THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING: I dream of Idris, with the pointy ears

“How about I open your bottle?”

Like any gay man, if I rubbed a genie bottle and Idris Elba came out, my first wish would be “do me now!”

And though it may surprise some people who’ve only seen her on the red carpet, Tilda Swinton is not a gay man, so when she first releases genie Idris Elba, she just wants to talk.

To go any further into Three Thousand Years of Longing, the new film by George Miller of Mad Max: Fury Road fame, you have to allow the director some latitude. He’s chosen to hew to traditional genie lore, dictating that his djinn (genie) be of dark-skinned origin and enslaved to whomever opens his bottle. And milky white Tilda Swinton is the bottle-opener here.

Due to the cultural precedents, I don’t think this choice is problematic. What is more debatable in this visually rich and conceptually interesting film is character motivation. One of those characters is fantastical, so I guess anything goes there. But Swinton’s character Alithea is supposed to be a real flesh-and-blood person, and a highly intelligent and moral one at that. The choices she makes with regard to unexpectedly becoming a Djinn’s master are less about what makes sense for her character and more about what Miller wants to show us.

But, hey, that’s almost always what you get with a famous director, and we don’t go to a George Miller film for My Dinner with Andre.

That said, the dialogue scenes that bookend Djinn’s flashbacks are surprisingly still, set in Alithea’s blank hotel room and given no mood-enhancing music or fancy camerawork. We barely even glimpse the exotic Istanbul skyline just outside the room’s windows. Djinn shrinks down to human size, puts on a bathrobe, and the two converse like they’re in a capsule episode of White Lotus.

Alithea is a ‘narratologist’, which sounds made up but is a real field that studies stories and the way they affect our perception. When offered her three wishes, Alithea claims she is perfectly content and there is nothing she desires, other than lofty ideals like world peace which Djinn can’t do. So she refuses to wish, meaning Djinn remains bound, and understandably frustrated. The moral thing to do would be to just wish for a cup of coffee, oat milk and a baguette in order to free him. But, no, Alithea is obsessed with stories, so instead of freeing a man imprisoned in a tiny bottle for thousands of years, she wants to chat. I guess it would be hard to resist this. I’d want to hear stories from a hot, 3000-year-old genie too, after the all-night sex I’d wished for.

It does seem smart to structure this movie using the ‘flashback to origin story’ model we’ve become so used to in our fantasy-themed entertainment, and to indulge these scenes with all the visual opulence, quirky comical undertones, and Mad Max energy missing from the hotel room.

According to Djinn, genies in bottles was not a thing 3000 years ago. Djinns were still magical, but free to do what they wanted, which in our Djinn’s first story is to have sex with the Queen of Sheba, whom he calls Sheba because if he doesn’t get a name, neither does she. They were in love until King Solomon came to visit and she waxed off her floor-length leg-hair which she only did for first-date sex. Sheba and Solomon became Old Testament legends, while Djinn was put in a bottle by his rival and tossed into the Red Sea.

Djinn’s next chapter, set in 16th Century Istanbul during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, finds him bound to his first master, a dim-witted fangirl obsessed with a prince. When she doesn’t heed Djinn’s warnings about her impulsive wishes, she ends up dead before making her third wish, which leaves Djinn floating around the palace as an invisible spirit. He seems to feel this was worse than the bottle.

By his final story, Djinn is in the hands of another young woman, now in 19th century Istanbul. This one, Zefir, is smart enough to know the first thing to do with this particular Djinn is hit the sheets, and they fall in love. It’s when she wishes for knowledge of all things that the affair goes off the rails. She turns into Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and Djinn ends up in the ugly glass bottle that Alithea buys.

Djinn claims he kept getting re-trapped in bottles because of his “weakness for women”, which the movie presents as him giving them too much deference when they act unfaithful, stupid or hysterical. Hmm. Anyway, will it be different with Alithea, his first master with freckles?

It does makes sense that Djinn’s stories of passionate love would slowly open up the secretly lonely Alithea, but the lines Swinton is given, and the flatness with which she is directed to deliver them, make her interest in Djinn’s stories come off as more empirical than emotional, so when she finally makes a wish – for Djinn to fall in love with her – it will appear to some as abrupt. We just don’t witness enough love building between these two before we’re taken into a swooning affair complete with naked Idris wrapping what looks like a third scaly leg around naked Tilda.

