"Dumbland is a crude, stupid, violent, and absurd series. If it is funny, it is funny because we see the absurdity of it all." —David Lynch
What happens when a world-class film director throws caution to the wind and simply noodles around? Usually, very little. Sometimes too much. David Lynch's DumbLand probably qualifies as both. Invigorated by the possibilities of Flash animation, Lynch wrote, drew, directed, and voiced eight episodes of DumbLand as exclusive content for his subscription website DavidLynch.com. The results are crudely drawn and crudely conceived, toss-offs that Lynch probably would have done better simply to chalk up to a learning experience.
The series constitutes eight episodes, ranging in length from about three to five minutes: "The Neighbor," "The Treadmill," "The Doctor," "A Friend Visits," "Get the Stick," "My teeth are Bleeding," "Uncle Bob," and "Ants." The leading characters make up a nightmarish American family: beetle-browed ugly-American father Randy, wailing Wife (who resembles a tweaked-out hedgehog), and son Sparky (a cross between an alien baby and the Pillsbury Dough Boy).
Their "adventures" don't amount to much more than rude jokes that even John Waters would probably leave on the cutting-room floor (Randy farting out a sledgehammer handle that accidentally got lodged in his ass comes to mind). Profanity, farting, bleeding, and vomiting are the verbal and visual language of most of DumbLand. Lynch broadly parodies the worst archetypes of family life: Wife is an ineffectual whiner, Sparky is a yelping, repetitive annoyance, and Randy's fashion choice of a "wife-beater" isn't coincidental. Randy's only formidable opponent is his mannish mother-in-law, who has the build of a linebacker.
In style, Dumbland brings to life the universe of Lynch's 1983-1992 comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World ("The dog who is so angry he cannot move. He cannot eat. He cannot sleep. He can just barely growl. Bound so tightly with tension and anger, he approaches the state of rigor mortis"). Like that minimalist strip, DumbLand uses stark, squiggly black-and-white line drawings; only now they tremble over a cacophonous soundtrack that purposefully crackles with the ever-present static of a record album (whereas Angriest Dog crackled with philosphical musings and non sequiturs).
It goes without saying that DumbLand is weird. In "The Doctor," after a mutually abusive examination, the unphased Doctor declares to Randy, "Just like I thought. You're completely normal." At this, Wife screams—if Randy is normal, no hope remains. In "A Friend Visits," Randy comiserates with a motionless cowboy. "There's nothing like sharin' a kill with a friend," says A Friend. "I like to kill things," Randy replies.
In "Ants," Randy attempts to kill a parade of ants in his home (using an aerosol can labeled "KILL"). Happily, he fails, spraying himself in the face and causing a presumable hallucination in which a chorus line of ants sings him an insulting ditty. It's sublime surrealism, reminiscent of "In Heaven" from Eraserhead—but it only amounts to a couple of minutes.
Lynch bills the series as "The Absurd Animated Comedy," and the case can be made for excusing deficiencies as dadaism. In the words of one reviewer, DumbLand is "an intentionally childish and pointless expression" (which he hastens to point out is not a negative opinion), and another calls it "pointless puerile fun." Perhaps, though "fun" is arguable. Much of DumbLand plays like the doodles in the journal of a school-shooter, if that's your idea of fun.
The series is more likely to be of interest to Lynch scholars, who may regard it as a bookend to Eraserhead. In this light, DumbLand represents Lynch's fear and loathing of hellish, middle-class suburban existence (as dominated by brutish masculinity and populated by impotent observers of the same). Is it a snapshot of modern American collective unconsciousness? Or is it reactionary and juvenile, contemptuous (if unconsciously) to his audience? I'm afraid the latter is true, though "Ants" is a diamond in the rough. As in much of Lynch's oeuvre, horror is finally answered by joyous just desserts.
The windowboxed transfer and sound seem to accurately represent the series, which has a simple image and purposefully harsh soundtrack. Unfortunately, the disc includes no subtitles or close-captioning for the hearing-impaired. Despite its flaws, DumbLand is a must-buy for fanatical Lynch completists, and may also appeal to connoisseurs of (mostly) tasteless animation. For Lynch fans at least, the five-minute and nineteen-second "Ants" is nearly worth the price of admission in and of itself.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer