Can Dune change the world? Can a novel that involves old-timey knife fights and giant space worms convince people to get serious about climate change? Is it possible the book could encourage more religious tolerance and understanding? Cautiously, the answer to these questions might be yes. Because although Dune did not truly begin its life as a political or ecological text, it’s impossible to ignore those themes in it today. Between 1965 and now, Dune transformed from a curious science fiction book released by an automotive repair manual publisher to a book that seemed to be a repair manual for the entire planet.
On April 22, 1970, in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Frank Herbert spoke to thirty thousand people in celebration of the very first Earth Day. He told the gathered crowd he wanted everyone there to “begin a love affair with our planet,” and to that end, he hoped that they would all join him in never again buying a new car. He firmly believed that if people boycotted the purchase of new internal combustion engines, the automotive industry would eventually be forced to make more efficient cars or create clean-energy fuel alternatives. “Getting rid of internal combustion will be no permanent solution," he said. "But it will give us breathing room.”
At the time, Herbert was also concerned about overpopulation as well as pollution. Some of the ways he phrased his arguments may seem dated. But it’s also striking how mainstream most of his views are today. The public perception of Dune as an ecological science fiction novel is perhaps the most important factor in its immortality. And while Herbert himself was a bit preachy, his novel isn’t. And that’s how the magic happens.
Herbert’s self-styling as an environmental activist didn’t happen in 1965 when the hardcover was published by Chilton, and it didn’t happen in 1966 when the first paperback version was published by Ace. Instead, the public transformation of Dune from an underground science fiction novel to an essential ecological text read and analyzed by environmental activists happened in 1968, three full years after the book hit bookshelves.
“I refuse to be put in the position of telling my grandchildren: ‘Sorry, there’s no more world for you. We used it all up,’” Frank Herbert said in 1970, in the nonfiction book New World or No World. “It was for this reason that I wrote in the mid-sixties what I hoped would be an environmental awareness handbook. The book is called Dune, a title chosen with the deliberate intent that it echo the sound of ‘doom.’”
The notion that Herbert wrote Dune specifically because he hoped it would be an “environmental awareness handbook” is almost certainly revisionist. But that doesn’t make Dune’s political and environmental commentary incorrect. Even the earliest versions of “Dune World” contain ecological themes simply because of the way Arrakis works. Herbert later said that on Arrakis, both water and spice are analogues for oil, and of course, for “water itself.” The idea that Arrakis wasn’t always a desert wasteland is suggested vaguely in the first novel, but what Herbert’s later novels—specifically 1976’s Children of Dune—do is to reveal a kind of inverted problem. Because of the rapidity of forced climate change on Arrakis, the most integral part of the wildlife—the sandworms—is pushed to near extinction. What is subtle in the first novel is made perfectly clear in the sequels.
Herbert even tips his hand to his own revisionism because he mentions Pardot Kynes—a character you’re excused from forgetting because this person doesn’t really appear in the actual story of Dune. Most of Pardot’s story and his quotes come from the first appendix in Dune, “The Ecology of Dune,” which gives us the backstory of Pardot Kynes, the father of Liet-Kynes, the imperial planetologist who more famously accompanies Leto, Paul, and Gurney during their first inspection of the spice mining and later gives his life to save Paul and Jessica in the desert. As Liet-Kynes lies dying, he recalls a quote from his father: “The highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences.”
“I put these words into his mouth,” Herbert said in 1970, speaking of both Liet-Kynes and Liet’s father, Pardot.
Because the science fiction community inconsistently embraced Herbert in the late sixties, he found his true community with environmentalists. In 1968, within the pages of The Whole Earth Catalog, biologist and editor Stewart Brand forever changed the perception and importance of Dune. The Whole Earth Catalog was a publication conceived by Brand as a way of giving forward-thinking environmentalists and progressives “access to tools” for rethinking everything about the way humankind saw Earth. In the introduction to the first catalog, Brand wrote that hardships caused “by government and big businesses” led to a movement where “a realm of personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education.” To that end, Brand created The Whole Earth Catalog with the following stated purpose: “The Whole Earth Catalog functions as an evaluation and access device. With it, the user should know better what is worth getting and where and how to do the getting.”
On page 43 of this catalogue, Dune was listed with the following description: “A more recent Hugo Award winner than Stranger in a Strange Land, is rich, re-readable fantasy with a clear portrayal of the fierce environment it takes to cohere a community. It’s been enjoying currency in Berkeley and saltier communities such as Libre. The metaphor is ecology. The theme revolution.”
One of Brand’s big criteria for anything listed in The Whole Earth Catalog was that it could “not already [be] common knowledge.” By 1970, when Frank Herbert was invited to speak at the first Earth Day, it’s safe to say that Dune’s ecological themes were common knowledge. But in 1968, that hadn’t happened yet. These two years rewrote the reputation of Dune, for the better. And this seemingly influenced Herbert to take his sequels in directions more in line with his ecological views and less aligned with what a smaller science fiction readership might have wanted.
In crafting the first Dune, Herbert created a science fiction novel that was palatable to old-school science fiction readers while attempting something new: establishing world-building that had far-reaching implications about the environmental struggle of our own planet. Herbert may not have sold Dune to Analog or Chilton or Ace as an ecological book, but once prominent environmentalists picked up on what he was laying down, his true colours were shown. It’s tricky to believe that Herbert really picked the title Dune because it reflected the word doom, mostly because the process through which he started writing the book doesn’t seem to support that. But, even later in his life, Herbert seemed to walk the environmentalist’s walk that he outlined in New World or No World.
A decade and a half after the publication of this book, both his son Brian and his widow, Theresa Shackleford, confirmed that Frank Herbert loved riding around in limos and always flew first class if he could help it. And yet, by all accounts, he never broke his promise in 1970. To his dying day, Frank Herbert never, not once, bought a new car.
But if the environmental legacy of Dune is clear, its political messaging is less on-the-nose. For various critics and scholars, the political messages of Dune are not all one way. Is it a story that elevates minorities and, along with the Fremen, truly punches up?
In 1984, Francesca Annis, who played Lady Jessica in the David Lynch Dune, said that she read the entire story of Dune in a conservative light. “I can’t relate to the story politically,” she said. “The book just doesn’t say much about ordinary people. As far as its values are concerned, it’s just one group of powerful people triumphing over other powerful people. In that way, it’s a very right-wing story.”
You can kind of squint and see where Annis is coming from, especially through the lens of the 1984 film. Close readings of Dune reveal the subversion Frank Herbert inserted into this “white saviour narrative,” and as prominent Dune scholar Haris Durrani has pointed out, even in his subversion of it, Herbert still “reinscribes the white saviour narrative.” From this point of view, Paul and his family are like missionaries, coming to “tame” a native people, steal their culture via Bene Gesserit manipulation, and then create a new power base that is arguably just as bad, if not worse. Again, as Zendaya’s Chani says at the beginning of the 2021 film, “Who will our new oppressors be?”
“If Herbert wanted to make it clear that he was subverting the hero’s journey in the first novel, he could have done a better job,” historian Alec Nevala-Lee tells me. “It’s clearer in Messiah, but it’s easy to read the first novel the ‘wrong’ way.” But Durrani isn’t so sure. For him, Dune isn’t a white saviour narrative at all and is somewhat secretly a one-of-a-kind twentieth-century science fiction novel that speaks to Muslim ideas.