There is consolation in that everyone involved was smart enough to know not to end here. After taking Djinn back with her to London – in a room service salt shaker – and enjoying a few days of newlywed bliss, Alithea realizes that one can’t make something as intangible as love real by wishing for it, and that this unnatural wish is destroying Djinn. So she wishes him to be free, something she could have done in the first five minutes, but that would have deprived her, and us, of Djinn’s wonderful stories.

Accepting how a narrative wants to manipulate you is necessary to enjoying any story, whether old, new, on page, recited, filmed. When the story asks you to do things like justify abject cruelty or laugh at instead of with, it’s cause for rejection. But all Three Thousand Years of Longing asks us to accept is that the ancient world had amazing production design, and that a single gal can quite suddenly realize she’s horny for Idris Elba, and I’m fine with that.

NOPE: A predator is never tamed.

“What aisle is the UFO repellant on?”


Most of the smarter movies about UFOs/UAPs ask questions like where do they come from, how do they think, how different from us are they. Questions that we humans cannot answer.

Jordan Peele’s new film, Nope, centers around an alien encounter, but like his previous work, this film about the frightening and unfamiliar asks a question we can answer, but just don’t want to: with flames raging everywhere, why have we all become moths?

One of Peele’s many, many talents is that he’s never on a soapbox with the messaging in his work. He’s in it with us, complicit, goading our fractious responses. No character in Nope (and no one watching it) is made to care about how advanced this extraterrestrial is, what technology it uses, how we might communicate with it. The alien is positioned very simply – as a dangerous phenomenon. And the human beings on screen and off are also positioned simply – those who care more about the danger and those who care more about the phenomenon.

The protagonist, OJ Haywood, Jr (Daniel Kaluuya), a horse trainer for films and commercials, is the former. He quickly understands all that needs to be understood about the alien invader – it is an animalistic predator claiming territory.

Everyone around him, however, is the equivalent of a tornado chaser out for thrill, fame or profit, which Peele makes clear by having his alien hide in an ominous cloud and suck up its prey in a dusty swirl.

One of these opportunists is OJ’s estranged sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer) who returns to the family’s ranch after their father, OJ Sr, is killed in a freak accident, which we later learn was the alien. Peele has a great way of playing with the kind of narrative devices necessary to advancing a horror/suspense plot. We overhear a news report of missing hikers, immediately followed by pocket change, keys and other innocuous human detritus raining from the sky. This could have been played just as the tease it is, but Peele then takes devious pleasure in visualizing the urban myth that if you drop a coin from the Empire State Building it would go right through someone’s skull by the time it gets to the street.

Emerald has bounced in from the big city, seeming to care nothing about her father’s death by high-velocity nickel, and rides OJ about his inability to keep the family business afloat. After she catches a glimpse of the alien, she can think only of the fame and fortune a photo of it would bring. No matter how frightened she is by ever-more-dangerous encounters, her motivation remains to capture the monster on film.

This compulsion to turn trauma into personal narrative finds its most striking presentation in another character OJ must deal with, Jupe (Steven Yeun). Jupe was a child actor on a 90’s-era sitcom called Gordy’s Home, and Nope opens on a flashback to the set of the sitcom just after Gordy the chimpanzee has gone berserk and horrifically attacked the other actors. Jupe was the only one who escaped unharmed, and he now owns an Old West-themed tourist attraction near OJs ranch. Jupe has a secret room in his office, a shrine not to his childhood stardom or the show itself, but specifically to the traumatic incident. The scene of Jupe giving OJ and Emerald a tour of the shrine is the most biting satire in the film, and a fascinating comment not only on how an individual can manipulate their own trauma, but how pop culture can: of all the artifacts on display – including the blood-stained shoe of his co-star whose face was chewed off –  Jupe holds the most reverence for Chris Kattan’s performance as Gordy in an SNL skit which made a joke of the terrible event.

The incident also left Jupe with the feeling that he has a special rapport with the wild and unpredictable. He’s been buying horses from the financially-strapped OJ and secretly feeding them to the alien predator, prepping for a grand spectacle during which he will expose the alien to an audience. The level of blind arrogance it takes to believe one can train a completely unknowable beast has been an aspect of human civilization since there was human civilization. Yet modern man has continued to level up, from task animals to circuses to nature itself, and now to a beast not even of this world. And instead of imploring a collective “Nope! This one is too dangerous!” we instead encourage the arrogance, our cameras ready.

