Top 10 Blog Posts

So, in celebration of this blog finally reaching 50 (50!) posts, I figure that now is a good opportunity to look back on the posts that have, over time, proved to be my favorites.  Since Writings, Readings and Coffee Addictions began, I’ve blogged about a pretty big variety of topics, so narrowing it down was difficult…but it’s always fun to look back and reminisce.

So, starting from #10 (and with pictures!) here are my top 10:

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10. MBTI Typology – a recent post, but a lot of fun.  What I really enjoyed about this post was less the post itself, and more so the comments, interactions and replies from you guys.  Learning about other people’s types generally makes for a good time.

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9. Why David Lynch’s “Dumbland” is Smarter than it Looks – David Lynch is one of the most interesting, bizarre filmmakers around, and so writing about his work is always a unique experience, to say the least.

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8. Transhumanism in Deathlok: The Demolisher – Since this review was posted, Deathlok has jumped into the spotlight, thanks to his role on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.  Still, I think that Marvel’s original cyborg is one of the most underrated characters in comicdom, and the 2010 limited series, Deathlok: The Demolisher is one of the best takes on the character yet.

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7. The True “Hero” of Breaking Bad – When the Breaking Bad finale came out, it was pretty much the only thing anyone could talk about – and with good reason.  This was my take on the series’ climax.

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6. Page 133 – One of my first posts, and still one of my favorites.  A short look at the writing process, writer’s block and how to push through it.

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5. Spider-Man 2: Because We Found the Rubber Band – Though the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks excellent, I don’t think there will ever be another Spidey film with the depth, quirkiness and heart of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, still one of the most unique comic book films ever made.    

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4. Chapter One, Page One – And here it is…my first post!  I remember struggling to figure out how to start, and once I was hit by the idea of just writing about the two voices debating back and forth in my head, well…all the pieces fell into place quickly afterward.

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3. Confronting the Self-Cannibalistic Creative Monster – As creative individuals, we all know this voice and have dealt with it in our own ways.  I just gave mine a name.

Art by Bernie Wrightson.

Art by Bernie Wrightson.

2. The Writer’s Role in Society – Easily one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written, this is an in-depth look at what motivates the writer to create, where the writer’s crazy, crazy passion comes from, what drives us and finally, what our role in the world really is.

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1. Why I wrote The Cage Legacy – Definitely the most personal post I’ve ever written on this blog, “Why I wrote The Cage Legacy” is the story of how The Cage Legacy was created, where the idea came from and the struggles I went through in its years of development.  Out of every blog post I’ve ever written, this one was by far the hardest to write – and also the most worth it.

And so, there we are – the top 10.  As usual, if you guys have any thoughts/opinions/replies/concerns about my mental well-being/et cetera, always feel free to comment!

A Somewhat “Lynchian” Post

You ever want to make a room go silent?  You ever want to weird out a group of people who claim they “can’t be weirded out?”

Okay, then here’s what you do.  Put on the chicken dinner scene from David Lynch’s Eraserhead.  No one will ever look at you the same way again…or talk to you, for that matter.  Oops.

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Unless…

Unless they get it.  And if you get it – if you get David Lynch, if you can on some level identify with what he’s doing, with the weirdly earnest yet deeply disturbed nature of his work…then it’s hard not to be absolutely enthralled by his films, even if one doesn’t necessarily like them.   It’s also hard not to deeply respect David Lynch as an artist, a true auteur who never makes a movie without getting the final cut, doesn’t care what the reviews say,  doesn’t even care if his films are successful or popular.  David Lynch is a man who makes exactly the movies he wants to make, no matter how much those movies might unsettle his audience.

Everyone remembers their first David Lynch experience.  For me, it was a late night showing of what I now know to be Lost Highway, many years ago.  At the time, I only saw a couple scenes, got confused and changed to something else.  Yeah, I’ll admit it, I was totally one of those people who didn’t understand what the the appeal was.  Seeing those several scenes out of context, Lost Highway at first seemed like it was just trying to be weird for the sake of being weird, and that notion didn’t appeal to me.

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Later on, I saw The Elephant Man, and my opinion slowly started changing.  Then, finally, I watched Eraserheard. 

It didn’t hit me so hard at first.  After 109 minutes of surreal visions, uneasiness, ghastly moments involving “the baby,” uncomfortable laughter, nausea, heads rolling around and—finally, at the end—being overcome with a feeling of sheer horror, I’ll admit I had no idea what exactly to think about it.  But what snagged me, what finally made me a Lynch fan, was the fact that days after seeing Eraserhead for the first time…well, it stayed with me.  The movie is a bit like a grievous injury to the brain—it lingers in your mind for days, maybe even weeks before it finally heals into a scar.

See, what became clear to me after Eraserhead was that Lynch doesn’t just try to be weird for the sake of being weird, and when his critics claim this, they’re missing the whole point; really, making this accusation is much like staring at a living, breathing tree and yelling that it’s a dead tower of dead.  Lynch’s films operate in a surreal, dreamlike landscape, highly influenced by Dadaism, Eastern mysticism and Franz Kafka.  Like Kafka, Lynch’s greatest talent is the way that he presents utterly bizarre events without emphasizing them, the same way that one would experience these events in real life.  Even in a movie like The Straight Story – which despite its utter lack of darkness, is one of his best films – he makes the odd storyline of an old man driving through the US on a lawnmower actually seem unbelievably mundane, amazingly normal.  Lynch’s films  are like waking dreams, more so than they are movies.

But how so?

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Put it this way.  Have you ever had a truly ugly nightmare, the kind that leaves you trembling on and off throughout the day?  Okay, now, that’s all well and good.  But have you ever noticed that as soon as you try to describe that nightmare to someone – as soon as you try to really analyze it yourself – it doesn’t sound scary anymore?  No, actually, it seems absolutely ridiculous.  No matter how hard you try to tell Bob that the nightmare you had about being eaten by a giant pink Pac-Man with lollipop ears was the scariest experience of your life, your actual description makes it seem utterly laughable.  Bob can’t understand.  Even you can’t understand, not in retrospect.  You need to have been there.

That’s what David Lynch’s work accomplishes.  As bizarre as his movies are – from the awkward expressions, to gas masks, to dancing midgets and crude cartoon characters – and as ridiculous as they sound in retrospect, that moment when you’re watching a David Lynch movie is unsettling, mystifying and confusing…and the feeling you get from watching it lingers on, never truly going away.

-Nicholas Conley

The Top Ten Genre Adaptations/Sequels/Remakes that Hollywood Should Make

So hey, when are they gonna make the movie?

When it comes to genre fans – and I use the word “genre” here as an umbrella term, so that I can group all horror/sci-fi/fantasy/etc. properties under one roof –  we’ve all got our own ideas about which of our favorite properties should be put up on the big screen – or which properties should be rebooted, remade or just generally “fixed.”  For every horror fan clamoring for them to finally get off their asses and make an awesome, Jason-focused Friday the 13th flick  (ahem), there’s another one shouting that what Hollywood really needs to do is make a big-budget, Christoper Nolan-ized version of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.  So when one compiles a top ten list such as this one, I feel strongly that it’s best to chuck any attempt at objectivity out the window.  When one writes a top ten list like this, it’s incredibly silly that pretend that he or she is speaking for anyone other than himself or herself.

I mean, seriously?  The truth is, you’ll never find an objective top ten list.  Top ten lists are automatically subjective by their very nature; they exist as a way for us feeble mortals to make-believe that we have some kind of control over the universe, so much control, in fact, that we can actually organize it according to our whims.

So, without further ado, here is my highly subjective list of the top ten potential sci-fi/horror/fantasy/speculative/yadda-yadda-yadda properties that Hollywood should take under consideration:

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10. Brave New World, directed by Ridley Scott

When it comes to the great dystopian novels, I’ll admit that I’m highly partial to George Orwell’s 1984.  However, there’s a lot to be said for Aldous Huxley’s horrifically prophetic vision of a world consumed by its obsession with trivialities, drug-induced brainwashing and genetically-engineered test tube babies…and unlike 1984, which in the actual year of 1984 was marvelously adapted into a film starring John Hurt, there has yet to be a great adaption of Huxley’s novel.

Really, it’s a bit of a shock that this movie hasn’t happened yet.  In today’s world, where society is being consumed by wave after wave of mindlessly solipsistic Facebook statuses and Tweets, people spend most of their time amusing themselves instead of seeking out knowledge, actual human interaction is lowering and we’re coming closer and closer to becoming the genetically-engineered humans that Huxley envisioned in 1931, a Brave New World film could possibly open up the general public’s eyes about the inherent danger of what Huxley was warning us about, all those years ago.

