Welcome to the next CHUD List.

We’ve
tackled our essentials list and the continued revelation of our Kills
List from 2003, and now that we’ve begun the beguine, we must continue.
Behold:

The CHUD.com Top 50 Disappointments.

A
quick word on the criteria. We could very easily have spent this whole
article discussing sequels and prequels and adaptations of television
shows and called it a day. Instead, we tried to go a different route.
Also, from a master list of over 100, the involved parties (Devin,
Jeremy, Micah, Russ, and myself) all killed off a choice for each one
we claimed. As a result, we’ll run a big list at the end of this of the
‘ones that got away’. So, here is day one of many where we chronicle
the 50 Biggest Disappointments. Two a day, every week day for five
weeks. In no particular order:

#36 – Dune (1984, dir. David Lynch)

 Leave it to the guy most likely to defend David Lynch on CHUD to tear down the most obvious disappointment in his career. I can understand why Lost Highway might be more frustrating, especially if you were expecting more Blue Velvet/Wild At Heart/Twin Peaks sorta action. But from any professional standpoint, there’s nothing like Dune, to the point where the movie might be one of the most herladed failures in cinema history. "Dune took me off at the knees, maybe even higher," says Lynch about the experience.

Lynch was riding high in the early ’80s. Eraserhead had become a cult hit, attracting the attention of (among others) Mel Brooks, who brought Lynch on board The Elephant Man. When execs told Brooks to tell Lynch he had to trim the weirder elements of that movie, Brooks famously told them to fuck off. His first ‘real’ Hollywood movie earned eight Oscar noms, including a Best Director nomination for Lynch. A guy in that position gets job offers; with Return of the Jedi famously among the possibilities, Lynch went with Dino deLaurentiis to make Dune.

Dino wanted his own Star Wars; Lynch liked the contract because it made room for a second film, over which he’d have complete creative control. But first he had to finish Dune, a massive effects spectacular that employed over a thousand people in Mexico, required an enormous cast and went through six full rewrites in Lynch’s hands — that’s after a solid decade of development including efforts from Ridley Scott and Jodorowsky.

Ideas from the book were scrapped and rewritten. Still, some things almost worked: the
Weirding Way might have been a goofy means to leverage extra effects,
but it’s also a neat way to articulate the evolution of Paul’s
leadership as it appears in the book.
In the end, Lynch’s final cut was too long for Dino and new scenes were quickly written to bridge cut gaps and condense story. A healthy dollop of voice over did some of the new narrative work.

And that’s where Dune starts to lose the audience. For every frame featuring a jaw-dropping set (there are many) or some genuinely good effects (in 1984 the worms stood up even to Lucasfilm efforts) there were a dozen polluted by overlaid diagloue that made the story ludicrously obvious. I give Lynch credit for trying. There aren’t many books that resist adaptation like Dune.

(Ironcially, for every on-the-nose moment in Lynch’s film, the po-faced miniseries adaptation makes it look like a sublime masterpiece.)

Some scenes are genuinely frightening, grotesque or thrilling, which make the big streches of film that are dryer than Linda Hunt’s skin even more frustrating. This movie lurches and shudders, but never hits a stride. And thanks to a score totally free of subtlety, those long passages seem to go on forever. - Russ

Travesty Scale (1-10): 7 out of 10

#35 – From Hell (2001. dir. Allen and Albert Hughes)

 Film and comic book fans must make the worst gamblers. We
hang on to the idea that something might work, just because, even when the
numbers say it ain’t going to be so. And so, when it came time to see the first
of Alan Moore’s major works* to be adapted for the screen — the guy being one
of comicdom’s most famously exacting and specific writers — we thought it
might be more appealing than the piles of steaming sliced intestines cut out by
Jack the Ripper.

For those who hate reading, I’ll make the point easy to
find: From Hell is one of the worst movies we’ll feature on this
list. It’s a poor adaptation for several reasons, but fundamentally, it’s
simply a bad movie that wastes several talents and a story that’s as close to a
slam-dunk as you can get. Zodiac proves that this sort of
thing can work, and while the Hughes Brothers are no David Fincher, they don’t
have to be this bad.

On the page, From Hell is the definition of
ambitious. It’s a massive tome crammed with obsessive detail, exhaustively
researched. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions presented, it’s a
damn impressive recreation of late 19th century London and a thematically dense
work concerned with magic, misogyny and the task of summarizing the 19th
century as a prefigurement to the 20th.

So of course the movie is a simple-minded murder mystery that luridly
paints the royals and Freemasons with a broad brush. It’s not even a
children’s book to Moore and Campbell’s original novel…more like a Bazooka
wrapper.

In this post-Pirates world, it’s easy to think
Johnny Depp was cast as a box office draw, but he was coming off a couple of
mediocre years. The Man Who Cried, The Astronaut’s Wife, The
Ninth Gate
…the guy wasn’t exactly setting the ticket counter on fire.
No, Depp was a good way to pull a female, non-geek audience into a movie about
killing women, and there was also probably some idea that he could act.

Except that he was handed a script with less life than a
dead eel. In Moore and Campbell’s version, Abberline was an early version of the
hard boiled detective; here his moral conflict is represented by opium, which
makes for a dull link back to the Hughes Brothers earlier films. Career adaptor
Rafael Yglesias and career .200 batter Terry Hayes came up with many terrible ways to
condense and re-align the novel’s many elements; that’s just a primer.

The less said about Heather Graham and her accent, the
better. And this sort of thing can go on and on; at least Robbie Coltrane is
entertaining.

My one real reason for anticipating this film was the involvement
of cinematographer Peter Deming, who had made Lynch’s Lost Highway look
amazing. (He’d also worked magic in Mulholland Dr. at the time, though
it wasn’t out yet so I didn’t know.) His work highlights the few parts of From
Hell
that do work — the set/production/costume design manage to
capture the detail of Eddie Campbell’s scratchy, thin lines, if not the
specific quirkiness.

But
capturing specific quirks, or anything else for that matter, is a task well
outside this film’s range. From Hell was the first of what will
likely be a litany of cinematic Alan Moore abortions; with Watchmen coming down the
pipe, here’s hoping it remains the worst of them, too.
Russ

* He may have defined Swamp Thing, but the character wasn’t really his.

Travesty Scale (1-10): 9 out of 10

Previously Disappointing:
The Ladykillers
Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Ultraviolet

New York, New York
Billy Bathgate

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Willow

Superman Returns
Blade: Trinity
Art School Confidential
Lifeforce

Bonfire of the Vanities
Exorcist: Dominion

The Black Hole
Harlem Nights
The Last Castle
Ghostbusters II

Love on the Run
Full Frontal
Celebrity
Alien Resurrection

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