Dune: Villeneuve delves back into sci-Fi

Denis Villeneuve offers a masterclass in world-building, but falls short emotionally

Denis Villeneuve’s last film before Dune, Blade Runner 2049, demonstrated the director’s mastery of sci-fi world-building and emotionally engaging filmmaking. It left a tremendous impact on me, and I couldn’t wait to see him transport audiences yet again to another expansive, futuristic universe. Dune focuses on Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides and Jessica Atreides, a Bene Gesserit. In this universe, the Bene Gesserit are a creed of spiritual women with supernatural abilities passed down from daughter to daughter. However, Jessica believes that Paul may be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, a boy with incredible abilities, including being able to accurately see the future. In the film, this boy is referred to as Kwisatz Haderach.

House Atreides, one of the many wealthy and powerful families within the Galactic Padishah Empire, is ordered by the emperor of the known universe sent to occupy Arrakis and take over the production of spice. Spice is an invaluable substance that allows for interplanetary travel, but acts as a psychoactive drug when consumed on its own. Arrakis was previously controlled by House Harkonnen, an oppressive, tyrannical family who cared little about the native people, called Fremen. Duke Leto wishes to change this dynamic and have peace with the Fremen, while still occupying their land for profit.

Denis Villeneuve is very skilled at world-building, which is one of the aspects of the film I enjoyed the most. The cinematography is not only beautiful, but the slow editing speed allows the audience to explore the spaces at their own pace. This is especially true for all the outdoor sequences on Arrakis, which elegantly present the endless desert landscape and the potential of finding the coveted spice that conceals itself in the sand. Villeneuve’s portrayal of Dune is carefully constructed, and the visual details that go into each scene lead me to appreciate the setting even more.

But Dune isn’t all style and no substance. In the film, Villeneuve explores the novel’s themes of colonialism, as well as destiny and fate, as Paul attempts to understand his place in Arrakis as the apparent messiah of the Fremen. Of course, the aspect of Dune where Paul explores his abilities and his place in the prophecy works in tandem with the thematic exploration of colonialism. Dune is a very thought-provoking film, as it offers a deeply detailed construction of a sci-fi world, but also doubles as a criticism of the harm associated with how 21st century countries have come into being.

Additionally, actors Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson, who portray Duke Leto and Jessica, deliver masterful, gripping performances, which were definitely highlights of the film for me. They had excellent chemistry as loving parents, but also as individuals with loyalties to old orders, ensuring that their son takes on both roles that they expect of him as the future duke and Kwisatz Haderach.

However, the film did fall short on engagement towards the latter half. A lot of lore and backstory from the novel was left out, and yet the film still felt incredibly long. It had some emotional elements missing in the sense that I stopped feeling connected to the characters. After House Atreides is faced with extreme danger, and after the world of Dune and its politics are introduced, the film becomes a little less captivating. I imagine that the film will make more sense with the release of the sequel, but without it, it is oddly structured as a stand-alone film.

Overall, Dune offers incredible cinematography, and Villeneuve builds a beautiful and fascinating world, but falls short when it comes to keeping the audience engaged after a certain point. I would still recommend seeing it for yourself, especially for fans of science-fiction and fantasy.


Screenshot taken by Catherine Reynolds


Last and First Men: a warning to humankind

Not your usual sci-fi movie

“Listen patiently.” Tilda Swinton’s voice reverberates against an orchestral score while the camera pans out on a sculptural installation. Then, the screen goes black.

Directed by Jóhann Jóhannsson and originally released in 2017 prior to his passing, Last and First Men, presented by the Festival du nouveau cinéma, is not your average sci-fi movie.

Based on Olaf Stapledon’s 1930 science-fiction novel Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future, the film tells a message from billions of years into the future. The message is an alert to humanity, warning them of their inevitable extinction.

If you’re looking for an action-packed sci-fi movie, this is not it.

The experience resembled that of watching a nature documentary (Swinton might just be David Attenborough’s female counterpart). Her narration, which is similar to a dramatic audiobook reading, spans the length of the film and can be heard over the liturgical-style instrumental music composed by Jóhannsson himself.

The film offers an abstract anecdote of a post-apocalyptic world; there is no acting, there are no characters. Throughout the film, the camera pans over grayscale futuristic architectural details and archaeological sites. The stark architectural elements, which are socialist-era monuments and can be recognized as Spomeniks from the former Yugoslavia, contrast Swinton’s smooth voice. Her narration is at once compelling and deadpan.