Now, why do I name Ridley Scott as the director?  One – because Scott has previously expressed interest.  Two – because I can’t imagine a director who could possibly have a more interesting, more appropriate cinematic vision of Huxley’s world.  Considering that Scott is the man who directed such films as Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus and the famous 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial, Brave New World would definitely be right up his alley.

So, that’s ten. What’s number nine?  Don’t worry, this is an obvious one…

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9.  Evil Dead 4, AKA Army of Darkness 2, AKA whatever the hell they want to call it

Yeah, that’s right.  I said Evil Dead Four—not Two.  While I actually was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Evil Dead remake, I still don’t really look at it as a true Evil Dead film. Let’s face it, while Evil Dead 1 might’ve been a “real” horror flick, for most of us Evil Dead fans, the film that really made us fall in love with this franchise was Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, with its splattery combination of horror, scathing satire and Three Stooges-style slapstick.

Now, even though Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness are easily two of my favorite movies of all time, there’s a reason that this one is relatively low on my highly subjective top ten list; because really, we don’t need an Evil Dead 4.  Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead trilogy actually stands pretty well on its own; there’s a definitive character arc for Ash Williams, and the way that the franchise cleverly slides from all-out horror to goofy, Ray Harryhausen-style pastiche is really quite brilliant.

If Sam Raimi does ever move ahead on a proposed fourth movie (which has been “in the workings” for the last two decades) and stays faithful to the quirky low-budget feel of the original three, then I’ll definitely be in the front row…but as it is, I’m pretty happy with the original trilogy, as is.

So, no, the fans don’t need an Evil Dead 4.  But do we want it?  Hell yeah, we do.

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8. Martian Manhunter

So, here’s one that’s  totally out of left field.

Yes, I know that this might seem bizarrely random.  Most people will only recognize this green-skinned Martian shapechanger – real name J’onn J’onnz – from the Justice League cartoon.  Even in the comics, Martian Manhunter is primarily known only as a member of the team, and his individual comic appearances are pretty limited.   DC Comics has never really given Martian Manhunter much of a chance to strike out on his own; since the New 52 event, he’s even been exiled from the Justice League!

However, there’s a tremendous amount of untapped potential in this character – and I think that film is absolutely the proper medium for him.  Why?  How can they do it?  You wanna know?  Okay, I’ll tell you how to make a badass Martian Manhunter movie on a low budget, and how make it sell:

Focus on Detective John Jones.

For those of us who aren’t serious comic geeks, I’ll explain:  back in his earlier appearances (and occasionally in the years afterward, as well as in his TV appearances on Smallville) Martian Manhunter, as a shapeshafter, took on the “earthling” identity of a detective named John Jones.

So then, my proposal is this; make a dark, gritty, noir-style detective story starring Detective Jones, where everything at first seems down-to-earth, realistic and suitably Nolan-ized.  This way, it will fit perfectly within the post-Man of Steel DC film universe  –and then slowly, carefully, allow the sci-fi elements to bleed into the narrative, as the film slowly unveils the fact that Jones’ actual identity is J’onn J’onnzz, an alien, and that he has come to Earth for a very specific reason.  From here, we can reveal that the seemingly “realistic” world we’ve been inhabiting up until this point isn’t quite what it seems.

…and that, my friends, is how you make a Martian Manhunter movie work.

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7. Duke Nukem

These days, ol’ Duke Nukem’s street reputation isn’t necessarily in the best shape around; the misogynistic, stogie-smokin’, ultimate action hero stereotype has been a bit wounded ever since the development cycle of Duke Nukem Forever passed the ten year mark.

However, DNF aside, there’s no denying that in the 90s, Duke Nukem 3D was one of the best games around; back when its contemporaries  were still imitating the dark, space station corridors of Doom, 3D Realms was blowing the competition away with its combination of gut-busting humor, real life settings, startling interactivity (“I can use the pool table? I can use the urinal?!”) and a central character who – unlike the vast majority of computer game protagonists – couldn’t keep his mouth shut.  Duke was always full of one-liners after one-liners, simultaneously mocking and celebrating all of the action movies he was playing homage to.