Movies are more predictable beasts, though, so Jupe learns the same lesson as Siegfried and Roy did with their tiger, finally meeting the fate he escaped – and subsequently became obsessed with – when he was a child.

One of the final lines in the film comes from a Hollywood cinematographer lured to the scene by Emerald, who flatters him into believing he is the only one who can properly document the alien. Before rushing into the jaws of death for the money shot, he says “we don’t deserve the impossible.”

Why? Because we can’t simply stand back and wonder at the mysterious anymore. We must poke it and prod it and try to make it entertain us. Compete to see who will be the first to expose it, turn the wonder into a saleable commodity.

There will always be something that is impossible for humanity. And humanity will never accept that.

Predicted Oscar nominations: 1

Original Screenplay

DR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS: A red witch takes America to the dark side

“Yes, Senator Collins, Roe v Wade is established precedent.”

Let’s pretend Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness isn’t just a bunch of lazy writers using the multiverse concept because they’ve run out of original villains, plots and character motivations. Let’s pretend it’s a clever, incisive metaphor for America’s turn to the dark side. C’mon, it’ll be fun!

Quick note before we begin: If you want to see just how to make the multiverse thing truly clever, original and not abused by cynical writers who’ve lost any sense of joy, go see Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Now, despite the title, Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is actually the sequel to WandaVision, that terribly clever streaming series in which our favorite witch Wanda hypnotizes an entire town because she’s sad her boyfriend died. We always wondered why the universe’s most powerful witch didn’t put her revisionist red bubble over the entire US of A instead of just Florida, I mean Westview.

Well, once she realized enough people prefer to be hypnotized, she cast off that annoying veil of reason and has embraced her inner Conservative. After going off-grid for intense bible study, she’s now convinced that she must cause the deaths of thousands of people for the sake of children who don’t exist.

With Captain America written off as a pretty-boy celeb attending pro-choice demonstrations, we have only Dr Strange to stop Wanda. So we’re doomed, because if there’s any Marvel character you could imagine as a former MD turned hapless Democratic senator from New England, it’s Dr Strange. I mean, they literally give a piece of fabric more personality than this man.

As per usual, Dr Strangle-me-please is saddled with a pesky young person, so in this on-the-nose metaphor he gets a La-teen-a named America Chavez. Can the New America help him beat back Wanda’s deadly red blasts? It doesn’t look likely, considering that all America can do is open sparkly blue portals for Strange to run away from Wanda.

This America has two moms and wears a pride pin, but Marvel makes sure these LGBTQ+ details are made insignificant enough that they’d be overlooked by censors in Saudi Arabia, whose oil Dr Strange needs to conjure his fizzy golden portals to zen retreats, because when things get rough, meditate!

How does the multiverse fit in all this? It’s just used for some ‘wacky’ distraction as Strange and America run and hide while Wanda wrecks havoc. By ‘wacky’ I mean it looks like a garbage disposal of discarded attempts at NFTs made in a beginners Photoshop class.

When Wanda forces a liberal (through a SCOTUS ruling we assume) to give up a powerful tool she needs, the lib asks why she can’t take a more reasonable approach. She could just have America portal her to some revisionist universe where made-up children are real (like Texas). Why does she insist on killing America in order to absorb all of her powers? Wanda’s reply: “In case I get sick.” (I didn’t make that up, if you were wondering just how lazy this screenwriting is.) Aha, so Wanda is afraid of brain-drain when she gets the world she is killing for. She wants access to doctors from the Johns Hopkins universe, not the University of West Virginia universe.

There is out in this multiverse an alternate Earth where they have a woman Captain America, a Black Captain Marvel, and a superhero who can kill with a whisper, not named Beto. Marvel seems to enjoy showing us this possible world for the amount of time it takes to watch a segment on Rachel Maddow, before Wanda arrives to wipe out this liberal enclave like a gerrymandered district in Houston. Lady Captain America is sliced in half by her own righteous shield, as long as we’re getting super on-the-nose about this. Which half is AOC and which is Joe Manchin, you decide.

It’s Act III now. DSITMM decides to become a zombie movie, as it was a terrible superhero movie anyway. Wanda has killed all the woke superheroes from alternate Earth and has only a twisted ankle from the effort. This allows her to stalk our America and her ineffectual intellectual protector while covered in blood and dragging her foot, looking every bit the crazed zombie she has become. How is she stopped??

