Dune It Yourself.
The highly anticipated “Dune” adaptation from director Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Arrival”) is out in theaters today, and it is also being streamed until November 21st on HBOMax (no extra fees or codes needed beyond an existing HBOMax subscription). With the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus still wreaking havoc among unvaccinated/immunocompromised segments of the population, I am personally not comfortable with sitting in a movie theater for nearly three hours just yet–it’s not as if theaters were the most sanitary places before the pandemic, right?
So…what to do about “Dune” (2021)? “Dune” is a movie I’ve waited a long time to see, coming from a director whose films have made him a strong voice for intelligent, A-list sci-fi cinema. Yes, I know that Villeneuve’s “Dune” will only cover about half of the first book (with the rest in future sequels), and I don’t mind the filmmakers taking this “Lord of the Rings” approach to Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel. The dense storytelling and world-building of “Dune” certainly warrants that approach. However, as much as I would love to see this cinema-worthy movie in a theater, my wife and I have decided to stream it on HBOMax instead, watching it this Sunday during the month-long window it will be accessible to HBOMax subscribers. This wasn’t an easy choice for me, as I’ve long been an advocate of the theatrical experience, especially for a film such as “Dune,” which was made using a combination of CGI, practical effects and real-world location photography in the Jordan desert of Wadi Rum. By all indications and positive buzz to date, “Dune” promises to be a sci-fi “Lawrence of Arabia” for a new generation of movie fans…so again, why pass on the opportunity to see it theatrically?
Note: Note: Incidentally, Wadi Rum is where much of “The Martian” (2015) and “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” (2019) were recently filmed as well. Like the oft-used Death Valley, California or the Atacama Desert in Chile, it makes for a suitable alien planet right here on Earth.
A number of reasons. Yes, my wife and I are fully vaccinated, but we can still carry the virus to others who, for one reason or another, are not vaccinated. If my trip to the movies meant that an immunocompromised friend of mine became seriously ill? I’d have a hard time living with that. Although my state has some mask mandates, local enforcement has been sketchy at best. And as an HBOMax subscriber, I can watch the movie at home. Inspired by a friend of ours during the early days of the pandemic (May of 2020), my wife and I bought a digital projector to sate our sweet tooth for the moviegoing experience. The model we bought was an inexpensive, entry-level machine that could project an image onto a wall or screen which could, with the right accoutrements (such as popcorn), do a decent job of simulating the theatrical experience at home. See my earlier ravings from last year about owning a digital projector here: At-home projection: How I learned to love my movie collection all over again.
There were some interesting lessons I learned about “doing it for ourselves” when it came to movie nights. The most analogous example for me would be when I learned to cook about 10 years ago. Throughout my bachelor days and well into my married life, I had zero desire to cook. Attaining and preparing food was always a takeout place or grocery store away. Then one day on a lark, I decided to play with some ingredients in my kitchen, and to my great surprise, I discovered I really enjoyed the process of eating something I put together myself–there was a soul-satisfying feeling of preparing and seeing others enjoy what I’d labored over in my kitchen. Buying a projector and collapsible screen allowed my wife and I to gain something of that ‘do-it-yourself’ feeling with our movie nights as well. Soon, we were inviting small groups of friends over onto our patio or into our garage for safe, masked movie nights with handfuls of people whom we trusted. None of the anxiety of having the experience soured by anonymous talkers, seat-kickers, or texting/cellphone jerks–all of whom have utterly ruined movies for me too many times in the past. We were having our cake and eating it, too. Oh, and bathroom breaks were only a pause button away.
Just to be clear: I am not saying people shouldn’t go to see “Dune” in a theater if they so choose; I’m only speaking to my own personal comfort level during the COVID crisis. Others will be perfectly okay seeing “Dune” (and other movies) in theaters, and that’s fine, of course. I am not suggesting what anyone else should do–only what my wife and I are choosing to do for ourselves.
“A beginning is a very delicate time…”
One thing I learned early on was that sitting relatively close to a 7 ft./2 meter screen in the dark is not all that different from sitting much further away from a huge screen–viewer proximity to the screen is the key. Shortly after we bought our entry-level Vankyo Leisure-3 projector (a solid little workhorse of a machine), we bought a large collapsible screen as well, since we quickly realized our little home didn’t have a lot of unfettered wall space on which to screen movies. The screen (which comes with a tripodal stand) made all the difference–now our movies had that bright, smooth (no stucco) look of a real movie theater screen. We also had decent portable bluetooth speakers to give the projector’s sound a bit more oomph. As Darth Vader might say, “The circle was now complete.”
