Jodo’s Dune, Hollywood’s Franchisosaurus

gallery2I finally saw Jodorowsky’s Dune, the documentary that describes Alejandro Jodorowsky’s project to make a film of Dune.  One comes away awed by the relentless passion of Jodorowsky.  He is one of those people who strive to make art happen on a grand scale through sheer force of faith and will.  You cannot help but find him inspiring.

Three things are striking about this documentary.  First, it illustrates the difficulty of making something daring under the funding mechanisms of the Hollywood model.  I was reminded that Orson Welles (who would have played Baron von Harkonen) had more projects canceled by funding problems than Andrei Tarkovsky (working under Soviet censors) ever had cancelled for any reason.  This is not censorship; but it is a kind of very powerful and very effective compression of the imagination.  Capital chases banality.  Second, Jodorowsky had a healthy independence with respect to the text of Dune.  He was going to change the plot left and right, to make the movie he envisioned.  The result would have been a fantasy inspired by Dune, but it would have been his own movie.  This is a good thing.  Dune the novel will always be there; a free adaptation can do no harm to the original text.  The textual puritanism that has much influence in fan culture today is reactionary.  Artists should ignore it.  Third, one wonders what speculative film would be like if Jodoworsky had succeeded in making his movie with an original Pink Floyd soundtrack, with Orson Welles and Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali and David Carradine acting, with Giger and Moebius and Foss art.  It may have created a whole different perception of the possibility and potential of speculative film.

Hence one comes to Jurassic World.

The dinosaurs are beautiful; but all (literally all) of the creativity of the film is in the special effects.  And, oh, how the camera strives to get the grill of a Mercedes into every damn shot.

It is a common claim that most of what comes out of Hollywood is leftist. This is not true; most of what comes out of Hollywood is usually a celebration of our current shared economic prejudices.  (For example, the criticisms of corporate greed that form a staple of thrillers, and make some kind of vague subplot in this movie, are always safely abstract and unrealistic, and completely removed from real corruption and greed.  The result is that these apparent criticisms are both smug and misdirection.)

If we can find a message in this latest installment of the Jurassic-franchise product placement vehicles, it is this:  science is bad when it is daring, when it attempts bold dreams.  Science is only good when it is producing consumer products of a familiar kind, for familiar brands.  Another world is not possible.

Let us imagine an alternative film:  Jodoworsky’s Jurassic Planets.  In it, the dinosaurs escape their consumerist nightmare park and they breed, covering the world.  Humanity develops radical new technologies (force fields, powerful stun weapons, etc.) to enable people to live in safety and in harmony with the dinosaurs.  The velociraptors learn to read and adopt our technology; they form an anarcho-syndicalist collective with sympathetic humans, and decide, first, to bring back all the organisms that humanity pushed into extinction and, second, to spread all of Earth’s life into the universe.  The long closing shot is an exterior of a terraformed Mars.  Not a single Mercedes rolls over the red planet, not a single Coca Cola is drunk there.  Instead, passenger pigeons fill the sky over a crimson savannah where woolly mammoths roam.

The Master

Today I finished The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and thereby finished a long project to read all 17 of Dickens’s novels.

Dickens is for me the essence of the novel.  I admire most of all his genius for character.  A character speaks two sentences, and you feel you know him, and could pick him out of a crowd.  It’s a mysterious skill, akin to the mystery of Shakespeare’s poetic invention.

Reading the novels together, you also get a sense of a complete world, with surprising insights into human nature, and into its most enduring features.  I was repeatedly  amused by the things that had not changed, how some of our news is not really new at all, but recognizable to the reader of fifteen decades ago.  (Random example:  there is a Bernie-Madoff-like character in Little Dorrit — shockingly like our own Madoff, except that he has the decency to feel guilty in the end.)

I’m sad that there is not another discovery before me, another Dickens novel to be read for the first time.  I have seen the arch of his genius, up to the unfinished termination.  Still:  I can always go back to the Pickwick Club, and begin again. 

Roadside Picnic

End of semester rush.  Trying to finish philosophy book on consciousness.  All is compressed.  But:  did find time to discover and buy and read a new edition of “Roadside Picnic,” which is out on Chicago Review Press in a very nice paperback, with an introduction by Le Guin and a fine afterword by Boris Strugatsky and — most importantly — a new translation in between.  If you’ve not read — nor even heard — of “Roadside Picnic,” you must go read this edition.  It’s a milestone of SF.

Spec Fic’s Designer

I got mail from the Met today, which reminded me that last time I went there, I saw the show on Alexander McQueen.  You could barely move because of the crowd.

I confess to feeling McQueen is our designer.  He had a speculative fiction sensibility that did not see SF as an excuse for a costume.

The videos of his final show look like someone succeeded in filming the love children of Neuromancer and “Call of Cthulhu.”  Unembeddable but available:

http://youtu.be/eciYA7rygsw