Like watching a documentary or walking through an exhibition gallery, Last and First Men requires full and undivided attention. Jóhannsson’s film captures what it means for a film to be considered art.


Tenet: it won’t let you breathe, but it’s beautiful to look at

Christopher Nolan’s love affair with time continues, with mostly confusing results

Christopher Nolan is infatuated with time. Many of his films have manipulated time in different ways to try to show his audience that it’s not as linear as we understand it to be. While some have delivered greater results than others, like Inception and Memento, it’s clear that Nolan has no interest in telling a straightforward story. Tenet continues this theme and it ends up being Nolan’s most ambitious, but also his safest, movie in years.

Tenet doesn’t let you breathe. From the beginning of the 150-minute film, Nolan showcases his characters in exposition-heavy dialogue scenes that try to advance the plot without spoon-feeding its deeper elements. Meanwhile, Nolan is throwing John David Washington’s character, literally called The Protagonist, in various scenes across the world as he searches for answers regarding his mission.

But even when Nolan does try to clear up the convoluted plot, you can barely understand what the characters are saying because of poor audio mixing, whispered dialogue, and Kenneth Branagh’s sometimes-incomprehensible Russian accent as the oligarch antagonist, Andrei Sator. When all you hear is bass mixed with murmurs, it may be a sign that the movie is too loud.

Without giving too much away, The Protagonist and Neil (Robert Pattinson) team up to stop a potentially catastrophic disaster that could end human life on Earth. That’s all I’ll say. But even with a central plot so simple, Nolan manages to make it convoluted while rarely offering a slower pace to absorb what’s actually going down.

Nolan directly implicates his love affair with time in Tenet as well,, but his interpretation of it isn’t as intriguing as it was in many of his previous films. In fact, his storytelling is so obscure that it’s easier to just accept the banality of the plot than to try and decipher it.

Yet, even with these story-telling plunders, Tenet remains captivating, largely thanks to a great performance from Washington and excellent action sequences that make the audience feel like they’re watching a scene out of some futuristic Call of Duty game. Yes, the action doesn’t stop, but because of that, it makes the two-and-a-half-hour movie seem shorter than it actually is. It’s a fun experience, but shallow.

Tenet is Nolan at his safest. He knows all he has to do is come up with an ambitious plot and expensive action sequences to get the masses flocking to the theatres (despite a pandemic). It’s by no means Nolan’s greatest film — in fact, it probably ranks among his worst — but it’s still a visual feat and a fairly good time.


Just a sci-fi girl in an apathetic world

How attending Comiccon helped me find community

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me knows I’m a horror junkie. Even as a kid, I grasped onto any opportunity to feast my eyes on something that would permanently maim me. When I was just barely 10-years-old, I cherished sleepovers at my grandparents’ house because my grandmother would take me to the video store and let me pick out any DVD I wanted.

At home, I was never allowed to watch anything rated PG-13 or higher. I was sequestered while adults watched movies that all my friends had seen, like Titanic or Grease, until I hit double digits. My parents deemed Kate Winslet’s nipples and hickeys from Kenickie as content far too inappropriate for my prepubescent eyes.

My mom’s parents were never the sheltering type, though. Nor were they fond of enforcing strict bedtimes. The first horror movie I remember watching was in their basement, shortly after midnight, both of them fast asleep on the couch beside me. It was Child’s Play—often colloquially referred to as Chucky. The film is a 1988 Tom Holland slasher (the first of seven in the series) about a possessed doll who terrorizes a little boy and his mother. To an adult, it’s a fun, vulgar, slightly cheesy hour and a half. As a child, it was virtually my worst nightmare—and I couldn’t get enough.

Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find others that shared my dark taste in cinema, especially as I got older. From supernatural scares at seventh grade slumber parties, to ninth grade torture porn marathons, to Marble Hornets binges during senior year, I found that most of my friends shared this interest of mine (or at least tolerated it). I’m guilty of making a good handful of boys sit through the classics with me. My first relationship started in my family’s dingy basement, kissing on an old couch while the credits rolled on Friday the 13th. Our hearts pounded in our ears as a result of teen hormones, but mostly because of that insane shot where Jason Voorhees’ decomposing body shoots out of the water and totally wrecks Adrienne King.

