me out of the moment with its clumsy callback to a film it admires but doesn’t understand. It’s sad, really – we only get new Star Trek every few years, and it seems such a waste to use one of those outings to retread what has gone before.

My Esteemed Colleague refuses to see it, and he insists that it will ruin Trek for generations. He may be right; my kids loved the thing, and they think I’m just a geek with no life for feeling differently. But I don’t think this is the Trek death blow. As I said, the cast works, and, given a decent story, they can get this franchise back on track. The movie ends precisely where the series begins, with the onset of their five year exploration mission. Maybe next time they’ll get it right.

Because they didn’t get it right this time.

Tolkien Grousing on Retro Friday

Over spring break, the Cornells huddled together and watched all twelve hours of the Extended Editions of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen them, and I’m pleased to report that they’ve aged rather well. The CGI still holds up, although the trickery to make the hobbits look tiny does not. “Oh, look!  A body double! Wow! Bad digital shrinkage! Neat! Forced perspective!” It’s very, very obvious once you look for it.

It’s interesting to watch them after having seen the cinematic adaptation of “The Hobbit,” because, even in the extended versions, they lack the bloat and padding that marred the retelling of Bilbo’s adventure. They’re tightly constructed, well performed, and, for the most part, true to Tolkien’s vision.

Unless, of course, you ask a Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien, that is, the curator of his father’s legacy who, at the age of 87, recently granted his first lengthy interview ever in which he complained that Jackson’s films “eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25.”

Ouch.

At the age of 44, I’m sad to learn that I don’t fall into the film’s demographic. And I first saw the trilogy when I was apparently too old to appreciate them, too, so accept these musings from someone who is obviously too immature to have anything substantive to say.

But still, ol’ Chris Tolkien needs to pull his head out.

 

8870244a96926a73802373b11e9d834c_christopher_tolkien

I have some problems with the movies, yes, particularly in the areas where Jackson went too far afield in altering the original story to make it more cinematic. I find the character arc of Faramir to be particularly grating, although I understand why Jackson did it that way, as, literarily, Faramir had no character arc – he was a saint from the get go, and saints aren’t as much fun to watch on screen.

That doesn’t excuse the moment in “The Return of the King” when Frodo sends Sam home, though, particularly since Sam actually leaves. The same Sam who risked his life to jump on board Frodo’s boat at the end of “Fellowship of the Ring” and swears never to abandon Frodo voluntarily starts back home from the border of Mordor? Ridiculous. And I would have liked to have seen Sam struggle with the ring, as well as a few other additions and subtractions.

But other changes made an awful lot of sense. No Tom Bombadil? That’s Tom Bomba-tastic! And the absence of the Scouring of the Shire is absolutely fine with me – it’s a long, tedious, undramatic section that undermines just about everything that went before. Those who complain that the movie version of “The Return of the King” has too many endings don’t remember that there are over a hundred pages left in the book after Frodo destroys the ring. Tolkien’s story is a wonder, but it’s also overlong, plodding, filled with tangential weirdness, and largely uncinematic.

That’s not a criticism so much as a straightforward assessment. Tolkien was not writing with movies in mind, and any adaptation has to prune and focus all of his narrative cul-de-sacs and poetic indulgences into something watchable. The fact that Jackson was able to do this and still maintain both thematic and narrative consistency with Tolkien’s work is nothing short of miraculous. It is, in its own way, an act of creativity on par with Tolkien’s book. So to hear Christopher Tolkien grouse that it’s some sort of evisceration strikes me as petty and vindictive.

Honestly, what did Christopher Tolkien expect? Would he have preferred a sequel to Ralph Bakshi’s lamentable LOTR cartoon? Maybe a few more Rankin-Bass kiddie versions with very unTolkieny songs thrown in? (“Where there’s a whip, there’s a way…”) Actually, he’s stated he’d prefer none of the above, as he doesn’t consider his father’s work filmable. And he’s right. It’s not filmable in its original state – it needs to be adapted to suit a new medium, which is what Peter Jackson did so well.

He also complains that he has not been adequately compensated for the movies, since the film rights were sold for a relative pittance way back in the day. Well, boo hoo. The movies increased sales of the books by 1000% in the three years they were in theatres, with a whopping 25 million copies of the books flying off the shelves between 2001 and 2003. These “eviscerations” sparked a renaissance of interest in the source material from whence they sprang. Surely that’s a good thing, Chris? And surely your father’s estate profited handsomely thereby?

I love the books. I love the films. And I have little patience for multimillionaire whiners.

And now, of course, it’s time for round two of…

RETRO FRIDAY!

retroAs I mentioned previously, I’m editing, categorizing, and tagging all my blog posts, ten per week beginning at the beginning, in order to better manage the info. I’m also posting links to the spruced-up posts to those who are deranged enough to want to read or reread them.