Well, here, Dr Strange has to possess a decomposing corpse version of himself (zombie) to fight zombie Wanda. It’s not as fun as it sounds. To save the day, America decides to give Wanda what she wants, portaling her to the universe where her children are real. But wait, this world is inherently good, with an inherently good version of Wanda. This good version of Wanda and her children are appalled by Scarlet Vader Wanda, and shame her into wicked witch of the west-ing herself into a swirling pool of redness.

Marvel fans wonder, is this really the end of Wanda? Of course not. Just look into the beady eyes of Amy Coney Barrett and you’ll find that the reckless witch bent on a world of her own making is still very much alive.

Predicted Oscar nominations: 1

Visual Effects

The Oscars Broke My Gay Heart

Rotten gold, magnified 3 1/2 hours.

In any past year, if someone told me they hadn’t watched the Oscars, I’d say they were either irreparably straight or blind. This year, I’d just say they were lucky.

The show has been flailing for a while now, but us loyal gays have stuck with it. Ok, we stayed mostly for the dresses, but still we could always hope for a surprise winner here and there, a transcendent moment in an acceptance speech, an iconic musical performance maybe.  

The 94th Annual Academy Awards could barely manage to throw us a bone, other than Timothee Chalamet’s chest, and who wants to chew on that? Thank god for Arianna DeBose, in general and last night, who put the red in red carpet. If she and Gaga rep as our new Cher at the Oscars, maybe there’s a glimmer on the horizon.

The show did open big, with Beyonce doing a commercial for Pantone’s Color of the Year. She and her entourage didn’t move too much, and her song may as well have been written by Diane Warren for all its uninspired lyrics and flat composition, but we take whatever Beyonce we can get.

Then a trio of lady comedians were presented as hosts, but after their opening, we barely saw them. The gig clearly scares the shit out of everyone, so kudos to Wanda Sykes’ balls, but there was a lack of boysterousness, a sense of apprehension, to the bits, like ‘ok, we’re going to do this joke, hope it works, ok, here goes…”

Halfway through, it was hard to remember anything that had happened. The winners and their acceptance speeches were predictable, even when they were touching. If I pull up a Pixar movie, I know I’m going to tear up in the final act, so same when I know Troy Kotsur’s going to win and give an emotional acceptance speech.

Speaking of unavoidable animation studios, let’s note that Disney doesn’t talk about Bruno because he’s a gay kid in Florida. Why, why cannot voters let go of their fealty to Disney animation? Encanto is yet another off their production line with a theme no one can make sound resonant beyond the now clearly disingenuous theme behind every single other Disney movie (don’t be afraid to be your true self! Right.). Is animation only worthy of an award when it’s written by rich Hollywood parents who can shield their children from red state legislatures? And no, throwing Megan Thee Stallion into your TikTok Bruno pablum doesn’t help. A trophy for Flee would have helped.

There were two other musical performances that didn’t involve dancers kicking a camera around the stage, but were just as nauseating. Reba McIntyre tried valiantly to get her notes around one of the ugliest Diane Warren nominees ever, and that’s saying a lot. Then there was the song from Encanto that wasn’t Bruno, and thus was forgettable, presented in a faux jungle clearing with a dancing couple pulled from a Cinco de Mayo celebration at Union Station.

Billie Eilish and Finneas delivered the only Oscar-worthy performance, of the only decent song nominated. And they won, so that was a tiny blip of light in the dullness.

Another blip came in the second half when the Pepsi-logo stage design was changed out and props repositioned so it didn’t appear as a big white Oscar was looming over the shoulder of all the POC presenters.

As expected, Dune rolled through the craft awards, and all we got out of their six times on stage were what looked like the same two 50-year-old white guys bowing in reverence to some lady named Denice Villeneuve.

And we do care about craft awards! Costume and Make-up especially. Taking most of them out of the broadcast changed nothing. In fact, a lot of times those winners bring some quirkiness and surprise to the proceedings, which last night lacked more than ever.

But what about the BIG surprise, you ask? The most shocking moment in 94 years of Oscar history? Doesn’t that make up for the boredom?