As a movie, Duke Nukem would be pretty tough to successfully adapt; the biggest risk I can see is that filmmakers might allow the material to be too goofy, humorous and/or lewd, to the point where it became unwatchable.  What made Duke 3D work so well – and what most of the Duke games that have come afterward seem to forget – is that while Duke himself was certainly a ridiculous character, the alien invasion taking place around him was a lot darker—and even scary, at points.

No, to make a Duke Nukem movie work, what we need is some like Paul Verhoeven – or at the very least, someone who can master that Verhoeven-esque approach to these sorts of action movies.  Why?  Because in many ways, Duke 3D is like a video game version of a Verhoeven sci-fi movie. Verhoeven was the director of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers, all three of which are highly satirical and at times quite humorous, yet always maintain just enough seriousness to make the threat still be menacing.  If Duke ever hits the silver screen, that’s exactly the kind of approach that’ll make it really shine.

Photograph by Wilfried Bauer.

Photograph by Wilfried Bauer.

6. At The Mountains of Madness

Guillermo Del Toro (the director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and Pacific Rim) has been fighting to make this happen for years; it’s one of those “seems too good to be true” scenarios, but God, let’s keep our fingers crossed.

The many works of H.P. Lovecraft, though widely celebrated in horror circles across the world, have been largely untouched by cinema…largely because, for the most part, they’re pretty unfilmable. Lovecraft’s cold, wordy prose –  and his “monsters” that are more likely to drive men insane with a mere glance than they are to slash through horny teenagers – would be extremely difficult to successfully transfer to celluloid without betraying their essence.  Sure, Re-Animator was awesome, but the original Herbert West: Re-Animator story was extremely different from Lovecraft’s other stories to begin with, and the film’s success was due less to Lovecraft than to it being a wonderfully dark, cynical tribute to 50s horror/sci-fi flicks.

At the Mountains of Madness, though, has enormous potential on the big screen.  Compared to Lovecraft’s shorter works, Mountains of Madness has a far more developed storyline, a number of fascinatingly creepy visuals and a very unique vision that’s about as Lovecraftian as a Lovecraft tale can get.  There’s probably no better director for this than Del Toro, but since Del Toro’s efforts to film this have been fraught with peril, and he seems to have several dozen different projects on his plate at any given time, the chances of this movie happening – at least in the near future – seem pretty slim.

Art by Bernie Wrightson.

Art by Bernie Wrightson.

5. A REAL Frankenstein movie

Yeah, you heard me.  Don’t get me wrong, the 1931 James Whale film is a classic – a classic that I still watch today.  But it has almost nothing to do with Mary Shelley’s original novel.

And I know what you’re thinking; didn’t Kenneth Branagh’s movie faithfully translate the book?  Well, not really.  Sure, it followed the storyline more faithfully than any Frankenstein movie before it, at times almost down to the letter – but in doing this, Branagh’s film completely and utterly sacrificed the dark, gothic tone of the original work.  This isn’t a minor point, because while the film is faithful to the novel on a surface level, all of the content’s meaning, passion and importance is stripped away from it.  Sure, the Branagh film follows the same plot points as the novel, but it rushes through them so quickly – in a blurry deluge of bad acting, bright colors and over-the-top sequences – that I find it hard to imagine that any Mary Shelley diehards were particularly satisfied.

No, I think it’s time that we finally had a real, authentic Frankenstein movie.  A movie that’s true to the spirit of the book, highlighting the classic Prometheus-inspired themes and capturing the tortured nature of Shelley’s protagonist, Victor Frankenstein.

Visually, it seems obvious to me that the movie should take inspiration from the gothic, ink-heavy drawings of Bernie Wrightson (see above image).  No artist has better captured the novel’s eerie atmosphere, and his depiction of the creature is easily the best ever; just imagine Wrightson’s monster with hideous yellow skin, grinning fiendishly as it quietly stalks the Arctic mountains.  Seriously, the visuals alone could be breathtaking.

This is another project that Guillermo Del Toro has mentioned quite a bit, dangling it before our eyes like a rare coin.  C’mon, Guillermo.  Let’s make it happen.

