Wednesday 10 March 2021

Rob's Movie Night Roundup - D (The Dig, Dune)

At the beginning of the year, my wife and I decided that we'd like to watch more movies. There are 52 weeks in a year, 2 of us, and 26 letters in the alphabet. What better way to choose some movies than to go alphabetically? The only rule: Where possible, it should be a movie that one or more of us had never seen before. Oh, and ideally it should be part of one of the copious online streaming services we're already subscribed to, because why bother paying for a rental when we're not short of options?

Incidentally, if anyone from the big online streaming service providers is reading this (your Notfluxes or your Prims, for example), please make it easier to search for/sort movies alphabetically. Thanks.

Also, fair warning: There may well be movies that appear on this list that you'll find hard to believe I haven't seen before. It happens.

Previous letters are here: A B C


The Dig
Director: Simon Stone
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James

Synopsis via IMDB: An archaeologist embarks on the historically important excavation of Sutton Hoo in 1938.

This was, I think, the first of our chosen movies (in fact, the more I think about it the more convinced I am on this) that was a production of one of the streaming services. A recent release at the time of writing from Netflix, The Dig is based on true events and sees Carey Mulligan take on the role of landowner Edith Pretty, employing self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown (played by Ralph Fiennes) to excavate what she believes to be burial mounds on her land. The film chronicles the story of the excavation, naturally with some more Hollywood touches to embellish the story somewhat; while there are a number of roles in the film based on real people of the era, there are some story beats that I could find no record of, without saying too much on the subject.

It feels somewhat strange to worry about spoilers in a film writeup based on historical events, but anyway.

The movie was very well done, I thought. While some liberties might have been taken with the story a bit (and again, I'm not saying for sure that they have, as my research has been about as shallow as it can be short of not bothering), the performances throughout are very entertaining. I have to say I went into this one worried that it was going to be a snoozefest, but in the end I thought it was pretty good.

One thing I think the film does really well is the juxtaposition of the excavation in the wider context of the impending Second World War. One might reasonably imagine that discussion of Britain's involvement would've been the hot topic of conversation around the time, and the film does a great job framing the events alongside their relevant historical context.

All in all, I'd say this one is well worth a watch if you have a couple of hours to spare and nothing specifically in mind. I'm not a big history buff, particularly of that era, but I thought it was a really engaging presentation and the cast and crew does a great job of bringing the subject matter to life in an entertaining way.

Director: David Lynch
Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Francesca Annis

Synopsis via IMDB: A Duke's son leads desert warriors against the galactic emperor and his father's evil nemesis when they assassinate his father and free their desert world from the emperor's rule.

Dune is one of those franchises I've had a limited relationship with over the years. I first became aware of it as a kid, but only in the context of conversations with my dad about science fiction books he had enjoyed over the years. As I got older and started taking an interest in more of that sort of thing, it was one of the books that just passed me by when it came to catching up. I finally got to read it (in the form of an excellent but long audiobook based on the excellent but presumably equally long novel). I picked up the Blu-Ray of the movie some years ago and it had sat on my shelf until we started our movie night, at which point I decided it would form the "D" entry for my picks.

In a way I'm disappointed that I didn't pick the movie up earlier, particularly when I was doing the sort of standard "first year University student playlist" thing where I was open to any and all cries of "What?! You've never experienced *insert movie/comic/TV/game here*?!" followed by a spirited recommendation bordering on arm-wrenching in the direction of the respective retailer. Thinking back on it, I wasn't nearly as receptive as I might have been to some of those. Nevertheless, through said recommendations I encountered some cracking stuff, so I can't grumble all that much.

Anyway, I'm disappointed that I didn't give Dune a go earlier in both senses (book and movie) because it tells a cracking story with everything from political intrigue to big fuck-off sand worms. Don't tell me that as good as The West Wing is supposed to be, it wouldn't still be improveable further still with the addition of political intrigue. I kid, I kid. I know that there's *some* in there.

In the case of the 1984 movie, I was disappointed because it was one of those 1980s movies that felt very of its time and, dare I say, felt a little dated visually in places. Don't get me wrong; I thought that the set design and creature work was excellent, but some of the visual effects were pretty rough. It's the kind of movie that really benefits from a remaster (and though there is one it wasn't the version I watched). Perhaps the upcoming Denis Villeneuve movie might help to modernise the aesthetic a lot and give it the wow factor. It certainly has a lot of things working in its favour cast-wise, so I have high hopes.

This being said, it's not by any means to say that I wasn't having a good time with the film. Despite not having read the book in some time before having seen the film, I was able to follow the plot pretty well which means the script was effective at doing its job. The performances are a touch hammy in places, but on the plus side I gained a newly-found appreciation for the physique of Sting (the musician, not the wrestler - you'd expect the latter to be in good shape). The special effects were a little rough around the edges, for sure, but the visuals on display elsewhere in costumes and set design and such more than made up for it. The music and sound effect stuff was awesome too. In short, I was enjoying myself for nearly 2 hours.

That is, of course, until both my Blu-Ray players (on my PS4 and Xbox One) decided that the small mark on the disc was enough to make it too hard for the disc to be read at random intervals, and finally packed up before the last 20 minutes. Here was me, 1 hour and 57 minutes into this enjoyable cinematic experience and I would've had to just assume they all just went for cake at the end. Maybe they'd have to wait for Feyd to de-oil himself.

Thankfully I was able to get a summary from my friends and colleagues at E14, and now I know that the movie plays out in many ways as one would expect, and one change from the original story that makes for a pretty big departure. I had it put to me this way: "Dune (1984) doesn't stick faithfully to the original story as much as the TV mini-series Dune (2000), but the production is of much higher quality in terms of presentation." Having not seen the 2000 TV mini-series, and only basing my interpretation of the story fidelity on a years-old reading of the original book, that sounds like it's about right.

I mean, I was prepared to believe that they all just went for cake, so make of that what you will.

In summary, D was a pleasantly surprising letter in the alphabet run so far. I had expected The Dig to be a bit dry and bland, and it ended up being very enjoyable. Similarly, I had fears that perhaps Dune would show its age being as old as I am and found that although there were some rough edges the overall experience was still solid. Shame the Blu-Ray players disagreed but what can you do? Get a digital copy next time there's a sale, most likely!

Did you enjoy the roundup? Let me know! If you have thoughts on the movies chosen and their respective writeups above, you know where to find me. Maybe you don't, but there are buttons everywhere to make that happen. Comments, Twitter, you name it. Moreover, if you want to make use of this movie night format, bearing in mind you're a few weeks in and might have to double up to get up to speed, feel free to do the same - I'd love to know what you chose too!

Rob Wade

Rob Wade blogs about stuff he likes. Whether it's video games or geek media for Emotionally14 or writing about speculative theories for future films on Talk Star Wars, the focus has always been on the stuff that brings the most pleasure to his life within media.

Rob is the editor of Emotionally14, and showrunner of the E14 podcasts "The Crazy Train", "The E14 Gamecast" and "Talk Star Wars", as well as the host and guest of a number of pieces on E14's Youtube channel over the years.

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