No, not when it’s an on-stage assault. If my beloved Oscars were already on life support, Will Smith just smacked the plug right out of the socket. He didn’t just wipe out the joy of watching CODA win, or Jessica Chastain paying tribute to a woman who was never given her due as a gay ally. He wiped out any hope left that this event is worth watching.

The Academy’s misguided stabs at relevance, complicated by TV network executives blind to what relevance actually is, have already done serious damage. You can forgive new producers for clumsy execution of good ideas, but this strategy has left us a show that trots out lifeless GenZ presenters, who aren’t talented enough actors to pretend they want to be there, and jettisons aspects of the Oscars that have always and will always work – like a full orchestra and a silent In Memoriam segment – for contrived hipness. The few seasoned pros who know how to bring life and spontaneity to the proceedings have either left the building, or are getting assaulted on stage.

This week will be for major damage control on the part of the Smiths and the Academy. But let’s admit it – the hole in the soul of the Oscars is just too big to fill. It was a near-extinct species trying to hobble across the speeding freeway of oblivious and insatiable pop-culture consumers, and Will Smith just made it road kill.

It was so fitting, and so sad, that the final visual of this Oscar night was major talent and gay icon Liza Minelli parked in a wheelchair onstage, no one listening to her because they were all on their phones reading about a Jerry Springer brawl.

My gay heart was broken last night. But maybe that’s good. No matter how enlightened the show tries to be, this Academy still clearly has a lot of mold to clear out of its basement.

The fact that we’ve stuck with Oscar until now shows we diehard fans are willing to compromise. I’d happily sit through a hollow Euphoria pretty-boy attempting to read off a teleprompter if they’d stop giving trophies to every Disney animated movie made. Or hold my tongue about a KStew nomination if they’d stop nominating Diane Warren. But last night left little to negotiate over.

Maybe the Academy should take their awards in-house for the next few years, then put on a major spectacle for the 100th Anniversary in 2028, when Duane Johnson is elected President. Maybe things will be sorted out by then. Maybe Jada’s hair will have grown back, and Will can get angry over reviews of Hancock instead. Maybe Nicole Kidman will be the ultimate Oscar host, as her ‘please go back to the theaters’ promo suggests.

Maybe Oscar can resuscitate itself. In the meantime, let’s look forward to the Gaga/Minelli Vegas show.

DUNE: Denis Villeneuve throws sand in our eyes

“We’re gonna need a bigger bo…ttle of lube.”

When director Denis Villeneuve announced he was making Dune, he said he wanted it to be a “Star Wars for adults”. First of all, fuck you, Denice. Millions of adults love Star Wars. Secondly, we all know the real reason Villeneuve made this movie. Not because Jodorowski never realized his grand vision. Not because David Lynch was too campy.

The real reason is Timothee Chalamet’s hair. Just as Adele’s five-foot-long hands create gale-force winds for her videos and help propel her songs up the charts, Chalamet’s head of bouncy waves is already a movie star, so why not build a movie around it?

The first Dune novel sets the stage for the world-building of Frank Herbert’s Dune Chronicles series, and Villeneuve felt this novel involves so many characters and intricate politics that it would require two 3-hour films to relate, so cuts this story in half leaving us no narrative satisfaction. We adults had no problem deciphering the Republic/Separatist/Empire politics and character allegiances in Star Wars and could have handled all of Dune in one film. But it seems Villeneuve wanted to fill his movie with Apple TV+ screen-savers. Ok, he does them artsier, but we came for Hair Chalamet!

Hair is dour and pouting (as usual) when we first meet his character Paul Atreides. His mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is making him take the SATs with a harsh professor, and it doesn’t get harsher than Charlotte Rampling. Instead of penciling in ovals, Paul has to put his hand into a box of pain. I’m guessing it’s like putting your foot into a slipper that a cockroach has crawled into, so yikes! Jessica helps her son by telepathically filling his mind with pleasant thoughts, like sex with (pre-cannibal) Army Hammer.

Paul passes the test (he is the King of Pain, which Sting was in the 1984 Dune! That’s an Easter egg I squeezed out myself, you’re welcome.) and Jessica is told he could very well be the savior prophesized to free the Fremen, who aren’t currently free men, or women, or non-binary. Their desert planet Arakis has been occupied for ages by one of the Houses under the Empire because it contains the most valuable commodity in all the galaxy, something called Spice, which enables people to endure trips into deep space. If you’re thinking acid, wrong analogy.

Arakis is styled after the Middle East, so spice is clearly analogous to oil. Arakis natives are brown-skinned with names that sound like exotic, uh, spices (Chani). The occupiers are from royal houses with European names. So whatever Fates rule the Dune world have chosen Paul to save the brown people. Dune’s unfortunate white savior narrative is baked into the original, but let’s be real. The Fate that rules this Dune is Villeneuve, and what does the high-minded, Star Wars-for-adults director do about the story’s poorly-aged trope? He casts pale-as-a-sheet, adolescent girl-magnet Chalamet as the savior.

But hey, even Jason Mamoa can’t resist Hair’s body and shine. When his character Duncan Idaho returns from some spicy trip, Paul and he dash into an embrace that makes you think they’ll be biting into peaches and kreem for lunch. But even though Paul enjoys intimacy with hunks, wears great outfits, is attached to his mother, and obsessed with a female pop star, he’s straight. That’s GenZ for ya!

Duncan and Paul don’t have long to ‘reminisce’ before Paul’s father, Duke Atreides (Oscar Isaac) moves the whole family to Arakis on the Empire’s orders, to take over control of the spice from House Harkonnen. This is all orchestrated by the Emperor to cause a war between the houses that will weaken both. That’s the ‘complex’ political intrigue that Villeneuve needs six hours to explain, even though everything from Succession to Survivor does it in an hour-long episode.

Before all that happens, though, we have to meet a sand worm, touted as one of the grand inventions of Dune. Considering Villeneuve’s declaration that Star Wars got everything from Dune, we expect he’ll make his sand worm look different – more spectacular or menacing or at least weirder – than the sarlacc in Return of the Jedi. Nope. It’s just another gaping sinkhole ringed with spiky teeth. We see more of the worm later, but again, meh. I’ve seen scarier sphincters.

As the Emperor planned, Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard, not half as frightening as the actor Lynch used) attacks the Atreides on Arakis, killing them all except Paul and his mother, who escape to the desert, where we are treated to endless beauty shots of the empty dunes. The incredible cinematography in Dune does give Chalemet’s hair a run for it’s money.

Paul and Jessica are saved by a group of Fremen, one of whom is Zendaya. Like the uninspired sand worm, Villeneuve gives us the gaping hole of a YA meet-cute. She pretends not to like him, he persists, she takes a furtive glance, he catches her, no she didn’t!, ugh. But nevermind, it’s time for Hair’s big scene!

In order to save himself and his mother from being murdered, Paul must win a knife fight with a Fremen assassin. Cue Hair. She throws herself over Paul’s eyes, and we think, this is a fight for his life, and his mother’s. How is he going to fight with hair in his eyes? Is he not allowed to use a scrunchie? Zendaya surely has one, probably in a fun leopard print. But Hair must have her moment. She bounces around, letting Paul see past her in crucial moments. She knows what she’s doing. She’s not a ridiculous oversight that went from mildly annoying to ruining what should be the film’s climactic scene. She is a challenge our hero must overcome in order to prevail. A challenge not just for Paul, but for Timothee.

And then the movie ends. Just like that. We’ll get the second half in what, three or four years? So this film version of a single book in a fantasy series will have taken 7-8 years. Peter Jackson took all three Lord of the Rings books from initial development to the third film in that same amount of time. Is the first Dune novel that much more complex a narrative than Tolkien’s entire LOTR epic? Of course not. The difference is that Jackson gave each film in the trilogy a big, satisfying story of its own, and as much charm and humor as striking visuals and iconic villains. Villeneuve made half a film, took years and hundreds of millions of dollars to obsess over visual details, and couldn’t get his star a $30 haircut.

Being self-serious about science fiction is fine, and Villeneuve did that great in Arrival. The novel Dune, though, has some truly f’ed up characters and scenes. David Lynch doubled down on the gross and weird. Villeneuve decided to clean it all up, putting a more tasteful lens on even the ugliest parts, and using the latest in effects to smooth away the steam punk trappings. Maybe Lynch’s version was clumsy and crazy (Sean Young was the love interest…), but this one keeps everything and everyone at an elegant distance. For a story that’s all about ‘the spice’, this movie has a surprising lack of it.

Sure, from Villeneuve’s lofty view, Dune is striking. But if you like to experience movies from down where the characters are, you just see a hill of sand.