Friday, December 09, 2005

Dagon, The Lathe of Heaven

One of the nice things about Netflix is that you can get some stuff that will never, ever, appear at your local Blockbusters, because they're either out of date, or else hopelessly obscure... for instance, this past week we actually got a hold of:

Dagon: B-
Now, don't get me wrong. Dagon is a Lovecraft movie. There's a reason that Lovecraft, creepy as he is, doesn't get put to the screen (it's no surprise, for example, that At the Mountains of Madness, which makes Alien look like a romantic comedy, has vapored). For starters, your typical Lovecraft story has no "resolution" in terms that Hollywood understands. It's simply a case of "what is, is." And "what is," is horrific in the true sense of the word. Lovecraft depends heavily on a creepy sense of helpless foreboding... in other words, 95% of what makes it work is mood, and directly dependent on having a really kick-ass director. A "B-" is a very good grade for what is essentially a B-movie with an author who really, really doesn't translate well to the big screen. Bump it up to an outright "A" if judged purely on the basis of "big dumb fun."

Pros --most tasteful "nekkid lady sacrifice scene" I've ever seen.
--lots of little visual in jokes for Lovecraft fans
--gore and visual effects used precisely when and how needed, w/o overdoing it

Cons --significant liberties taken with the original storyline (Lovecraft purists will be unhappy)
--necessary explication extends further than truly necessary

The Lathe of Heaven: B+
Well, here's another author who doesn't really translate to the big screen, as the recent debacle surrounding A Wizard of Earthsea demonstrates. Ursula K. LeGuin is one of the Holy Trinity of serious 20th-century fantasy writers, along with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The Lathe of Heaven is one of her forays into science fiction, and like all really good work of either genre, the basic premise (a guy's dreams shape reality, including the past) is a vehicle by which two starkly opposing worldviews and philosophical systems are put in opposition. Lathe in this sense is an explicit attack upon the shortcomings of Logical Positivism.

Pros --Really well done non-anthropomorphic aliens
--Believable characters, with a tragic figure who escapes being cast as a cardboard villain.

Cons --Effects are muted but dated (well done, but very 70s)
--DFW residents will chortle at the architectural sleight-of-hand

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