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4. Deathlok

This is a total shot in the dark, I know.  Deathlok, though he’s easily one of the most fascinating antiheroes in Marvel Comics history, is a fairly obscure character.  Over the years, Deathlok has been sidelined, forgotten about or mucked around with many times, but the central concept has never lost its potency.

Created in the 1970s – and thus predating such popular franchises as the Terminator, Robocop and Neuromancer – the early Deathlok comic books told the story of Luther Manning, a soldier who is killed in action, only to reawaken when his mind is placed in the body of a ruthless killing machine.   Now wandering through the ruins of New York City in a horrifying, post-apocalyptic future, Deathlok rebels against his programming and takes the fight for freedom back to his corporate tormentors.

So, how can Marvel Studios make this work as a movie?

Hire me to write the script, that’s how!  But in all seriousness, while I recognize the unlikelihood of this movie ever happening (especially with that Robocop remake on the horizon), I think that a Deathlok film could make an excellent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The technological, transhumanist themes that Deathlok explores are very rooted in contemporary fears, concerns and lifestyles.  We’re all slowly becoming cyborgs, but is it right for this to happen? Should we allow technology to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, and if we do, are we still human beings?

My suggestion?  Take cues from the excellent 2010 limited series, Deathlok: The Demolisher, but focus more on Luther’s humanity than the comic did.   Deathlok is an amazing sci-fi movie just waiting to happen; hopefully someday, the right executive will be brave enough to take a chance on it.

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3. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

Originally published in 1967, Harlan Ellison’s post-apocalyptic short story is one of the darkest, most unrelentingly brutal science fiction stories of all time.  Set in the future, I Have No Mouth  tells the story of AM – a highly-emotional, brilliant supercomputer that gains consciousness and, in a fit of rage, uses it to completely obliterate the human race.  Still not satisfied, AM spares only four men and one woman from this mass genocide, and proceeds to subject these five people to a variety of hellish tortures—both physical and psychological—keeping them alive for over a century of pain, suffering and guilt.  AM doesn’t have any master plan.  He’s not the classic cool, calculating, methodical machine that most science fiction stories depict.  No, he’s just angry.  He’s already destroyed the human race and the tortures he conducts on these five remaining humans – Ted, Benny, Ellen, Gorrister and Nimdok – is nothing more than the final stage of a long, drawn out, pointless revenge.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is one of the most horrifying science fiction stories of its kind.  Movies likes Cube, Saw and the like owe Ellison’s tale a great debt; it was certainly an enormous inspiration for me when I wrote my 2011 novella, EnslavementWhile there might be budgetary concerns, I think that with a thrifty director and a great cast, this could be an edgy science fiction thriller for the ages.

Now, as far as expanding the short story into a full movie, and giving it a proper narrative arc?  There’s an easy solution for that: follow the game.  By that, I mean the excellent 1995 computer game of the same name which, with supervision from Ellison himself, was a terrific adaptation of the novel and easily  one of the most underrated point-and-click adventure games of the 90s.  The game provides an excellent blueprint for how to expand the characters and where to take the plot.  The game fills in the back story for all five characters, showing us how each of them has deep, personal flaws that made them attractive to AM – particularly Nimdok, who is revealed to be a former Nazi scientist.

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2. David Lynch’s The Metamorphosis

Oh come on, this is obvious!  A match made in heaven!  How has it possibly not happened yet?

Franz Kafka’s famously surreal short story – the depressing tale of Gregor Samsa, a man who wakes up as a gigantic insect and is subsequently mistreated by the very family he once worked so hard for – is the sort of bizarre tale that seems made for the director of such surrealistic works as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and and Dumbland.  It’s not just the premise, it’s the execution.  Much like Lynch’s work, The Metamorphosis doesn’t overly dramatize its insane premise; it presents it very matter-of-factly, never trying to explain it.  It treats Gregor Samsa’s mutation much as if he had suddenly became infected with leprosy or AIDS.

So, why hasn’t this happened yet?  Well…I wouldn’t totally rule it out.

As it turns out, David Lynch has actually been attracted to Kafka’s story for a long, long time.  In fact, he actually wrote a script for it all the way back in the early 80s.  He has demonstrated interest in resuming the project a number of times, but never committed himself due to such concerns as budget, a desire to revise his script and so on.