We hosted small get-togethers in our patio and/or garage-theater for the “Star Wars” original trilogy, “Jurassic Park,” and a few others. We also began watching a number of first run films with the projector this past year. To name only a few, we streamed first-run screenings of “Bill & Ted Face the Music”, “Mulan”, “Wonder Woman 1984”, Souls,” “Army of the Dead”, “The Mandalorian, and most recently, “The Suicide Squad”. Over the last year and three months, my wife and I got a lot of mileage out of that Vankyo-3 projector, which supported high definition playback via HDMI cables, but didn’t project a true native HD image; the projector actually yielded something closer to 720p, which is fine for most movies and TV shows… or at least that’s what I thought.
As longtime readers may have guessed from the conventions I’ve covered over the past five years on this site, my wife is a big a sci-fi fan as I am… in fact, she took me to my first sci-fi convention (at the tender age of 34) after we were married. Needless to say, she is looking as forward to Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” as I am, if not more so. She’s read most of the books (I’ve only read the first book, and that was a million years ago), and she is almost a human Wikipedia for the Dune universe.
My wife also recognized that our current non-HD projector and simple JBL bluetooth speaker just weren’t going to cut it for “Dune”. The little Vankyo-3 projector worked fine on most movies and TV shows we’ve seen this past year; so well, in fact, that I haven’t been inside of a theater since February of 2020 when I saw “The Invisible Man” shortly before lockdown happened, and theaters nationwide were closed for months. But for the epic saga of Paul Atreides on the desert world of Arrakis? Our previous system wasn’t going to cut the spice…*
* Or melange, if you prefer…
So, with her blessing, I did a little bit of tech-nerd homework and bought an Epson. Lovely machine…for business. For home viewing, it left a lot to be desired. After returning the Epson, I went deeper down the rabbit hole of digital projectors and eventually found a machine that checked all the boxes–the Fangor 701 digital projector, which sported a native 1080p image (same as our now tiny-seeming 43″ living room HD TV), and had digital keystone correction (automatic and manual) which allowed a user to correct the corners of a slightly skewed image (caused from projecting at an indirect angle), using the remote control. The older Vankyo-3 had manual optical keystone correction only, which sometimes tended to make the tops, edges or bottoms of the image appear slightly out of focus (first world problem, yes, but more noticeable on some films).
One of the best features of this 701 projector was a fully sealed-off lens compartment, which had the benefit of keeping spots, excess dust and other bits of schmutz off of the projector lens; this was becoming an issue on the Vankyo, as tiny black spots began appearing on the image–like I used to see in older, rundown theaters as a kid, when the film projector’s lenses got dirty. These almost microscopic spots weren’t always easy to see during an eyeball inspection (certainly not with my old eyes), and cleaning them off with a can of dusting spray was annoying as hell, too, since you had to open the machine to get at them. The new Fangor 701 simply doesn’t have that problem. Overall, the new 701 projector was about three times the price of the much-cheaper, entry-level Leisure-3, but you see where the extra money went. I’ll get to the picture in a little while… but first, let’s talk sound.
My wife and I aren’t huge audiophiles, to be honest. We both like strong, clear sound with a little oomph, but not the deafening levels of bass that some qualify as “good” sound–but hey, we’re old folks, okay? At any rate, my wife had been listening to the leaked bits of the “Dune” soundtrack online, and she began telling me (correctly) that we might as well upgrade our sound for the new HD projector, too. We didn’t want to get another soundbar and subwoofer, as we have in our TV entertainment center, since that would hinder one of our projector’s greatest features–the ability to take it to various places around our house (or to others’ houses). We wanted better sound, but not a lot of space. I knew an upgrade to our $50 JBL would be pricey, so I began looking at higher end Bluetooth speakers. Did some homework, read reviews and consulted a very knowledgeable clerk at our local Best Buy before settling on a pricey-but-worth-it Bose SoundLink Revolve II–a slightly conical speaker with a wraparound speaker that bathes the listener in clean, powerful sound. Dialogue was clean and strong (better than our living room soundbar, in fact) with just enough bass–but not suffocating in it. Cost a couple hundred bucks, but since home projection has become our preferred delivery system for movie nights? It’s still a helluva lot cheaper (and infinitely more flexible) than a large screen, fixed-location LED TV set with a full surround sound system–can’t take all of that just anywhere.