“It’s an attempt to explore Muslim ideas and different Muslim cultures in a way that I think is unique,” Durrani tells me. “There was something unique about what Herbert was doing, bringing his unique viewpoint to thinking about the future of Islam and other Muslim cultures.” The evidence Durrani cites relative to the Muslimness of Dune is somewhat obvious for any reader with an Arabic or Muslim background. In the first book, Paul is sometimes referred to as “the Mahdi,” which in Arabic refers to a spiritual leader who will unify and save the people, generally just before the entire world ends. For Durrani, this idea blurs the “white saviour trope,” because you can easily imagine a version of Paul who isn’t white but is still a fallible and dangerous leader.
“Is he white?” Durrani says with a laugh. “I mean, you could imagine a version of Paul who wasn’t white. I certainly think Gurney Halleck is a nonwhite character. Herbert probably intended Paul to be white, but he’s also drawing on histories of North Africa and the reference to the ‘Mahdi,’ who is not white. I think what’s interesting is that even if Paul is a nonwhite character, he’s still a colonial character. Herbert is playing with ideas of internal colonisation.”
As Durrani outlines in his essay “Dune’s Not a White Saviour Narrative. But It’s Complicated,” the agency of the indigenous people of Arrakis (the Fremen) “appears downplayed,” mostly because of “the narrative focus on the Atreides and Bene Gesserit.” But, from his reading of the text and Herbert’s various comments over the years, Durrani says that all the colonist themes in Dune are strictly anti-colonist, even when the “heroes” are depicted as such. “I read the focus on leaders as critical, not hagiographical... Herbert saw the series as about communities, not individuals.” While talking to me in 2022, Durrani tells me that the endpoint of the series, in Chapterhouse: Dune, features a slate of heroes and protagonists who are specifically not the pseudo–Anglo-Christian characters of House Atreides in the first book. “I think it is significant that the whole series ends with basically a rabbi, a Fremen, a Sufi saint, and basically some guy who’s representative of Afghanistan,” Durrani says. “I don’t know if Herbert was successful, but he wanted to do both: You could read this as just a traditional sci-fi story of this heroic journey. And he wanted the sense of people who are playing into that narrative. But it’s a hard line to walk.”
Dune may or may not convincingly subvert the white saviour tropes, but it does push back against other clichés in coming-of-age stories and hero’s journeys. Nobody refuses the call to adventure in Dune. And Paul’s parents aren’t distant and mythical like nearly all the parents in Star Wars. In fact, the story of the first Dune is as much the story of a mother as it is of a son. Imagine Luke Skywalker growing up with Padmé guiding him, while also fighting her own battles, and you’ve got an approximate feeling of just how radical Dune is within the pantheon of other sci-fi adventure epics. Even Leto II’s transformation into the God Emperor isn’t a black-and-white Darth Vader morality tale. Dune doesn’t wag its finger at bad decisions. It reminds us that everything has consequences.
“Herbert thought of science fiction... as a form of myth,” biographer William F. Touponce wrote in 1988. “But he did not see myth as an absolute. Myth and Jungian archetypes were simply another discourse that he set out to master and that he incorporated into the dialogical open-endedness of his Dune series.”
Now, contrast this kind of thinking with Star Wars. Everyone is told over and over that the reason that saga is so popular is that George Lucas stuck so close to the archetypes that people couldn’t help but love it. Dune is the opposite of Star Wars in this way; Herbert uses archetypes like the “hero’s journey” as what Touponce calls a “strategy” to “get people emotionally involved in his stories.” Touponce points out that with the publication of Messiah and Children of Dune, some more traditional, Campbell-era SF readers felt like Herbert had betrayed them. And maybe he had. Whether it was slightly retroactive or not, Herbert used the hero’s journey as a framework, but unlike Lucas, he didn’t adhere to it. Dune rejects the archetypes it creates, which gives the story more flexibility. This is why the saga continues to organically expand well beyond what Herbert wrote.
After Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two is out on home video and streaming sometime after spring 2024, the immediate future of Dune is the Bene Gesserit. Created by Diane Ademu-John along with showrunner Alison Schapker, the forthcoming HBO TV series Dune: The Sisterhood will tell the story of the origin of the Bene Gesserit roughly ten thousand years before the events of the first novel. This series is loosely based on Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s 2011 novel The Sisterhood of Dune, which charts the rise of various organisations in the Dune-iverse, including the Spacing Guild and the human computers known as the Mentats. As the 2020s march on, the future legacy of Dune will possibly leave the story of Paul Atreides on Arrakis in the dust. Although there is a huge degree of uncertainty around the future of the Sisterhood series, one stated premise would follow two sisters, Valya Harkonnen and Tula Harkonnen, as they struggle to establish the Bene Gesserit order amid the reign of Empress Natalya.
The last name of the two protagonists—Harkonnen—should raise some eyebrows, too. In the distant past, the dreaded enemy of House Atreides wasn’t necessarily all evil, demonstrating that the unfolding story of Dune continues to defy easy classification. The idea of a sci-fi prequel series revealing its two main characters are part of a family that has largely been portrayed as villains would be like if there was ever a Sherlock Holmes prequel set in the 1400s, in which a heroic captain named Moriarty battled for truth and justice on the high seas. The specific place that Dune: The Sisterhood will hold in the long history of the flowing spice is, at this time, unknowable. But its basic setup has the potential to make The Sisterhood the most transgressive Dune story yet, and if the show enjoys Game of Thrones–level enthusiasm, push the chronicles of Arrakis even further into the mainstream.
The timing of Dune’s twenty-first-century renaissance isn’t just a coincidence. It’s true that Dune has benefited from the gradual mainstreaming of sci-fi and fantasy in the early twenty-first century, but because the phenomenon of these novels and books has always stood separate and apart from sci-fi trends, the emergence of Dune as a dominant pop culture force now is explicable for bigger reasons. In New World or No World, Herbert equated apathy regarding environmental activism with trying to rouse a “heavy sleeper.” But he also believed that people could change: “We can shake the sleepers—gently and persistently, saying ‘time to get up.’”
The history of Dune’s making is a history of contradictions and paradoxes. And, crucially, how we can emerge from that chaos better and wiser. In a lovely and famous Dune scene, Duke Leto tells Paul that “without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.” Although often attributed to Herbert’s book, these exact lines comes from the 1984 film, not the novel version of Dune, proving that interpretations and, yes, revisions of Dune have the power to reshape our thinking and our hearts.
Later, in both the 1984 Dune and the novel, Paul speaks of his awakening, when he becomes the person he believes he’s meant to be. Dune’s meaning to millions and its longevity are specifically connected to this kind of thinking: We can ignore the ills of the world, but not forever. At some point, everyone will have to wake up. On the final page of New World or No World, Herbert writes a single question, wondering if all the storytelling and real talk are sinking in. He asks damningly, and quite simply: “What are you doing?”
The “what” he refers to is somewhat obvious. Are you actively doing something positive in your community? Are you acting generously? Are you doing something about the horrible power structures that keep people down? Herbert may have found his fame and fortune through Dune, but his creation endures not because it lets us escape and ride a sandworm and get super-high on an awesome space drug, but because it makes us feel guilty.
From racial and gender inequity, to class divide and poverty, to dishonesty and corruption in politics, Herbert believed that communities can turn back the slow tide of oppression. The hyperbole in Dune helps to illustrate the ways in which those revolts might happen and the ways in which those revolts might go wrong. Misinformation motivates many of the horrible events throughout Dune, especially when ideological demagogues allow their followers (or voters) to believe they are above the law.
From the real sand dunes of Oregon to the spice fields of Arrakis, Frank Herbert’s heart was always in the right place. His intentions don’t mean that Dune is perfect or without problematic elements. And yet, unlike so many touchstones of twentieth-century literature, Dune is unique because its weaknesses are also its strengths. It’s a story that dares to make us hate the heroes and search inside ourselves for ways in which we, too, have made the same well-meaning mistakes. It challenges us to think outside of our own day-to-day experiences and imagine a world in which just one drop of water is more precious than gold. It pushes us to rethink our emotional strategies in dealing with disappointment, failure, and most of all, fear.