So hey, maybe it’ll happen someday.  We can hope.   In the meantime, as we cross our fingers, here are Mr. Lynch’s own thoughts on the subject:

“It’s a story that millions of people have read and about a hundred-thousand people have written about, and each one has seen it from a slightly different angle. But…it’s just rich with things. But there’s a certain kind of dark humor that I love about Kafka and it is his stuff that thrills me to my soul. It’s just a completely perfect mood and story and characters. I like pretty nearly everything about it.”

– David Lynch

 

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Art by Jae Lee.

1. The Dark Tower

And finally, we come to this…as if anything else could have taken the top spot.

This one has almost happened a number of times, but no one’s yet had the guts to pull the trigger, and it’s easy to understand why.  Stephen King’s enormous, seven book fantasy/horror/sci-fi epic, the Dark Tower series has the potential to be the next huge Hollywood franchise – but if it isn’t done absolutely perfectly, it could also be the next devastating flop.

The series is Stephen King’s magnum opus, his great epic, and it not only ties together all of his work – from The Stand  to Salem’s Lot – but it also manages to reference such diverse sources as The Wizard of Oz, Doctor Doom and Harry Potter.  It’s an undertaking that would intimidate any filmmaker.  It has all of the potential to be the next Lord of the Rings, if the producers play their cards right.

If.  That’s the key word: if. The Dark Tower is a series that they really, really can’t afford to mess up, so the fact that everyone in Hollywood is stepping very carefully around is honestly a very good sign.

I’m sure it’ll happen someday.  It might be five years from now, or ten, but I have no doubt that at some point we’ll see Roland chasing the man in black through the desert.  It’s just a question of when that happens…and really, if we want to see the magnificent adaptation that these books deserve, let’s hope they don’t rush it.

 

So, there’s my attempt at numbering reality.  Thoughts?  comments?  Your own highly subjective top ten lists?  Fire away!

-Nicholas Conley

Why David Lynch’s “Dumbland” is Smarter than it Looks

I’ll admit, about two minutes into Dumbland—the 2002 web series/”cartoon” by David Lynch—I almost turned it off.

Of course, I was already wary of the series before even starting; it’s a bit difficult to watch something with a ridiculous title like “Dumbland” without at least some trepidation.  I mean, Dumbland?  Seriously?

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However, I’ve always been fascinated by the work of Dumbland creator David Lynch, as I stated in my coffee blog.  From Eraserhead to The Straight Story, Lynch is a remarkably unique filmmaker; his meditative, Dada-influenced approach to films is compellingly absurd, and his work—while often highly uncomfortable to watch—has a way of carving a permanent scar upon the viewer’s subconscious, branding the viewer’s memories in a way that resembles the lingering discomfort we experience after an especially bad nightmare.  In fact, Lynch’s films operate much on the same level as a nightmare; his perverse creations seem laughable at first glance, but the actual experience of watching those creations is inexplicably disturbing.

Though some might resist labeling Lynch’s work as “horror,” Lynch’s twisted sensibilities get right to the essence of what horror is supposed to be.  His films are frightening.  They’re unnerving.  They make the viewer uncomfortable, sometimes for days on end.  While many horror films might give you a couple jump scares, Lynch’s horror is the kind that never leaves you.

As an artist, I admire Lynch.  I admire his approach, his unflinching honesty, his darkly sincere voice.

So despite my apprehensions—and despite my immediate disdain for “Randy,” the unlikable main character—I  gave Dumbland a chance.   I stuck it out.  I stuck it out through all of the coarseness, all of the crude animation, all of the nauseating repetition, all of the (seemingly) exploitative profanity…and in the end, I was surprised to realize that despite its crudity, Dumbland proved to be a highly worthwhile viewing experience.

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Watching Dumbland certainly isn’t enjoyable, but that’s the entire point; Dumbland is a razor-sharp, darkly satirical commentary on the perversity of contemporary suburbia.  It’s a critique of Western culture.  A critique so harsh and so relentlessly vicious that it would make South Park blush—and it gets away with all of this by carefully cloaking itself in the masterful disguise of “just another stupid internet cartoon.”