The thing with horror is that, while it’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, it’s become relatively accepted. It’s not hard to find people to bond over it with. Yes, an obsession with it might be off-kilter, but it still makes for good conversation, pizza night entertainment, and background noise for makeout sessions. Throughout my 20-something years, I never really considered my interest in horror to be “nerdy”. It was so vast and varied as a genre that I wasn’t forced to identify with a particular group. There was something in it for almost everyone. Before last summer, I hadn’t truly known what it was like to be into something that few people understood.

About a year ago, I discovered The X-Files—a sci-fi television show about two FBI agents who investigate cases that deal with the supernatural. I had always been generally aware of The X-Files. I knew it existed. Most people I knew had either tuned in occasionally when it originally aired in the 90s, or had seen an episode or two on Netflix and given up. One night, I came across it in my “Top Picks” and decided to give it a chance. It was one of those rare occasions where, from episode one, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. Everything about it screamed “me”. I promptly reached out to anyone and everyone I knew and was shocked to find that literally no one in my personal life thought anything of it. Not only did the show not stand out to them as special, but some people even admitted outright that they hated it.

Aside from a few other fans I found in real life who I texted during major plot twists, watching The X-Files was a completely solitary experience for me. I watched each of the 11 seasons and two films all by myself. Because of this, my experience of the show was very private in nature. It felt like my dirty little secret—an escape of sorts. I spent hours laughing, crying, and gasping in front of my television screen during popcorn-fueled binge sessions after the rest of my family went to bed. I became deeply attached to the characters. Unlike horror movies, it was the first time I had an obsession that I couldn’t share. It truly felt like the show had been created for me, and the fact that I had no one to experience it with was both entirely uplifting and mildly heartbreaking.

Up until this point, I had little-to-no experience with nerd culture. I’d never picked up a comic book, I didn’t really like anime, I’d seen only a handful of superhero movies, and I thought “gaming” was something that 30-year-old white guys with neckbeards did in their moms’ basements while double fisting Mountain Dew and Doritos. Plus, I had always associated nerd culture with sexism. In my mind, “nerdy” spaces were cesspools of male cliques firing off condescending remarks and participating in sexual harassment. I wanted no part of it.

Nearly every time I clicked into an online forum discussing The X-Files, my preconceived notions of these spaces were instantly validated. I simply didn’t feel welcome. This was jarring, especially considering the feminist tones of the show. I was annoyed and I concluded it was an interest I’d just keep to myself. But, it was lonely. I wanted so badly to be a part of a community I could share it with.

When I was first offered the opportunity to attend Montreal Comiccon as a member of the media this year, I was skeptical. I wanted to go to see if I could find fellow “X-Philes,” but I knew I’d have to write up something about the convention, and I didn’t want to have to write a scathing review about a toxic environment. Boy, were my preconceived notions ever wrong.

Montreal Comiccon completely shifted my perspective on what it means to be a nerd. It channeled what the true spirit of what being a “nerd” really is. I mean, where else on earth can you walk into a room full of strangers by yourself and instantly feel completely welcome and at ease? Where else can someone who is in love with an odd, campy, 90s television show about aliens find a thousand other people who feel the same way?

Walking into a room full of hundreds of “X-Philes,” I felt the most included and myself I had in a long time. It also made me realize that nerds weren’t all straight, white men in cargo shorts tweeting about #GamerGate and quoting The Big Bang Theory. Nerds were 10-year-old girls, drag queens, disabled people, gay couples, women of colour… I suddenly realized that this thing—this series that I had turned into such a private indulgence—was far bigger than just my secret obsession. These characters that I had developed one-sided relationships with weren’t just mine, they were ours. They helped us all relate to one another.

Comiccon takes a person’s private experience with art and makes it social. The main reason people attend is to meet other people and find those who love the same stuff they do. Making friends only gets harder as you age, so finding somewhere you can be yourself, express gratitude to the artists behind your favourite work, and meet people from different walks of life with shared interests is something pretty special.

There will always be cliques, fandoms, and rivalries. We will always be into different kinds of art. We’ll always experience that art differently from one another. Comiccon showcases that perfectly, but also reminds us that, at the end of the day, we’re all just huge freakin’ nerds. Together.

Graphic by Wednesday Laplante

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