Tag Archives: fantasy

Arrakis me quick: my four Guardian features on the 50th anniversary of Dune

18 Jul
Baron Harkonnen by Sam Weber, for the Folio Society's 50th anniversary edition of Dune

Baron Harkonnen by Sam Weber, for the Folio Society’s 50th anniversary edition of Dune

When I was a kid, I packed a book in my lunchbox every day: always science-fiction or fantasy. To this day when I smell bananas I think of spaceships. I’d get so wrapped up in a book I’d read it not just on the bus, but walking along the street to the bus, like people do now with phones. I got through so many sci-fi books that one day I found I’d read the library dry. I just went back and started re-reading them all.

Recently, I found a purpose for all this useless knowledge: the Guardian commissioned me to write a series of articles about Dune, for the Folio Society’s special 50th anniversary edition. I hadn’t just read the book five times as a kid – I’d won a Mastermind-style contest at prep school with Dune as my special subject. So writing the intro piece, about how Frank Herbert had initially been rejected by 23 publishers, was a blast.

I also had to compile and review 25 top works of sci-fi and fantasy. I found I had read all but two of them (and with those I had seen the films), which simplified research somewhat. Nice to have my misspent youth coming in handy.

But my favourite piece was an idea I had, that they weren’t sure about until I wrote it: a travel guide to Dune, written as though for the discerning intergalactic traveller of the future.

Throw in a picture gallery and interview with Sam Weber, the amazing illustrator of the Folio Society’s prestige edition, and you have one of my favourite commissions of recent times.

I’m only sorry I didn’t get to write about the Dune film. But I did interview David Lynch a while back, and you can read that here.

If you’re a Dune fan, I hope you enjoy these articles – just click the links above. If you’re not – why not?!

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Luna: the UK premiere of Dave McKean’s new film

2 Oct

Luna

Finally, illustrator turned film-maker Dave McKean has unveiled his long-awaited Luna, which had its UK premiere last night as part of the Raindance Film Festival. I caught it with my son Sam, who loved it. The last time we saw a Dave McKean film together, which was the Neil Gaiman-scripted fantasy Mirrormask, Sam was a wide-eyed kid of nine. Now he’s 18 years old and making films himself. I say this by way of illustrating what a long and tortuous road it is to make an indie film in the UK: Luna was actually shot seven years ago, but it’s taken this long to raise the funding for special effects and post-production.

So – what of the film? I don’t want to say too much, as Luna is still on the festival circuit and not yet on general release (there will be screenings in Picturehouse cinemas across the UK). Let’s just say that it’s a The Big Chill type of scenario, where old friends meet after a long gap in a big old house with a dark past by the sea, and gradually buried secrets and long-held grievances are teased out. But, this being Dave McKean, you can also throw in fawn-antlered wood-children, origami crabs springing to life, and a naked eagle-man of the rocks.

At the Q&A afterwards, Sam asked Dave about a key dinner-table monologue in the film, concerning the blurring of fantasy and reality: how there’s no such thing as an objective, absolute reality when reality is only what we perceive it to be, and when the way our brains process information (particularly when under stress, or grieving) will be very individual.

“That’s my own manifesto,” Dave agreed. “I’m an absolute realist, I don’t believe in anything supernatural, but the way our brains interpret the world and deal with it is where all my stories come from.

“You see, this is real, right here, right now,” he continued, gesturing at the cinema. “But there’s a great, swirling wall of our imagination surrounding this little piece of reality in the centre. In an hour, we’ll all be elsewhere, and doing other things, and you’ll each have a different memory of what I said here, or your own different interpretation of what the film was about.”

Dave is a prodigious talent. He’s designed over 100 album covers; illustrated numerous children’s books as well as, in the last year alone, fat coffee-table books for Richard Dawkins and Heston Blumenthal; he’s written and drawn graphic novels and the covers for all the Sandman comics; he designed the British Library’s recent Comics Unmasked exhibition and the poster for their forthcoming Gothic exhibition; he’s made stamps, and adverts, and worked on Harry Potter films, and held art exhibitions. Oh, and he plays jazz piano and composes songs, including for Luna (though don’t think I didn’t notice the Douglas Adams steal/homage in the song Words!).

In film terms, he is perhaps best described as the UK’s answer to Guillermo Del Toro, though he is also very different. This is what Neil Gaiman has to say about him.

And still he has trouble getting his movies funded and distributed? Sometimes one despairs of the British film “industry”.