It’s been a little while since I’ve posted one of my porn reviews here. And for an assortment of reasons that I don’t feel like going into right now, this isn’t a great time for me to be writing new stuff. So here’s an entertainingly bitchy porn video review I did for Adult Friend Finder magazine, with some commentary at the end about why it’s so much harder to make seriously good porn videos than it is to make good porn in other forms, like writing or photography. Enjoy!
Directed by Brad Armstrong. Starring Jenna Jameson, Stephanie Swift, Alexa, Temptress, Asia Carrera, Sydnee Steele, Amber Michaels, Johnni Black, Felecia, Inari Vachs, Jessica Drake, Teri Starr, Bridgett Kerkove, Devin Wolf, Herschel Savage, Randy Spears, Evan Stone, and Brad Armstrong. 130 minutes. Wicked Pictures/Adam & Eve Productions. Available at Extreme Restraints and at Good Vibrations.
And I was so in the mood for it, too.
Really, really in the mood. I’d just gotten back from my honeymoon, all relaxed and happy and horny, and definitely ready to enjoy a high-quality porn video. “Dream Quest” looked like just the thing: a multiple award-winner, critically acclaimed, carried by more than one high-quality sex-product company with excellent taste.
So what happened?
Let’s start from the beginning. A sword-and-sorcery costume drama, “Dream Quest” stars Jenna Jameson as Sarah, a sexually repressed young woman who’s irritated at her boyfriend and is longing for more romance in her life. After a frustrating date, Sarah is visited by two fairies in glitter thongs (Stephanie Swift and Felecia), who call Sarah into their magical world on a quest to save fantasy. (Fantasy, as it turns out — warning, spoiler alert — is a sort of glowing, bejeweled dumbbell about the size of a six-pack, but that’s not important right now. It’s been imprisoned by an evil wizard. That’s the important thing.) Sarah undergoes an awkward, hasty transition from uptight good-girl to horny slut, and begins her journey into the magic land of half-naked, constantly-boffing witches, elves, gnomes, and the like.
Yes, it’s a dippy premise. But I’ve seen pornos with dippier premises that have worked just fine. Yes, it plays like it was written by a horny Renaissance Faire nerd. But I’m a horny RenFaire nerd myself, so that’s not necessarily a criticism. In fact, you’d think that’d make it a slam-dunk.
So what happened?
Well, for starters, this video has a seriously high cheese factor. The sets and costumes are reasonably pretty, with a lot more imagination than you typically see in porn. But they still look totally Vegas, with gold thongs and high-heeled boots and enough body glitter to suffocate the cast of “Showgirls.” And while the box cover raves about the Hollywood-level special effects, the effects are in fact mortifyingly lame. I’d cringe if I saw them in an original “Star Trek” episode, much less a Hollywood production. “Dream Quest” is clearly trying to look like “Lord of the Rings,” but it doesn’t even come close. Hell, it doesn’t even look like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It looks like the cheesy cover art for an embarrassingly bad fantasy/sci-fi novel.
It wouldn’t be so painful to watch if it didn’t take itself so bloody seriously. But the video is clearly aiming for something lofty and transcendent, a haunting, otherworldly beauty that inspires new heights of erotic imagination, or some damn thing. When people who think they’re reaching for the stars end up landing in a giant cheese pile, it makes you cringe in embarrassment. Especially when they don’t have the sense to be embarrassed for themselves.
But all of that could be forgiven — if it weren’t for the sex.
See, in the midst of all the zany Tolkien-in-Vegas costumes and sets and makeup jobs, someone forgot to come up with the zany sex. The sex in “Dream Quest” is the same old goddamn mainstream porno sex that you’ve seen a million times. Since the premise of the video is about the importance of fantasy and how awful life gets when it disappears, you’d think they’d come up with some sex scenes that are more… well, fantastic. Imaginative. Something other than just the same old sucking and fucking in somewhat more interesting sets and costumes. Instead, in the place of genuine erotic variety, they put the actors through a standard series of awkward positions, clearly intended, not to make the sex pleasurable, but to make the sex visible to the camera.
Example. There’s a scene with the evil wizard Vladamir (Herschel Savage) and his wood-nymph slavegirl (Jessica Drake), where the slavegirl says “I would do anything to please you, my prince.” Emphasis on the “anything.” And all he can think of is to get his dick sucked and then fuck her in the cunt and the ass. Please. Have a little imagination. Given a half-wild, half-naked slavegirl kneeling at my feet offering to do anything to please me, I could come up with half a dozen more interesting pleasures just off the top of my head.
Even standard fucking and sucking would have been fine, if it had some oomph. But the sex in “Dream Quest” is depressingly oomph-less. With a couple of exceptions, there’s no passion, no intensity, no sensuality, no erotic suspense. It’s fine, it’s perfectly pleasant to watch, but it’s really nothing special.