As Paul’s mother teaches him, the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear is the first and last line of mental defence. The battles fought in Dune occur across various planets and employ all sorts of ingenious weapons. And yet, throughout all the book, film, and television Dunes, the internal human struggle not to give in to fear is paramount. We know that honorary Bene Gesserit Yoda correctly linked fear with all sorts of other horrible outcomes, but Star Wars suggested that a connection with a magical energy field was required to beat back that fear. The Bene Gesserit teach that the battle can be won within your own mind. Tamping down fear doesn’t work. Ignoring it or allowing it to morph into rage can lead to “total obliteration.”
Instead, all of us, every day, have to face our fear. In the world of the twenty-first century, the growing number of fears is seemingly greater and more relentless than ever before. The mental health of each person in the world is like a dam holding back the tide of chaos. And Dune helps. A little. As Herbert said in 1970, “these are only words,” but he also taught us that fear truly is the mind-killer and that the battle for a better world begins inside each person.
“In horrible times, people tend to turn to musicals or science fiction,” Rebecca Ferguson, Lady Jessica herself, tells me. “Personally, I think the world of Dune is so profound and so layered that I hope it’s the kind of thing more of us can turn to. If people do need to escape, do need to feel comfort, I think this brand of science fiction, this kind of reflective art, is buoying and transformative. I hope it helps people. I truly do.”
Ferguson didn’t need to use the Voice to make this ring true. The love of Dune in all its forms is about both things: escape from fear and awakening from a slumber of the mind.
Dune allows us to live in the future, love the artistic intricacy of that future, and then realise, with sobering clarity, that we can’t allow things to end up like that. Dune teaches us to face our fears, to recognise there are plans within plans, and to accept that not every victory is always what it seems. It also makes us look in the mirror and wonder who we are. Like Alia, Leto, and Ghanima, it sometimes feels as though we all have the memories of our ancestors lurking in our minds. The horrible things we’ve done as a species as well as the triumphs are all there, running through our minds at the same time. Dune says there is no way to turn away from the mixed bag of human history. There’s no easy fix for the horrible ways history has unfolded or the ways in which it may repeat itself. Herbert ended his last novel, Chapterhouse: Dune, with a leap into an unknown part of space, a future that was suddenly unwritten. “We’re in an unidentifiable ship in an unidentifiable universe,” Duncan Idaho says. “Isn’t that what we wanted?”
The mystery of the future of humanity is similar. We can’t yet imagine the way in which we get to the future, and we can’t really picture what the universe will look like when the future unfolds. But it is what we want: to survive and to change. Dune says that change is possible. It’s not always all good, but it’s not all bad, either. “The best thing humans have going for them is each other,” Frank Herbert said. We don’t have to be owned by our fear. Because in the end, we can look at ourselves honestly, at this moment, and ask, without fear, “What are you doing?”
From THE SPICE MUST FLOW: The Story of Dune, from Cult Novels to Visionary Sci-Fi Movies by Ryan Britt.
While researching her role for a new film Past Lives, Greta Lee watched a South Korean reality show in which a celebrity is reunited with a childhood sweetheart. Being confronted by your first love is, unsurprisingly, a physical experience. “It’s initial shock, terror, a look of death, then ecstasy, joy and a desperate, deep sadness, all within a matter of seconds,” says the 40-year-old Korean-American actor on a video call from Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, the writer Russ Armstrong, and their two sons.
It was a specific feeling she needed to tap into for the romantic drama from writer-director Celine Song, which is out now in cinemas and was released earlier this summer in the United States to considerable critical acclaim. The film charts the story of two friends from South Korea: Nora, played by Lee, and Hae Sung, played by Teo Yoo, who were separated when Nora’s family emigrated to Canada. A couple of decades (and relationships) later, the pair reconnect for an intense week in New York.
Before Nora and Hae Sung’s reunion was filmed, Song asked the actors not to interact. “Admittedly, at the time I felt like, ‘Oh, this is kind of hokey and manufactured,’ but I’m glad we went along with the experiment, because it really helped me hone in on the biology of longing and what it does to your body,” says Lee. Yoo and John Magaro, who plays Nora’s husband Arthur, actually met for the first time on screen; for months, Lee had acted as a “conduit” between the two, a distance that Song encouraged. “She’s supremely manipulative,” Lee jokes.
Taking on Nora, a nuanced romantic lead, “felt really, really radical at the time—and very nerve-racking”, says Lee. While she was starting out as an actor, doing theatre in New York, the roles available for Asian-Americans were scarce and, as Lee points out, she wasn’t cut out for stereotypes: “I was not very good at playing a lab technician or a doctor.” Later, however, she proved very cut out for scene-stealing turns in Girls, as the clueless and cut-throat gallerist Soojin, and more recently as Maxine in Netflix’s time-bending hit Russian Doll and Stella in The Morning Show, which is about to start its third season. In 2025, she is set to star alongside Jared Leto in the third instalment of Tron.
Central to Past Lives, says Lee, is the Korean concept of in-yun. Not precisely translatable, it refers to the time-spanning connections between people: if you meet in this life, you encountered each other in a past life. “Now that I’ve done the movie, I can’t not see in-yun everywhere,” Lee says, with the air of a recent convert to a niche religion. “You and I have in-yun now,” she says, pointing to me. “You can have in-yun with a chair,” she adds, pointing at her chair. Wherever you stand on the idea—as Nora says in the film, in-yun is “just something Korean people say to seduce someone”—it’s an effective way to raise the romantic stakes; both balm and delusion. “It’s really a coping mechanism, isn’t it?” says Lee, cheerily. “We’re all just trying to make sense of the injustice that we only get to live once.”
This interview took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike.
Originally published on Esquire UK
Initially, Talk to Me, the new supernatural horror movie from twins Danny and Michael Philippou, was scheduled to be an eight-week production. But when the first-time feature filmmakers opted for promising young Australian talents over proven stars, the budget shrank. The shoot? Reduced to five weeks. Which was fine, doable enough—until the day of the big montage scene. In it, a group of Australian teens takes turns clasping a magical embalmed hand, which in turn makes them possessed by the dead. The Philippous intended to film a demonic party game with the rapid cuts and laughing gas of a drug trip. One issue was that they ran out of time to take all the pictures they needed.
“We wanted 50 set-ups and the first [Assistant Director] said, ‘It is mathematically impossible to get all these shots,’” says Michael.
The 30-year-old twins, though, didn’t think so. “We were like, ‘We need to shoot this Racka style,’" says Danny.
For the previous 10 years, the Philippous had been making exuberant Internet candy under the YouTube handle RackaRacka. You’ve very likely stumbled across their work. The channel has 6.8 million subscribers, and its videos—in which they imagine, for instance, faceoffs between the characters in Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, or Ronald McDonald caught in a pizza delivery car chase—have netted over a billion views. Working as an all-hats DIY filmmaking duo, they learned to do it all—and quickly. Racka style.
So, the pair urged the assistant director to give them carte blanche over the set for a couple of hours. When they did, Danny says, “It was like a bomb hit the set: We had two cameras, and we were screaming orders and playing music.”
Suffice to say, they got the shots. Though, afterwards, a producer pulled them aside and said, in Danny’s words, "This is not how a feature film set is run.” The Philippous apologised and said they’d calm down moving forward. “But there's a certain magic in that chaos,” Danny says. “And I think you can feel that energy through the screen.”
