Welcome to the next CHUD List.
We've tackled our essentials list and the continued revelation of our Kills List from 2003, and now that we've begun the beguine, we must continue. Behold:
The CHUD.com Top 50 Disappointments.
quick word on the criteria. We could very easily have spent this whole
article discussing sequels and prequels and adaptations of television
shows and called it a day. Instead, we tried to go a different route.
Also, from a master list of over 100, the involved parties (Devin,
Jeremy, Micah, Russ, and myself) all killed off a choice for each one
we claimed. As a result, we'll run a big list at the end of this of the
'ones that got away'. So, here is day one of many where we chronicle
the 50 Biggest Disappointments. Two a day, every week day for five
weeks. In no particular order:
#36 - Dune (1984, dir. David Lynch)
Leave it to the guy most likely to defend David Lynch on CHUD to tear down the most obvious disappointment in his career. I can understand why Lost Highway might be more frustrating, especially if you were expecting more Blue Velvet/Wild At Heart/Twin Peaks sorta action. But from any professional standpoint, there's nothing like Dune, to the point where the movie might be one of the most herladed failures in cinema history. "Dune took me off at the knees, maybe even higher," says Lynch about the experience.
Lynch was riding high in the early '80s. Eraserhead had become a cult hit, attracting the attention of (among others) Mel Brooks, who brought Lynch on board The Elephant Man. When execs told Brooks to tell Lynch he had to trim the weirder elements of that movie, Brooks famously told them to fuck off. His first 'real' Hollywood movie earned eight Oscar noms, including a Best Director nomination for Lynch. A guy in that position gets job offers; with Return of the Jedi famously among the possibilities, Lynch went with Dino deLaurentiis to make Dune.
Dino wanted his own Star Wars; Lynch liked the contract because it made room for a second film, over which he'd have complete creative control. But first he had to finish Dune, a massive effects spectacular that employed over a thousand people in Mexico, required an enormous cast and went through six full rewrites in Lynch's hands -- that's after a solid decade of development including efforts from Ridley Scott and Jodorowsky.
Ideas from the book were scrapped and rewritten. Still, some things almost worked: the Weirding Way might have been a goofy means to leverage extra effects, but it's also a neat way to articulate the evolution of Paul's leadership as it appears in the book. In the end, Lynch's final cut was too long for Dino and new scenes were quickly written to bridge cut gaps and condense story. A healthy dollop of voice over did some of the new narrative work.
And that's where Dune starts to lose the audience. For every frame featuring a jaw-dropping set (there are many) or some genuinely good effects (in 1984 the worms stood up even to Lucasfilm efforts) there were a dozen polluted by overlaid diagloue that made the story ludicrously obvious. I give Lynch credit for trying. There aren't many books that resist adaptation like Dune.
(Ironcially, for every on-the-nose moment in Lynch's film, the po-faced miniseries adaptation makes it look like a sublime masterpiece.)
Some scenes are genuinely frightening, grotesque or thrilling, which make the big streches of film that are dryer than Linda Hunt's skin even more frustrating. This movie lurches and shudders, but never hits a stride. And thanks to a score totally free of subtlety, those long passages seem to go on forever. - Russ
Travesty Scale (1-10): 7 out of 10 #35 - From Hell (2001. dir. Allen and Albert Hughes)
Film and comic book fans must make the worst gamblers. We hang on to the idea that something might work, just because, even when the numbers say it ain't going to be so. And so, when it came time to see the first of Alan Moore's major works* to be adapted for the screen -- the guy being one of comicdom's most famously exacting and specific writers -- we thought it might be more appealing than the piles of steaming sliced intestines cut out by Jack the Ripper.
Travesty Scale (1-10): 7 out of 10
#35 - From Hell (2001. dir. Allen and Albert Hughes)
For those who hate reading, I'll make the point easy to find: From Hell is one of the worst movies we'll feature on this list. It's a poor adaptation for several reasons, but fundamentally, it's simply a bad movie that wastes several talents and a story that's as close to a slam-dunk as you can get. Zodiac proves that this sort of thing can work, and while the Hughes Brothers are no David Fincher, they don't have to be this bad.
On the page, From Hell is the definition of ambitious. It's a massive tome crammed with obsessive detail, exhaustively researched. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions presented, it's a damn impressive recreation of late 19th century London and a thematically dense work concerned with magic, misogyny and the task of summarizing the 19th century as a prefigurement to the 20th.
So of course the movie is a simple-minded murder mystery that luridly paints the royals and Freemasons with a broad brush. It's not even a children's book to Moore and Campbell's original novel…more like a Bazooka wrapper.
In this post-Pirates world, it's easy to think Johnny Depp was cast as a box office draw, but he was coming off a couple of mediocre years. The Man Who Cried, The Astronaut's Wife, The Ninth Gate…the guy wasn't exactly setting the ticket counter on fire. No, Depp was a good way to pull a female, non-geek audience into a movie about killing women, and there was also probably some idea that he could act.
Except that he was handed a script with less life than a dead eel. In Moore and Campbell's version, Abberline was an early version of the hard boiled detective; here his moral conflict is represented by opium, which makes for a dull link back to the Hughes Brothers earlier films. Career adaptor Rafael Yglesias and career .200 batter Terry Hayes came up with many terrible ways to condense and re-align the novel's many elements; that's just a primer.
The less said about Heather Graham and her accent, the better. And this sort of thing can go on and on; at least Robbie Coltrane is entertaining.
My one real reason for anticipating this film was the involvement of cinematographer Peter Deming, who had made Lynch's Lost Highway look amazing. (He'd also worked magic in Mulholland Dr. at the time, though it wasn't out yet so I didn't know.) His work highlights the few parts of From Hell that do work -- the set/production/costume design manage to capture the detail of Eddie Campbell's scratchy, thin lines, if not the specific quirkiness.
But capturing specific quirks, or anything else for that matter, is a task well outside this film's range. From Hell was the first of what will likely be a litany of cinematic Alan Moore abortions; with Watchmen coming down the pipe, here's hoping it remains the worst of them, too. - Russ
* He may have defined Swamp Thing, but the character wasn't really his.
Travesty Scale (1-10): 9 out of 10 Previously Disappointing:
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Bram Stoker's Dracula
New York, New York
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Art School Confidential
Bonfire of the Vanities
The Black Hole
The Last Castle
Love on the Run
Travesty Scale (1-10): 9 out of 10