And here they are! Although I’m scrapping the whole thumnbnail picture thing I started last week- they’re too much work, and they’re really not necessary for what I’m trying to accomplish.

LEGISLATING MORALITY WITH VAMPIRE LADIES – posted August 24, 2007

Really enjoyed rereading this little gem about vampire novelist Ann Rice’s warped perspective on abortion and the redistribution of wealth. This piece has proven to be prescient, methinks.

SOMETIMES LANGY’S RIGHT – posted August 25, 2007

MORMONS AREN’T VICTIMS – posted August 26, 2007

Discussion of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and its context in Mormon history, as well as a warning against the MMM-themed movie “September Dawn,” which nobody ended up seeing anyway.

ANDREW FOGELSON’S MAGIC KISS – posted August 27, 2007

Still one of my most frequently-viewed posts, wherein I tell the story of my obnoxious behavior in my role as the lead of 1985’s Calabasas High School production of “The Music Man.” Andrew Fogelson’s son is now the Chairman of Universal Pictures, so this was kind of a stupid bridge for me to burn.

THE LOST ART OF THE CRANK CALL – posted August 28, 2007

The first mention of My Esteemed Colleague and the story of how we hounded an innocent man into madness because he used to answer the phone by saying “HOWWWWWDY!” Also uses the phrase “Frog Hopkins Joe Joe Joe Joe.”

ON REQUEST: WEIRD MORMON STUFFposted August 29, 2007

Just what it says. A reader asked about the more Galactica-esque points of Mormon doctrine, notably Kolob and human deification, and I do my best to answer him without sounding like a lunatic.

ON HATINGposted August 30, 2007

The first in a series of discussions about the multitudes of people who hate my guts. The focus here is Bill and Jacqui Landrum, who originated the phrase “These are my jewels. You don’t like them? I take them back.” Devolves into a discussion of My Esteemed Colleague’s little raccoon.

LEARNING FROM LARRY posted August 31, 2007

Poor Former Senator Larry Craig. This post recounts the downfall of the Idaho legislator who solicited gay sex in a restroom, plead guilty to doing so, and then tried to take it back. It also laments the fact that I don’t know how to solicit sex or buy illegal drugs.

ON BEING HATED
posted September 1, 2007

The story of a Kids of the Century girl who nursed a grudge for over a decade because I used to make fun of her making out in public. I think the main reason this bothered me is that when I was mocking her, I wasn’t making out with anybody.

THE TRUE STORY OF RICHARD THE BRICKLAYER
posted September 2, 2007

The Stallion Cornell family tree is explored in depth here as I recount the story of Richard, the reluctant pioneer who came to Utah only because all his money burned up and he couldn’t afford to go back to Birmingham, England.

Tune in next week for:

SWEET BABY JAMES

FRED, RUDY, AND A BLOCK OF CHEESE

HOLIDAY EUPHEMISMS

And much more!

 

 

Mormons Aren’t Victims

In the state of Missouri, up until 1976, it was legal to shoot a Mormon on sight.

Actually, it probably wasn’t, because more recent murder statutes would have taken precedence over the so-called “Extermination Order” issued in 1838 by then-Governor Lilliburn Boggs. That order read, in part, as follows:

The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace.

In terms of practical application, by the late 20th Century, the order was little more than a silly “blue” law, like laws against spitting on Sunday or whistling past graveyards. No one was shooting Mormons in Missouri in 1976. But the Extermination Order was still on the books.

Those not of my faith may not have heard this before. They may not know how many times the Mormons were driven from their homes or how many saw their own children murdered before their eyes. They may not know of the cities and temples they had built with their own hands at great personal sacrifice, only to have them razed to the ground by bloodthirsty mobs. They may understand that the Mormons wound up in Utah because they fled the United States, where President Martin Van Buren had told them “your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.” They slogged West to find a place where, in Brigham Young’s words, “the devil can not dig us out.” They settled in the desert of the Salt Lake Valley because, frankly, it was a place that no one else wanted. (Having lived through many a Salt Lake winter, I can see why.)

Mormons tell these stories among themselves, but they do so without bitterness or resentment. It’s part of our history, and we’re proud of our ancestors who sacrificed so much to preserve our faith. At the same time, we try to look forward and not backward.

The Latter-day Saints who braved the elements to cross the plains in the mid-eighteenth century sang a song that is still popular among modern LDS congregations. It’s called “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”

Some excerpts:

Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way…

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard? 
’
Tis not so; all is right…

We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the Saints will be blessed.
We’ll make the air with music ring,
Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we’ll tell–
All is well! all is well!

Most of the people who sang this song had suffered horribly as a result of manmade and natural disasters. But, like Job, they refused to curse God and die. They chose, instead, to sing of joy and celebration.

In other words, this is not the song of victims.