ESQUIRE: You two are twins and you work together. For the unfamiliar, how do you distinguish Danny versus Michael?
DANNY PHILIPPOU: I'm the nerd twin. Michael's the jock twin. He's physical and I'm geeky. I'm the weak twin.
MICHAEL PHILIPPOU: I like travelling. Danny likes staying at home. When we're filming, Danny makes me get hit by cars while he films it.
DP: But I'm the smarter twin—he's the dumber twin.
In a lot of your RackaRacka YouTube videos, you make a huge mess—just destroying everything. When I watch videos like that I always wonder what the clean up is like—
DP: The worst part. You have so much fun destroying everything and then it's like, "Cut!"
MP: And a lot of people filming with you are like, "I'm going to go now."
DP: That was an amazing part of [filming] Talk to Me. Being able to destroy things and then be like, "Later!" and bail out of there.
MP: Sometimes, when it's funded or we've got demo houses, we make more of a mess because it's going to get knocked down. Once at our dad's house, we filmed and let off this little bomb—and the metal casing went through the roof. And we're like, "Oh shit." So we patched up the roof, but we didn't realise it had gone through the tiles as well. It was raining and my poor dad was reading the newspaper and there were drips of water. We looked up and the whole roof was sagging.
DP: Poor dad. We always fixed up what we destroyed. He was always nice about it, but poor dad. We really fucked his house up.
You guys started making videos at nine years old. Looking back, is there one that's near and dear to your hearts, where you can remember yourselves getting the filmmaking bug?
DP: All of them! I remember we did this movie called Evil Flamingo. It was a series of movies. We used my sister's flamingo doll to pretend it's murdering a bunch of people. We were probably 10 or 11. We started doing practical effects. We would put it in black and white, use tomato sauce as blood, we'd put fake eyes on my friend, and the flamingo was pulling the eyes out of this guy's head. We were so young. I remember being so obsessed with practical effects. We used to do it out of necessity. We didn't have any editing software. That was actually Evil Flamingo 2.
What was the inspiration for the Evil Flamingo videos?
DP: Chucky. I wanted to do my own killer doll movies.
MP: I think Evil Flamingo 2 was one of the first times where we were like, "Let's make it engaging the whole time."
Were you guys known as the crazy filmmaker kids in school?
DP: We used to differ between filmmaker kids and just delinquents. We were pretty aggressive kids.
MP: We weren't allowed in the same class in primary school. So I'd gather all these kids from my class, and Danny would from his class, and we'd meet on the oval and fight.
DP: But our friend Timani's older sister, Nelly, really steered us towards a more creative, fun path. We would always debut all of our movies and TV shows for her. And we hadn't seen her in like ten years, because she moved away when we were nineteen. Then we saw her for the first time at the Sundance premiere of Talk to Me.
How have you iterated, based on the feedback you’d get from friends and the Internet, as you were constantly making things?
MP: We never wanted to do YouTube. We kind of fell into making YouTube videos, because we were making these fake fail videos that were going really viral—and going on Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien—but no one knew who made them. A friend said, "You should make a YouTube channel just to say who's making them." So we made it and then there was one video that just took off. It was at 3,000 views, then we went to sleep and woke up and it was at 500,000. At the end of the day, it was 1.5 million, and we had 100,000 subscribers in that one day. And we're like, "What if we actually put effort into this?" From there, every video was an idea or sequence we always wanted to do. The more we created and it grew, we had the ability to do that with makeup artists, stunt performers, and VFX. It was a lot of fun, and that's why we did it for so many years.
DP: One of the reasons I stepped back from YouTube and wanted to do something outside of it was I couldn't be as vulnerable on the YouTube stuff. I couldn't be as personal. It was always specific content for a specific audience. The stuff we liked watching was very different than the stuff we liked making. That's why the film stuff was where we always wanted to be, and this felt like the right time to be like, Let's tackle this side of us we haven't shown yet. And that's with story and character.
MP: Before YouTube, I had a short film called Deluge that we'd shot. It was about a father and son in a suicide cult, and I was never going to upload that to RackaRacka. I was like, My audience is gonna fucking hate this. Stepping outside of that was the goal here.
What were you watching during that time?
DP: I remember my favourite TV show that I watched and rewatched was called In Treatment. It's an HBO show about a therapist just talking to his patients. I was so in love with that show.
MP: And then things like The Hunt and Memories of Murder—films that worked so well on a character level. It's got like a hundredth of the budget of a big Hollywood thing, but for some reason it's so much stronger. And it's just so well thought out in terms of character and story.
DP: In In Treatment, even just the buildup to a character throwing water on another character, it was like someone just got shot. Because you were invested that much into the character—something that small carried that much weight.
MP: Maybe we were drawn to that because we had done all the big fight stuff.
In Talk to Me, one thing I was struck by is how mean these kids are. All the Australian people I've met have been very friendly. Are Australian kids just really mean, then they're nice when they travel?
DP: [Laughs.] It depends on the friend group. In our friend group, the way we connect is by absolutely roasting each other.
MP: It's the most multicultural friend group. People from all over, all in the same network, and the way we connected is just by bagging the shit out of each other. And you grow closer because of that. Those people are still our best friends today. When I look at the film and you say they're really mean, I'm like, Are they? [Laughs.] I know they are. There are things that are so cruel from Hayley [played by Zoe Terakes], but some of the things Hayley says we laugh at.
DP: When you watch it with Australians, everyone just pisses themselves laughing. Taking the piss out of each other is an Australian thing.
During the film’s possession sequences, one of the characters has a sexual experience and makes out with a dog. Tell me about filming that.
MP: With that scene, we had everyone play through each other's possessions. Not kissing a dog, but going through the actions. And on set he's not kissing a real dog. It's all done through effects. But we've all had those [embarrassing] experiences growing up, and some are filmed and you feel bad for the people. It's not like back in the day where it can be talked about and forgotten. It's immortalised. Even just mistakes people have made. Which kind of sucks. Young people can't really grow safely or learn from experiences because it can always be shoved in their face.
Talk to Me deals with loss and grief. I read that you had a bad car accident when you were sixteen, Danny. What happened?
DP: I split my eye open and they thought I might've broken my spine. I was in the hospital afterwards and I couldn't stop shaking. The doctors would come in, turn on the heaters, and give me extra blankets. Then my sister came in, sat next to me, and held my hand. As she did that, the shaking just stopped. I was shaking not out of being cold, but out of being in shock. And the touch of my sister, someone I loved, brought me out of it. So human touch and the connections between people was always a really strong thing for me. Before we had the hand as a motif, it was just evident all the way through the film, and it just felt right to have the hand be the representation of it—this clingy, desperate hand needing connection.
Were you driving the car?
DP: No, I was in the car with three other friends, and I was sleeping in the back seat. They went through a red light and we got t-boned. I remember waking up and the car was spinning around. I was thinking my friends were dead, not understanding where I was. And I was so out of it that when I was asked my name, I was saying the street I lived on. The way Riley's face swells up in the movie was the way my face was swelling up. You could not recognise me. I was so deformed and disfigured.
In the movie, Mia [played by Sophie Wilde] feels guilt for being responsible for Riley's accident. Were those feelings drawn from that incident?
DP: Those feelings were drawn from our neighbours who we watched grow up. I remember their mom would ask me to drive them to school, and I was always terrified of doing that. I had this intrusive thought in my head of, What if I fucking crash the car and kill them right now and I have to go back and face their mom? All throughout the film, I was drawing from things that scare me personally.
And yet you guys both seem like daredevils. Michael is even a certified stuntman. So how did you push through that fear?