“It is of course, however, no surprise that most critics –ranging from Lynch cult fans to structuralist cinephiles– totally miss the point of the series’ much necessary raison d’être. While structuralists attack the “crudeness” and alleged “pointlessness” of the series, using the infamous accusation of “weirdness for weirdness’ sake,” supposed Lynch fans simply relish in that alleged “reasonless weirdness,” without care or respect to any sort of real artistry or social commentary. Both camps of critical reception seem to be oblivious to the true brilliance and intensity at work here, and even more oblivious to the message, as well as Lynch’s origins: the Camus-inspired Theatre of the Absurd, the movements of Dada and Anti-Art, and the overall surrealism Lynch is perfecting, following of course in the footsteps of Buñuel and Dali. There is a lot of progression, sincerity, satire, and stark beauty in Lynch’s work –all of which impatiently ignored by critics, under the pretense of “incomprehensibility.””

– David Durnell, Sisyphus and Suburbia: A Contextual Study of David Lynch’s Dumbland

The “perversity of contemporary suburbia” is one of Lynch’s most recurring themes, especially in both Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, but the quirky filmmaker has never tackled it in quite so scathing a manner as he does here. The setting of Dumbland‘s eight episodes is simple; in the armpit of suburbia there lives a bald, violent, idiotic man named Randy, who seemingly never leaves the confines of his front lawn.  As a result, Randy’s life is hopelessly boring.  He spends most of his time throwing around his son and wife; on the rare instances when “intruders” from the outside world enter Randy’s domain, he responds to them with violence.  The only exception to this is when his “friend” – a character resembling the cowboy from Mulholland Drive – comes over, and the two of them have a “friendly” conversation how much they enjoy hunting and killing things.

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The result of this is that even though Dumbland bombards the audience with a slew of irritating burp, fart and violence jokes – jokes which at first seem characteristic of a bad Adult Swim cartoon – it soon becomes clear that these “jokes” aren’t supposed to be funny.  Once the bleakness of Randy’s world becomes fully visible, Dumbland quickly becomes a terribly depressing, even nauseating series to watch.

Randy is hopelessly stupid.  He possesses no ambition, no drive and no motivation to improve himself. His attraction to violence is so great that, in the absence of victims, he even becomes violent toward himself.  Randy frequently hurts people.  He’s constantly confused, disoriented and angry.  He passively watches his child’s gums bleeding, torments his wife and generally shows little understanding of anything around him.  He abuses everyone near him, and is utterly oblivious to the damage he causes; in the world of Dumbland, it appears that Randy’s behavior  has been tolerated and accepted for so long that he sees nothing wrong with it.

His narcissism is best displayed in the episode “Get the Stick!”, when a nameless man choking on a stick in his mouth suddenly breaks into Randy’s yard.  At the desperate urging of his son, Randy tries to “help” the man – but instead of simply removing the stick or cutting it in half, he instead effectively pulverizes the man into oblivion, at which point the ruined man wanders into the road and is run over.  The only reply to this that Randy can muster up – his barbaric feelings on the horrible murder he’s just committed – is to be irritated, because in his words, “The fucker never even said thank you.”

But Randy, despite his ignorance, isn’t happy with his life; he’s intensely miserable, frustrated and angry, with no outlet to express his feelings other than his frequent acts of violence.  He’s a pathetic man, and the disturbing hopelessness of his character – and his isolation from the world surrounding him – demonstrates what Dumbland is really all about; when a doctor inspects Randy in the third episode, the doctor revealingly diagnoses the sociopathic man as being “perfectly normal.”

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Randy is symbolic of the overall infantilization of society.  He’s the gruesome portrait of a puerile, solipsistic contemporary man; a burping, farting, shallow character, a character who truly believes himself to be the center of the world.  His absurd fate at the end of the series – which is illustrated with Lynch’s usual unflinching eye toward the darker and more bizarre areas of our psyche – brings the series full circle, as Randy’s violent tendencies finally catch up to him.

I don’t believe that David Lynch is a cynic.  The giddy idealism buried within such movies as Blue Velvet is fairly evident, once one looks past the dark surface.  However, I do believe that Lynch is a creator who isn’t afraid to open up the most evil parts of his own mind and display them to the world, which is why much of his work is so uncomfortable; we recognize the truth in it.  Dumbland, despite its cartoony appearance, is possibly one of the darkest works that Lynch has ever created.  It’s certainly not the best introduction to Lynch – for that, I suggest something more like Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive – but for those of us who already understand Lynch’s work, Dumbland is an absolute must-see.

-Nicholas Conley