Here’s the thing: You can’t just take the same old sex and put it in different sets and costumes, and expect the movie to be different. It’s like the parable of the old wine in new wineskins. Or new wine in old wineskins. Or whatever. I’ve seen this in all too many supposedly high-end porn videos: they put a huge amount of attention into sets and costumes and lighting and camerawork and even writing, and then they run the actors through the same old sexual paces that we’ve all seen a hundred times. It doesn’t have to be that way: the wild sexual ferocity in the vampire flick “Dark Angels,” the hilariously imaginative “sex restaurant” scenes in “Barbara Broadcast,” the elaborately painted pussy that you watch seductively breathing in “Zazel,” all come to mind. But “Dream Quest” is nowhere near that league.
And I hate, hate, hate the moral of the story. See, the movie begins with Sarah being irritated at her boyfriend Steve (Devin Wolf) for constantly pushing sex and trying to grope her even when she says no. At the end of the movie (warning: spoiler alert), after Sarah rescues the Jeweled Dumbbell of Fantasy and comes back to her normal life, her boyfriend shows up to apologize for his crass behavior. And then — get this — she says he doesn’t need to apologize, that she should apologize to him for not being open enough to sexuality and fantasy. Let me repeat that: Her boyfriend pushes sex on her when she’s not in the mood, continues to push and grope after she’s said no several times, repeatedly promises to knock it off and then repeatedly breaks those promises — and she’s apologizing to him? How fucked up is that? Sure, she’s repressed and shut down and needs to let sex into her life — but that’s hardly a sin on the level of refusing to take no for an answer. And frankly, if I had a lover as clumsy and disrespectful as this guy, I’d probably shut down too.
There are things about the video I like. There’s some nice use of long shots interspersed with the genital close-ups, letting you see whole bodies and giving a feel of the setting and the mood. The long shots are nicely done, too, well-framed with some real attention to beauty and sensuality. Jenna Jameson’s swimming scene is a sweet delight: you get to just gaze at her lovely nakedness and watch her enjoying herself and her body at a leisurely pace, without racing impatiently towards the fuck scene. The scene with Jenna and Tundra the ice queen (Alexa) is fairly tasty as well, with some interesting uses of pretty sex toys. And the movie has consistent condom use — good for them.
And despite the overall “taking itself way too seriously” tone, there are a few moments of clever, self-aware humor. There’s a hilarious bit when Arachna (Asia Carrera) gives Sarah new clothes for her magical journey, saying “You’ll blend in better”… and in the next scene, Sarah’s wearing lace-up fur-topped boots, a tight blue bodice with a puffy off-the-shoulder blouse, and a shimmery hip-baring loincloth. (Even funnier — she does in fact blend in better that way.)
Really, except for the embarrassing sword-and-sorcery thing, “Dream Quest” isn’t actually flat-out bad. It’s just — mediocre. But mediocre is its own kind of bad. When porn is so average that you take breaks from it to fold your laundry… and to watch Jeopardy… and then to watch “Whose Line Is It Anyway”… and then to fold laundry some more… well, that’s pretty gosh-darned mediocre. You should not be wanting to take breaks from your porn.
As for the music… well, it varies. None of it is actually good, but very little of it is awful, and at least it’s varied. Some of it is like a Carmina Burana knockoff set to a disco beat-box background, and some of it is Enya-wannabe material, and some of it is reasonably pleasant Renfaire-inspired ambient stuff. But very little of it is your standard thumpa-thumpa synth-disco retread porn crap. I do have to give them credit — at least they’re trying.
And now that I think about it, that’s not just true for the music. That’s true for the entire movie. I didn’t care for “Dream Quest,” I thought it was pretentious and cheesy and not very hot. But I will give the filmmakers this: At least they were trying. They were trying to make a porn video that was beautiful and magical, inspiring and poetic, something that transcended porn conventions and reached into genuine art.
Which is much, much harder to do in video than it is in almost any other porn medium. In erotic writing or comics or art, all you need is one person, one sex freak with talent and imagination who’s willing to give up being seen as a serious artist in order to explore their erotic vision. Even in adult photography, all you ultimately need is one good artist and one good model (although additional models are certainly helpful) who care about erotic art and don’t give a shit about the effect that making porn will have on their career.
But film and video is a collaborative medium. To make a good film, everyone involved needs to be good. Everyone. Actors, director, writer, cinematographer, set and costume designers, you name it — all of them have to be skilled and inspired for a movie to come together. And in porn, that’s extremely difficult to pull off. People who are serious about a mainstream or even alternative film career, whether in front of the camera or behind it, tend not to go into porn. And the folks in the porn business who do have real talent and passion still have to work with a whole lot of folks who don’t so much. You can have all the vision in the world, but unlike writing or comics or art, you need other people to help you realize it. It’s a damn near impossible thing to do, and I guess I should cut the people who are trying to do it a little slack.
But not much.