MA: I've always been drawn to doing something dangerous, especially when it's related to telling a story. If it's in my head, I'm just going to do it. I don't want anybody else to carry that risk. But it's something in me that's always just wanted to perform that stuff. Maybe it's the only time I feel present or something. And I'm scared when I agree to some stuff. We do these live events where I can get paralyzed or be killed, and beforehand I'm thinking about news articles if it goes wrong. But when you pull it off and you look back at the footage it's like, "Ohh, you survived that!" There's something about that that's so exhilarating.
DA: Even on a small scale, pushing through things is like that. Even the fear of doing a movie—in the daytime, I was so confident about it. But at night, all those doubts start to creep in, and you're like, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I've never made a movie before. I can't believe there's millions of dollars on the line. I'm just questioning and overthinking it. Then when the day comes, you just have to take the leap.
MA: It's like everything you want is at the edge of fear. And I feel like a lot of people don't pursue things because of how people will react initially, or they’re thinking about what will happen if they fail. But if you actually just push that aside and start, no matter where you end up, you're going to be so thankful that you did. The worst thing for me is saying, "What if…?" at the end of life. There's parts of my childhood where I'm like, "I wish I just did that." I think from an early age, I tried to just go for it.
Was there a specific moment where you learned that lesson?
MA: A few moments. It was something I saw from a friend who was getting bullied by three kids. He pushed a bully. Then at lunchtime, the three biggest, scariest kids in our grade came and beat the shit out of him until he was on the floor and bleeding. They beat the crap out of him until they were out of breath and then the bully said, "You had enough yet?" This kid got up and punched him in the face. And that defiance was so striking to me. There was a time when I was getting bullied and I used that as inspiration. I did this thing and got my ass kicked after, but I was proud that I stood up for myself and my friends.
From: Esquire Us
Get sucked in by the drama and Cillian Murphy's stare.
Now this is a story all about how / the world got flipped turned upside down / with a bomb from the Manhattan Project cadre / here's the life of Oppenheimer (and his thousand-yard stare).
Christopher Nolan isn't making films, he's creating an experience. For his latest trick, he presents the biopic of the father of the atomic bomb, J Robert Oppenheimer. Adapted from American Prometheus written by Kai Bird and Martin J Sherwin, the film chronicle the famed theoretical physicist's life, from student life at Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge to being the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory to getting his security clearance revoked due to tenuous communist ties.
It seemed strange for Nolan to take up a profile like Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy). Especially, when it's shot in Nolan's preference for the IMAX experience. There are no action scenes, nothing that befits the movie being shot on large format film stock—IMAX 65mm and Panavision 65mm film—(there was an estimated 17.7km worth of finished film stock) but Nolan sees it apt to highlight Oppenheimer on such a scale.
It's quite amazing how it all came together. There's nary a dull moment throughout the film's three-hour running time thanks to Nolan's deft direction, stellar ensemble and immaculate sound engineering. Not content with a linear re-telling of Oppenheimer's life, the film jumps back and forth to key moments and not only that it switches between the perspectives between Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr), a senior member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); one in colour and the other in stark black-and-white, respectively.
The sound and music for Oppenheimer is something to behold. Faithful to the physics, the sound follows after we see the explosion. This is also true during a storm, where we see the flash of lightning, followed by the boom of thunder. When the first nuclear weapon test started, the expected sounds of the explosion were sidelined by Oppenheimer's breathing as he saw the conflagration of fire and billowing smoke. In the theatre, we sat transfixed by the near-silence of the explosion before the sound kicked in.
In his second time working with Nolan, Ludwig Göransson took Nolan's advice in using the violin as Oppenheimer's central theme. Göransson said that the stringed instrument could go from "the most romantic, beautiful tone in a split second to neurotic and heart-wrenching, horror sounds".
The best example is the nuclear explosion at Trinity (the codename of the site where it took place). We were at the edge of our seats in the lead-up to the experiment. Which is weird because all the historical accounts said that the experiment went off without a hitch. But how it was edited and soundtracked, you hope the experiment will be successful.
Cillian Murphy, who is well-known for his tenure in the TV series, Peaky Blinders, puts on a defining performance as Oppenheimer. Demonstrating the complexity of Oppenheimer with nuance would hobble a lesser actor but not in Murphy's hands. With Murphy, Oppenheimer comes across as a sympathetic Frankenstein (the doctor not as most erroneously would assume, the monster), a man who witnessed the mysteries of the atoms with awe and, later in the film, as a nuclear shade who is now the self-appointed martyr for ushering in the Atomic Age.
Furthering adding to fleshing out Oppenheimer, Murphy went on an intense transformation by reading up on the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious text that Oppenheimer would quote from and going on a diet that reduced him to his character’s stick-thin frame.
Downey Jr gives one of the best performances of his career as the embittered Strauss, who has a fractious relationship with Oppenheimer. Driven by ambition, Downey Jr displays a man who is an imposing figure in America’s nuclear program but dwarfed by his pettiness against a slight from Oppenheimer. Emily Blunt plays Oppenheimer's wife, Kitty, and she holds her own in this movie. Her deathstare towards her husband's ex-colleague or her bemused reaction during an interrogation, Blunt conveys the hidden pillar of strength in Oppenheimer's marriage.
I'm just glad that Murphy is back to playing the lead for a major film. To my limited memory, the last films that Cillian Murphy headlined were Sunshine and 28 Days Later.
Because there's something mesmerising about the way he stares at you; as though vacant but yet arresting at the same time. I'm pretty sure if there was a short film of just the camera pushing in slowly into Murphy's haunted mien, people would pay money to see it.
I mean, look at him. Now imagine if this was in colour, you will DIE IN THOSE POOLS OF BLUE.
Seven words: NOT SEEING CILLIAN MURPHY'S DONG ON IMAX.
I'm joking. Mostly. I'll explain. This is Christopher Nolan's first R-rated movie and it touches on Oppenheimer's love life with Jean Tatlock (played by Florence Pugh). Nolan felt that the sex scenes between Oppenheimer and Tatlock were necessary to showcase the couple's deep connection. There were rumours that this might show full frontal nudity from both actors but alas, nothing from Murphy. Not even a bare buttock. (We are all about having more male actors go the full monty on the big screen. CHILL IT WITH THE DOUBLE-STANDARD HOLLYWOOD.)
I get that Nolan doesn't want to shy from the intimate moments between Oppenheimer and Tatlock but it felt gratuitous. And it would be nice to have more insight into Tatlock's life and motivations. The character does not seem fully fleshed out. Even Emily Blunt's Kitty barely escaped this bare-bones characterisation.
The number of established actors that are part of this cast. Aside from the marquee names like Matt Damon as Lieutenant General Leslie Groves and Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, there are other notable faces to spot. Personalities like Jason Clarke as Roger Robb; Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence; Dane DeHaan as Kenneth Nichols; Benny Safdie as Edward Teller; James Urbaniak as Kurt Gödel; Jack Quaid as Richard Feynman; Olivia Thirlby as Lilli Hornig; Casey Affleck as Boris Pash; Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr; Gary Oldman as President Harry S Truman and so on.
The only notable person not in the cast is Sir Michael Caine. Having appeared in all of Nolan's production since Batman Begins in 2005, this is the only film that doesn't feature him.
Also, don't forget the end-credit scene that sets up the Oppenheimer sequel. JK.
Oppenheimer is now out in theatres.
A visually detailed universe of idiosyncrasies, with a human core.