I offer this as information as a historical context for those of you who might be tempted to see the new movie “September Dawn,” which opened in theatres two days ago. The movie dramatizes the horrific events surrounding the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, in which 120 innocent people were butchered by a handful of Mormons who may have sung the song but not absorbed its lessons. They weren’t interested in wending their way with joy. They were frightened and paranoid. They had suffered; they wanted someone to pay. So they did an utterly evil thing. And, to this day, the wounds from that event haunt the families of both victims and perpetrators alike.

Given the amount of abuse the Mormons themselves suffered, and the thousands of lives lost, it’s remarkable that this one hideous incident of revenge stands unique in Mormon history. You’d think, if terrorist-style massacres were, in fact, rooted in some secret, unspeakably evil Mormon doctrine that these kinds of slaughters would happen more than once every 150 years.

The film, which I have not seen, reportedly attempts to equate Mormons with al Qaeda Muslims, which is exactly wrong. Even in the early days of the Church, the Mormons weren’t interested in retaliation. That’s why they trekked across the plains in the first place. They went West to leave their grievances behind.

It doesn’t matter, really. The movie is getting savaged by the critics, and it is unlikely to set the box office on fire. It’s a bit like the extermination order in 1976 – it’s there, yes, but no one is paying attention to it.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Church, where I will wend my way with joy with five screaming young’uns who are still angry that I made them bathe this morning.

Sometimes Langy’s Right

As much as it pains me to say this, Languatron is dead right.

One of Languatron’s central arguments is that Universal Studios has contempt for the public at large, and they refuse to give audiences what they want. Or, in his own inimitable style, he states:

To my knowledge, Universal Studios has never given a flying ant farm about anything that the public would like to see on movie or television screens.

Overlooking the bit about the ant farm, Languatron hits the nail on the head here. And the problem isn’t limited to Universal Studios, either. Hollywood defends the reprehensible rubbish they produce by appealing to free market principles. As they dump an unending stream of offensive garbage on the public, they insist they are only giving people what they want.

Yet the facts say otherwise.

The Dove Foundation, a non-profit organization from Michigan, released a study two years ago that demonstrates that G-rated movies are, on average, 11 times more profitable than their R-rated counterparts. Yet during the five-year period being studied, 53% of the films Hollywood released were R-rated. Only 4% were G-rated movies.

The principle here holds up throughout the entire rating system. PG-rated movies are significantly less profitable than G-rated films, but they are more profitable than PG-13 and R-rated movies. The PG-13 rated films are just slightly less profitable than PG-rated films, but they are, on average, three times more profitable than the R-rated films. Yet Hollywood continues to produce more R-rated movies than all of its other movies combined. Shareholders in the Hollywood studios should be going ballistic over this. I can think of no other industry that so studiously avoids making money.

So if they’re not giving the public what they want, what are the doing? They’re reinforcing their own insular view of the world and patting themselves on the back for their ingenuity. They’re not giving us anything – they’re giving themselves what they want, and they’re willing to alienate a majority of Americans to do it.

If you’ve got four hours to kill and you’ve got something you can use to prop your eyelids open, try to sit through an Academy Awards broadcast. When politics creep into an acceptance speech, as they inevitably do, when was the last time you heard someone say something consistent with conservative principles? Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you saw someone on that stage that could have possibly voted for George W. Bush? Charlton Heston hasn’t won an Oscar since “Ben-Hur,” almost fifty years ago.

Speaking of “Ben-Hur,” how likely are we to see a religious epic of that scope and power coming out of the studio system any time soon? “The Passion of the Christ” demonstrated that there is a clear hunger for religion in cinema, yet Hollywood ignores the demand and refuses to create the supply. The public wants stories that speak to their faith and reflect their values. Hollywood delivers bilge that insults tradition and mocks the sacred. They’re willing to sacrifice profitability to be provocative. And they do so at the cost of our culture – and, surprisingly, at the cost of their own bottom line.

Langy is still a jerk, though. We can all agree on that.

For he IS the Frumious Bandersnatch!

The end of Harry Potter left me looking for something else to read, and, to ease my withdrawal pangs, I needed a new series I could love just as much as the Hogwarts chronicles. None of the new stuff on the shelves at Barnes and Noble was turning my crank, and I desperately needed a book to take on vacation. So, on a whim, I picked out the 40th Anniversary edition of Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”

I’d always thought that I’d read the novel “Dune” prior to this year, but I don’t know when or where, and I certainly couldn’t have told you anything about it. The only scene I could recall prior to rereading it this summer was when the Duke dumped a glass of water on the ground and made everyone else follow suit. A few of the moments in the book had a familiar ring to them, but, for all intents and purposes, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was reading this masterpiece for what seemed like the very first time.