So with the Fangor 701 HD projector and the new Bose SoundLink speaker, the proof was in the pudding. I’ve now seen a number of movies with this upgraded equipment, and the results have been astonishing. I’ve recently re-watched some movies with which I’m very familiar, including “2001: A Space Odyssey,” to see how they’re rendered in the new system. “2001” has never looked this good at home for me…ever. The new projector takes at-home projection from entry-level family fun to serious hobby. Yes, I know there are even better 4K projectors around, but for my money, the 1080p just about keeps pace with my own eyesight (at my age, 4K is a needless extra expense, to be honest). And, of course, there are also near flawless, short-throw laser projectors which can be situated mere inches from a wall-based screen, but they aren’t quite as portable, since they’re often intended to replace high-end TV sets as entertainment centerpieces. Unlike TVs with fixed sizes, projectors can create much larger images…up to 150″/380 cm or more, depending if you have a large enough screen, or a large unadorned white wall, or, in a pinch, even a big white sheet. My new HD projector still has much of the freedom of use afforded by my entry-level Vankyo, even if it is a bit chunkier. This ‘little hobby’ of mine is officially becoming an obsession, I won’t lie. To those who share a similar passion, or who are just starting out? I highly recommend the YouTube channel of Chris Majestic, who gives user-friendly home theater equipment reviews, much of it around projector-based systems. Here’s a link to Chris Majestic’s YouTube channel. Enjoy!
We’re Dune This…
With the new HD projector and speaker, we are as ready as we’ll ever be for “Dune”, I hope. But there were still some issues recently, as I learned (the hard way) that my garage, which we’d used to play movies from BluRays and DVDs, isn’t so great at carrying our house’s WiFi signal. This is a real shame, since I’d hoped to temporarily transform our garage into a theater once more for “Dune” this Sunday, but sadly, HBOMax kept cutting out in the garage when I tried streaming it. However, once back inside the house? No problem. Even a cheap WiFi booster I’d bought didn’t do the trick. I have no idea exactly why the WiFi cuts off in there–it might be something in the garage itself hindering the signal, I have no idea. But with the weekend premiere of “Dune”‘s limited home release window approaching, I had no time to play Sherlock Holmes and figure it out, either. Our second option–watching the movie outside on our back patio–is also out, since our backyard has become infested with mosquitoes–repellent sprays, anti-mosquito balms and even a bug light don’t seem to stop them entirely… they’re tenacious little bloodsuckers.
So with the garage and patio out, “Dune” had to be moved inside of our relatively small house. When it’s just my wife and I, we usually set up the projector inside of our home office. Yes, it’s a mess in there, but for the two of us? It’s nice and cozy. However, for “Dune” we invited a very dear friend of ours to join us, and I was determined to make it work at home (somehow), so I cleared a few things from the home office and made room for a third seat. The ‘home office theater’ is a little more snug than I would’ve preferred (the garage is best for spaciousness), but it will do…especially since the smaller room actually makes the large collapsible screen appear that much bigger as well (not the mention the WiFi hub is based in there). I watched a few horror movies in the office recently (for Halloween, my favorite time of the year) using the new Bose speaker too, and it felt very theatrical. Once again, it’s all about the ratio of viewer proximity to the screen–there are times I’ve gone to the movies and sat so far back in the auditorium that it almost felt like I was watching a movie at home on TV.
In our tiny home office theater, with a ginormous 7 ft./2 meter screen in a darkened room only a few paces away? That’s not a problem. “Dune” will certainly look big enough. If “2001: A Space Odyssey”–one of the most theatrical movies ever made–worked at home? So will “Dune.”
If all goes well, there will be a review of “Dune” here on this site sometime next week.
Where to Watch “Dune.”
“Dune” is on HBOMax through November 21st, and, of course, in wide theatrical release as well for the foreseeable future. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current COVID crisis. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are now over 731,000 as of this writing (with nearly 5 million deaths worldwide), so please continue to wear masks in public, and get vaccinated as soon as possible to minimize risk of serious infection. If you choose to see “Dune” theatrically, please wear masks and follow any other protocols requested by theater management; it’s a small price to pay for keeping yourself and your loved ones healthy and safe. Take care!