In Barbieland—a world separate from reality and where the actual Barbies and Kens reside—Stereotypical Barbie (the Barbie, played by Margot Robbie) lives a perfect, plastic life that has seemingly no end. Until, she starts questioning her reality and begins deviating from her known, repetitive path. She ventures off into the real world in hopes of “rebooting” and finds out that women don’t rule it, among other things.
Let’s be honest. When a real-action Barbie film was announced, no one was expecting it to be this much of a cultural phenomenon spurring women and men to be decked out in all pink to watch the film. Nor could we have anticipated the first reviews to be anything but overwhelmingly positive. The Barbie movie franchise has always been based on fantasy and idealism typical of any ‘90s Saturday cartoon—regarding it as anything more seemed bonkers.
Yet, Greta Gerwig managed to craft a narrative that goes beyond the plastic veneer of a, well, doll.
But that’s not to say that Barbie is dark or too in touch with reality. In fact, Gerwig leaned into the absurdity of a Barbie utopia. Barbies are always physically on their toes when barefoot (just like the actual dolls), see little need for stairs as they defy gravity by floating down as though placed into position by human hands, shower with imaginary water, drink imaginary liquids, and change clothes (for every occasion) with nary a finger lifted.
Much has been said about the diversity of the extended cast, with naysayers decrying it as part of a woke agenda. Apart from the racial diversity that includes Issa Rae as President Barbie, Alexandra Shipp as Writer Barbie, and Ana Cruz Kayne as Judge Barbie, Barbie portrays other facets of humanity with transgender actress Hari Nef as Dr. Barbie as well as Nicola Coughlan and Sharon Rooney portraying Diplomat Barbie and Lawyer Barbie respectively. There’s even a Barbie in a wheelchair.
What dissenters fail to recognise is that Barbie the doll has always been inclusive. The first Black Barbie debuted in 1980—slightly over a decade after the original Barbie—and a new line of differently sized Barbies were introduced in 2016. And of course, that’s alongside the pretty impressive range of occupations that Barbie has held throughout its 64-year existence.
But back to the story…
The main narrative of Barbie is the Barbie gaining some form of sentience, away from the rest of the Barbies. It's almost like a reverse The Stepford Wives where instead of women being reprogrammed to be submissive robots in a patriarchal community, it's the Barbies who reign all while Kens are side characters that the former care quite little about (when Barbie gets asked where do the Kens stay, she simply says, "I've never thought about it.").
Stepping into the real world causes Barbie to actually experience real human feelings, complete with tears. But most importantly, she finds out that Barbieland's existence did not mean that women in the real world are completely liberated or at the very least, given the same opportunities and treatment as men. Ken too witnesses this and because he constantly feels that his existence is wholly tethered to Barbie, decides to head back to Barbieland and enforce real-world patriarchy. But in the most naive of ways.
The most human element of the film comes in the form of Ruth Handler (played by Rhea Perlman), the co-founder of Mattel and the creator of Barbie. It's not explicitly explained in the film but based on the fact that the film occurs in present-day reality, we can safely assume that it's a spiritual representation of Handler. She guides Barbie in realising that—like the countless other versions of Barbie created after her—there's no predestined ending to her path; Barbie can essentially decide what she wants to be.
If we were to nitpick, there are quite a number of loopholes that aren't exactly explained.
While it Barbieland is aware of the real world, it does seem as though the real world is somewhat aware of the existence of Barbieland too—at least that's what can be gleaned from the rather blasé reactions real-world humans had towards Barbie after she crossed over. The film describes an opening of a rift between the two worlds, but if that were the case, why do the Barbies allude to venturing to the real world as something that happens quite regularly?
The connection between how Barbie dolls are played in the real world and their affect on Barbies in Barbieland too isn't well communicated.
We're introduced to Kate McKinnon's Weird Barbie character that's a manifestation of kids mistreating their Barbies, but does her existence represent the countless number of Barbies constantly made to do the splits or getting their hair butchered? Which also begs the question: Why was Barbie's sudden existential crisis tied to a single person (America Ferrera's character)—are we to believe that no one else in the world were able to project negative thoughts onto Barbie?
There are more of such puzzling inconsistencies but we can always chalk them up to the fantasy nature of the film. Could they have been explained better? Yes.
Robbie and Ryan Gosling are by no means the only A-list faces in the cast. Barbie is quite a star-filled ensemble.
Look out for Dua Lipa as a trio of Mermaid Barbies, John Cena as Merman Ken, Sex Education's Emma Mackey and Connor Swindells as Physicist Barbie and a Mattel intern respectively, as well as Will Ferrell as Mattel's oddball CEO. Oh, there's also Helen Mirren as the film's narrator who cheekily breaks the fourth wall in one scene.
Because the Barbieland universe is incredibly detailed, take note of how everything was perfectly done to actual Barbie-like scale. For example, Barbie is proportionally bigger than her car, and even the items that she uses—hairbrush, carton of milk, etc.—were scaled according to the actual toys.
Finally, there's a scene where Handler shows Barbie what it feels like to be human, and does so through a collage of moments experienced throughout a woman's life. Gerwig called for submissions from the cast and crew of the film for this as a way of adding that personal, human touch. Brilliant.
Barbie is now out in theatres.
I must admit, after the culmination of She-Hulk, where CGI blurs of green pixels were twerking, smashing, and screaming bloody murder left and right, I really needed some good news from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Yes. Nearly a year later, the scars incurred from the She-Hulk finale still haven't healed.)
Thankfully, Deadpool 3—Ryan Reynolds' eagerly anticipated MCU debut—has been providing us with a continuous supply of upbeat information. After flirting with Hugh Jackman for over a year about getting the man to trade The Music Man for his old Wolverine threads, he finally worked his magic. Now, Deadpool 3 is filming, and Reynolds—via an Instagram story—offered up a brilliant look of himself and Jackman in costume. You can view it below. Notably, Jackman finally suits up in Wolverine's classic comic-book threads, banana-yellow suit and all.
So, what else has our favourite Canadian said about the film? In late September, Reynolds posted a video with a long preamble about Deadpool 3, which culminates in Jackman himself walking in the background, confirming his return.
Here's what Reynolds had to say:
Hey everyone, we’re extremely sad to have missed D23, but we’ve been working very hard on the next ‘Deadpool’ film for a good long while now. I’ve had to really search my soul on this one. His first appearance in the MCU obviously needs to feel special. We need to stay true to the character, find new depth, motivation, meaning. Every ‘Deadpool’ needs to stand out and stand apart. It’s been an incredible challenge that has forced me to reach down deep inside. And I…I have nothing. Yeah, just completely empty up here. And terrifying. But we did have one idea.
Later on, Jackman offered his side of the story. In a new interview with Empire Film Podcast, he opened up about the the plot of the film. In short? We're getting Wolverine vs. Deadpool. "Ten being really close, zero being the reality, we’re zero. We’re opposites, hate each other," Jackman said. He added of his crabby, three-clawed hero: “ [Wolverine is] frustrated by [Deadpool], wants to be a million miles away from him or wants to punch him in the head. Unfortunately, he can’t be a million miles away from him in this movie, so I’m probably going to punch him in the head a lot." Something tells me Deadpool 3 will have a different tone than the X-Men movies where we encountered Jackman's tortured, isolated character.
Deadpool 3, or whatever the heck this thing is called, has a release date: May 3, 2024. Maybe we'll know the full plot of this film by then.
From: Esquire US
We've heard about the new Timothée Chalamet-fronted Willy Wonka film for a while now. As a teaser, the actor posted an image of himself back in 2021, where he's bedecked in the signature purple coat and brown top hat. The caption—"The suspense is terrible, I hope it will last."—accompanied the image. While reaction to the images was mixed, the actor was correct: the suspense is terrible.