Which is not to say the book is easy to read. Like Harry Potter, “Dune” creates a fully realized fictional universe, which, in detail and scope, is far more expansive than Rowling’s wizarding world. The fundamental difference is that Rowling goes out of her way to make her world accessible to the average Muggle, while Herbert does exactly the opposite. His book is loaded with jargon that requires constant reference to the glossary in the back. I kept asking things like “What’s a ‘gom jabbar’? What does he mean he’s a ‘mentat?’ And what the Sam Hill is a ‘Kwisatz Haderach?’” Reading the first few pages was extremely tedious, and it made me wonder if I had actually read the book before or if I had just given up when I realized I neither knew nor cared about Kwisatz Haberdashers.

Jargon, in my mind, is an elitist storytelling device. It’s designed to be exclusive, and it usually indicates a condescension on the part of the author –  i.e. if you were only as smart as the guy writing the story, you’d know what was going on. At worst, it’s just plain silly, as in the case with “Battlestar Galactica,” when people use words like “centons” and “yahrens” to describe seconds and years. We’re suspending disbelief long enough to pretend these offworlders are speaking English, so why clutter the language with incomprehensible nonsense? Centons and yahrens are typical of what James Blish used to call “shmerps.” He pointed out that some writers will describe a fluffy, hopping animal with long floppy ears, soft white fur, and a cotton ball tail as a “shmerp” instead of a rabbit, just to make it sound more alien. To me, a rabbit by any other name is a pretty stupid idea.

There are a fair number of shmerps in “Dune,” but they’re fully developed, well-thought-out shmerps. Herbert has created a world much in the same way Tolkien has – it’s clear the world came first, and the story is almost an afterthought. I don’t think Herbert was being silly or elitist in his use of jargon. I think the “Dune” universe existed so clearly in his mind that by the time he started crafting this story, he had almost forgotten how little the rest of the world knew about sietches and such. I’ve never seen a more intricate tale of science and religion, woven together seamlessly like this. Once you get acclimated to the bizarre language and enter Herbert’s “Dune,” the book becomes a very rewarding experience.

Upon completion of the novel, I had a strong desire to see the movie that everyone seems to loathe. I steered clear of it back in ’84 during the summer of “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters,” and the impression my friends gave me was that I wasn’t missing much. After reading the novel, I understood very clearly why the movie was reviled, even without having seen it. I came away from the book with the impression that this story was entirely unadaptable to the big screen. So much depends on what’s going on in everyone’s head, particularly Paul’s, that I can’t imagine how you could put it on the screen at all.

Which is why David Lynch’s “Dune” movie is so singularly remarkable.

I say that without irony. I loved it. It’s an amazing achievement, and I will likely watch it several more times. But that’s not to say it’s a good movie. It isn’t. But it’s not really a movie, per se. It’s like an illustrated storybook, with moving pictures accompanying the written text.

Characters stand still as chunks of the novel are voiced over to explain their thoughts. The entire movie is nothing but exposition, and I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t read the book being anything but baffled unless they stopped the show every few frames to consult the glossary in the back of the book. Still, it’s faithful to the novel to a fault, which shows that Lynch had tremendous respect for his source material. As one who has just completed the book, it’s fun to see Lynch’s cinematic illustrations.

From a design standpoint, the film is almost note perfect, from the sumptuous emperor’s chambers to the House of Atreides to the rugged stillsuits of the Fremen. (“The House A-who-ides? Stillsuits? Fremen?” Read the book.) True, they made the Baron Harkonnen a bit too foul for my taste, what with the pustules and the spittle and the heart plugs and all. And what’s with the bug drinking and the cat milking? Geesh. And, yes, the effects are spotty in places, and the mounting of the worm is ridiculous, particularly with the Toto guitar power chord we get at the top. But the miniature work is strikingly effective, even today. I’m glad this movie was made pre-CGI. It’s extraordinarily inventive, and, visually, it holds up pretty well.

The cast is outstanding, and it was delightful to see a pre-Picard Patrick Stewart in a heroic role. The only thing I’d ever seen Brad Dourif in before “Dune” was “Lord of the Rings,” and I’m curious now to see if he performs every role with his right hand at his face and his left hand holding his right elbow, like some demonic Jack Benny. The sore-thumb exception to the great cast rule is Sting, who stinks. He’s a high-school actor in a professional film, and it’s painful to watch him bug out his eyes occasionally to feign menace. I’ve occasionally wondered why his film career never really went anywhere. Now I know. Still, given the high jargon quotient this film carries, it’s amazing how much gravitas this cast is able to milk from lines like “The spice IS the worm! The worm IS the spice!” And the chick who plays Lady Jessica is hot, even when she’s bald. The creepy kid who ends the movie weirded me out, though.

In the final analysis, the real reason to love the film Dune is that Michael Bolton bangs a drum in it. I saw him and did a double take. Take a look and tell me that’s not him.