But now we have the full-length Wonka trailer. We follow a young Willy Wonka before his candy empire as he tries to realise his dream of having a chocolate shop, he has to face off with the Chocolate Cartel. Although Chalamet displayed mannerisms and whimsy that millennials might reference Johnny Depp's portrayal of the 2005 version of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wonka is actually a prequel to the Gene Wilder-led Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
Y'know, Gene Wilder. This face that launched a thousand Condescending Wonka memes.
While this isn't based on any existing Roald Dahl's work, fingers crossed that this prequel brings back the awe and wonder of the 1971 film. We spy musical numbers, that familiar tune of "Pure Imagination", the involvement of Keegan-Michael Key, the directing prowess of Paul King of Paddington and Paddington 2 (fight me, Paddington 2 is pretty great film). Oh, and... a (much smaller) Oompa Loompa; one that's played by Hugh Grant as he launches into a dance and the Oompa Loompa song.
The Wonka film comes out on Christmas Day in theatres.
Killers of the Flower Moon took a while to be adapted. The rights to adapt David Grann's book started in 2016 but like any other project, the development of the film was halted due to the global pandemic. Still, the film was finally finished. It made its premiere at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2023 and received a nine-minute standing ovation.
While we have to wait a few months to watch it, Apple TV+ unveils the trailer of Killers of the Flower Moon today.
With stirring Native American pow wow chants spliced with dubstep ("Stadium Pow Wow" by The Halluci Nation née A Tribe Called Red), the trailer brings across the palpable tension of a community gripped with terror.
The American Western crime drama (that's a mouthful) is based on the real-life murders that plagued the Osage Nation. Set in the 1920s, the epic is directed and co-produced by Martin Scorsese and stars an ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone and Jesse Plemons.
Given the subject matter, Scorsese involved the Osage Nation during the film's development. In a press release, Scorsese said, "We are thrilled to finally start production on Killers of the Flower Moon in Oklahoma. To be able to tell this story on the land where these events took place is incredibly important and critical to allowing us to portray an accurate depiction of the time and people. We're grateful to Apple, the Oklahoma Film and Music Office and The Osage Nation, especially all our Osage consultants and cultural advisors, as we prepare for this shoot."
In light of the current book bans and revisionisms in America, we are glad that someone made use of the medium to spotlight America's "hidden histories". (Another example was HBO's Watchmen which featured the Tulsa Race Massacre.)
America's history may not strike a chord with Singapore audiences but the cast and the dramatisation of a real-life event should be enough to get butts in seats.
Killers of the Flower Moon is tentatively slated to be in theatres on 6 October and later for online streaming on Apple TV+.
Broadcasted live from São Paulo, Brazil, Netflix Tudum unveiled previews for their shows throughout 2023 and beyond. Teasers range from the live-action One Piece to the announcement of Linda Hamilton joining the cast of Stranger Things' fifth season. We pore through the announcements made and present the ones that matter.
Remember the English live-action remake of Death Note? What about the English live-action remake of Cowboy Bebop? The last two adaptations didn't fair great but this is Netflix, damn it, they will perfect the formulae! And from the teaser above for the best-selling manga, One Piece. It looks to be brimming with... potential? We'll see when the full-length trailer drops next.
Speaking of adaptations...
The problems with the M Night Shyamalan-helmed movie were a-plenty: the whitewashing in its casting; the lacklustre bending; the grimdark tone of the film. Producers of the TV series will adhere more to the cartoon series... except that Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the co-creators of the original Avatar series left the TV adaptation over creative differences.
The ghost of Battle Royale returns with... a cast announcement. New players join the second season like Kang Ha-neul and Park Sung-hoon, along with last season's cast—Lee Jung-jae (hopefully without the new dye job); Lee Byung-hun; Wi Ha-jun. We did not see Jung HoYeon mentioned in the announcement. We know of her fate in the last series but a viewer could hope that through the magic of disbelief and a narrative loophole, Jung would return.
When the production of a real-life Squid Game was announced, there was a furore about the morality of staging a real-life showcase about capitalism and class systems. We doubt that Netflix's Squid Game The Challenge would kill off the losers (right?) the show came close to doing so. Reports about contestants' "inhumane conditions" came to light with some of them needing medical aid on site.
Still, we reckon there would be eyeballs to the real-life competition. But The Challenge has a steep hill to overcome as YouTube's Mr Beast came out with his Squid Game-inspired challenge a year ago.
Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer-Prize-winning book was adapted into a limited TV series of the same name. Directed by Shawn Levy (the director of Night of the Museum), we get a first look at the WWII four-parter about a blind French woman, Marie-Laure (played by Aria Mia Loberti) and a German soldier named Werner (Louis Hofmann), whose paths cross in occupied France. The series is expected to be released 2 November 2023.
A Terminator alumnus joins Stranger Things. Linda Hamilton, a badass who rivals the likes of Ellen Ripley, joins the cast for the fifth and final season of the ground-breaking series. No word yet on whom she would play but it should give the show a strong sense of female empowerment when it comes out.
Will this adaptation from Liu Cixin's seminal work redeem David Benioff and DB Weiss? Best remembered for their work behind Game of Thrones and the dead-before-it-was-made TV series, Confederate (an American alternate history where the slaves never got their freedom), Benioff and Weiss will finally make a comeback with this sci-fi series that will stream on Netflix.
Now this is how you do an animated Marvel film.
Spider-Man aka Mile Morales (played by Shameik Moore) travels across the Multiverse, where he meets the Spider-Society—an organisation of multidimensional Spider-People charged with protecting its very existence. It's all fun-and-transdimensional games until Morales is confronted with the truth of his origins.
I didn't think that the sequel would improve on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse but there you go. The film has equal parts action and a more intimate unpacking of the characters. Despite being 28, Shameik Moore, who voices Morales, nails that teenage register; there's that gung-ho front that's anchored with that adolescent uncertainty. We get to see the dynamics of the Morales and we are reminded about how we, as teenagers, tend to butt heads with our own parents and widen the generational gulf.
It's great to see Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) take her place in the spotlight. In the last chapter, we just got a quick recap of her origins—bitten by a radioactive spider; joined a band; saved her dad; couldn't save her best friend, Peter Parker—which gives us what we needed to know her in 30 seconds. For Across the Spider-Verse, we get more depth to her character and how she has to wrestle with her relationship with her policeman father, George Stacy (Shea Whigham), as a daughter and as the police's most-wanted vigilante, Spider-Woman.
The new antagonist, the Spot (Jason Schwartzman) goes against the mould of your classic Marvel villain and that's refreshing. This is a dude, who resorts to robbing ATMs because that's all he can do. He starts out as a wannabe crowing for Spider-Man's attention and eventually becomes worthy. There are cameos galore, especially, when we get to the Spider-Society. There, we meet the many versions of Spider-Man that range from the brooding Ben Reilly (Andy Samberg) to the happy-go-lucky Pavitr Prabhakar, there is not a wasted minute introducing each of the Spider-Person.
And the visuals... let hosannas ring around this eye candy. When Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was released, critics crowed about their pushing the envelope in the animation field. With Across the Spider-Verse, the envelope is now pushed off the table, rolled down the hill and opened up to reveal the winner of next year's best-animated film. Eye-popping and ground-breaking, the art comes at you fast and furious. Each dimension and its characters come with their own style: Stacy's universe is more hand-painted with changing colours to reflect her emotions; Brown's universe is, according to the filmmakers, 'hand-cut, pasted, drawn, glued together' to evoke the DIY look of punk rock posters; O'Hara's world is like a 'Syd Mead-style illustration of what the future might look like'. These different styles give a more varied and believable layer to this world- I mean, universe-building.
Also, please more of Pavitr Prabhakar and lessons in grammatical redundancy:
No Spider-Man Noir? For shame!
There are a host of cameos at the Spider-Society, some as a one-note joke and others, surprising. Aside from the fire soundtrack and visual narrative touches, look out for the two narrative turns in the film: the first is a gut punch when we find out more about Morales' origin but the second twist sets up what's the come in the next chapter.
Then, there's the scene where the Spot travels to a real-world convenience store where he talks to the owner Mrs Lu (Peggy Lu). If you're like me and have wasted your time watching less-than-marvellous adaptations of anti-hero IP, you'd recognise the set from Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now out in theatres.
See where The Super Mario Bros Movie stands in the long and complicated history of video game adaptations.
If you were a big-ticket Hollywood screenwriter, one of the toughest gigs you could get is the task of turning a video game into a coherent movie. Usually, video game stories are meant to be played and interacted with—not just consumed. It’s why running and jumping as Mario feels amazing... but hearing him talk in full sentences with Chris Pratt’s voice is unnerving.
Most games also tend to run about 30 to 60 hours long—if you don’t get addicted—and reducing all that to a tight 90 minutes is a nearly impossible task. Video games are also inherently ridiculous. You upgrade stats, collect coins, complete quests, and play out an experience unique to what you make of it. It’s something a fixed medium like film can’t even seem to get something simple like Sonic the Hedgehog right. Remember some of his adorable and cool friends like Tails and Knuckles? Well, they don’t even show up until the sequel.
But perhaps most daunting? People love their video games. The characters, the storylines, the visuals: they're all subject to insane scrutiny because you invest your time and energy and 3am. bags of Doritos to be part of these worlds. Now, we have a new adaptation to put under the microscope: The Super Mario Bros Movie. Read on to see where it stands in the long and complicated history of video game adaptations.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is one of the best action stars Hollywood has even seen, so it was only logical that a guy who starred in dozens of Die Hard clones would eventually get to work with the film’s scribe himself, Stephen E de Souza, on an adaptation of Street Fighter. Outlandish and full of impressive fighting choreography, the '90s film made for an incredibly campy rework of the 2-D arcade fighter. Especially since it (awkwardly) favored the one American character as its lead over its Japanese protagonist. Still, Van Damme can sure kick ass.
Bet you didn't think Pixels would be on here, huh? 2015 probably told you to hate anything and everything Adam Sandler. Well, it's 2021 and we like the Sandman again. Pixels is a loving, if... uneven ode to the arcade classics of the '80s (think: Pac-Man and Centipede). Plus, it stars Brian Cox and Peter Dinklage. And Michelle Monaghan. Yeah. Pixels deserves a replay.
Uncharted had so much going for it. A genuine star in Tom Holland, who plays the leading adventurer, Nathan Drake. Mark Wahlberg as his co-star. Plus, an apt director in Ruben Fleischer, whose breakout film, Zombieland, is still massively rewatchable. We hate to report that Uncharted is half of what it could've been. Which means that there are still some quips, gargantuan action setpieces, and various acts of Tom Hollanding would seeing. It's just all wrapped up in a film with scattershot pacing and not much character development for its lead.
The creative team behind the Assassin's Creed film took the correct approach. Ubisoft, the game studio, decided to snag the creative reins of the project itself and attach a reliable talent who believed in the potential of the franchise. This talent, of course, was budding Hollywood leading man Michael Fassbender. What he did with the film may not have been exactly a box office pleaser, but it was an example of a video game movie that was done artfully, made with a deep, meticulous understanding of the game series’ lore.
Say what you will about Paul WS Anderson, but he created a world all his own in the Resident Evil film series. The movies, frustratingly, diverge greatly from the storytelling of the games, but Milla Jovovich has become something of a screen icon thanks to her enduring leading role in them. While they take a lot of liberties with the Resident Evil franchise, the world-building in the films is captivating enough to make these a stand-out in the genre.
World of Warcraft is one of the most beloved video game series of all time. Its fan base is large, spanning generations of kids who, in some cases, have been playing it for decades. Duncan Jones’ take on the series showed, perhaps for the first time, what happens when a huge fan of a video game is given the keys to a film franchise. Jones is an outspoken WoW-head, and his knowledge of the series was apparent in this film.
We hate to say it, but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 doesn't go quite as fast as its predecessor, losing some of wit and charm from the first outing. That said, Ben Schwartz's gleefully chaotic work as Sonic, with a superb Idris Elba added to the mix as the echidna Knuckles, makes Sonic the Hedgehog 2 firmly one of the better films on this list.
Sure, the Mortal Kombat reboot was never going to reach the bloody, campy heights of its 1995 predecessor. But it's still a treat for gamers who grew up slicing and dicing back when the fighters were merely two-dimensional.
After Angelina Jolie’s lukewarm take on the franchise in the early 2000s, it seemed like Tomb Raider would never achieve its full potential onscreen. The series itself is extremely cinematic, and, aside from the burdensome exploitation and sexism in the games, it offers what could be a very strong woman-led Indiana Jones-type movie series. In 2018, Alicia Vikander starred in this much darker—and much more realistic—version of Tomb Raider, and she really nailed it.
The Super Mario Bros Movie is for kids. For. Kids. Please remember that, as you watch one mister Chris Pratt Mario cheese his way through Mushroom Kingdom. The Super Mario Bros Movie doesn't totally have a plot—does any Mario game ever veer too far from Mario-beats-Bowser, anyway?—so it leans on the hits. Meaning: a Mario Kart scene here, a Super Smash Bros moment there, and cameos that'll delight even the crabbiest of trolls. Just enjoy it, OK? Life's too short to dunk on an animated plumber.
Final Fantasy is another major gaming franchise that has a subculture all its own. For decades, fans wondered how their beloved RPG would look onscreen. Advent Children, the only film on this list that’s not live-action, answered that call in 2005. The imaginative and at times fully bonkers take on the beloved Square Enix series used computer-generated 3D graphics instead of real life actors, and it really blurred the line between film and gaming.
Listen, if I could give the top spot to "Speed Me Up"—the song of last summer, this summer, next summer, and the summer after that—I would. But my editor won't let me. Instead, props goes to the movie itself, which proved to be a surprisingly fun outing for the blue guy, despite months of production troubles. For better or worse, we'll probably always remember Sonic the Hedgehog as the last movie we saw in theatres before the pandemic.
OK. Wreck-It Ralph isn't technically a video game movie, in that Wreck-It Ralph doesn't exist as a game IRL. But the film imagines a world where arcade game characters meet up in a digital romper room, leading to a celebration of a film about video games and the bad guys that inhabit them. It's weird. It's wild. It has heart. And a Bowser cameo. What else do you need?
Pokémon as a franchise has always been a stalwart: there are the cards and the TV series and the animated films. Oh, and then there's the game itself, which has defined an entire generation. Even with all that, when Detective Pikachu was announced, there was some (rightful) skepticism about what a live-action film starring the beloved creatures might look like. Not only did the visuals deliver, but Ryan Reynolds and Justice Smith make the outing a blast to watch. Pokémon Go stream it now.
What is there to say about the Mortal Kombat movie that hasn’t already been said? It’s campy. It’s exciting. It’s dumb. It’s brilliant. The spirit of the '90s is alive in full force in this film, and to this day, the techno-futuristic-cage-match title still stands as the most satisfying video game movie to date. Sure, it may not be the most “high-art” example on this list. But Mortal Kombat perfectly captured the essence of a game franchise, and it cannot be beat.
Originally published on Esquire US