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Dune

“This is just the beginning.”

Dune is the very definition of an epic. This is not a movie to be watched as much as an event to be experienced. If you’re looking for a beautifully acted sci-fi drama filled with vast landscapes, immense sets, and a haunting score, look no further.

I should state at the outset that I’ve read and re-read the Dune series as well as watched every iteration. So, I had a difficult time divorcing what I knew about the story from what I was watching on the screen. That said, I tried to be as objective as I could.

If you are new to Dune, you need to know that despite several kick-ass fight scenes and a massive battle, this is not the MCU or Star Wars. This is not a criticism of either since I love them both. Dune, however, is a multi-layered political thriller set in the distant future, as well as an exploration of the difference between the honorable and heroic. If you’re looking for fast-paced adventure, you’re in the wrong place.

You should also know this movie is only part one. It covers roughly half of the first novel. On the plus side, that gives director Denis Villeneuve time to introduce all the players in this political chess match and slowly ratchet up the tension towards the inevitable confrontation between our protagonists and their nemeses. Unfortunately, it also means that in many respects, the movie ends just when it gets to the juicy bits. No, it’s not a cliffhanger ending, but it certainly leaves you wanting more.

Our story begins with the Emperor transferring stewardship of Arrakis, AKA Dune, to House Atreides, one of the Empire’s Great Houses from their archenemies, the Harkonnens. Dune is the sole producer of Spice, a psychotropic drug that allows interstellar travel and is thus the most important commodity in the Empire. On the surface, this would appear to be a great honor. But when are things ever as they seem?

At first blush, the other storyline plays out in typical Chosen One fashion: Paul Atreides is heir to the Duke and, more importantly, the son of Lady Jessica. She is a member of the Bene Gesserit, a society of women who profess to serve the Empire while embarking on an ambitious breeding program to produce the Kwisatz Haderach. The movie defines this person as having power over space and time. Although, it is clear his powers must extend far beyond that. There are also some very unsubtle hints that Paul, as a possible Kwisatz Haderach, is as likely to be the Empire’s destroyer as its savior.

The above and much more are cleverly explained through dialogue, videos, and what appear to be Paul’s prophetic dreams. Yet, I wonder how much of this comes across to someone not as thoroughly versed in the series as I am. That said, the acting is so spot on that while it’s possible to get bogged down in the specifics; you understand the gist almost without words. The casting is chef’s kiss.

As is the rest of the production. Each frame of this movie is both visually stunning and intensely immersive, from the stark beauty of Caladan’s oceans to the dangerous allure of the Arrakeen desert. Plus the atmospheric lighting, all-encompassing sound design, and Hans Zimmer’s evocative orchestration combine to create a feeling of claustrophobia and encroaching danger despite the enormity of the sets.

The props and costumes are meticulously created. Each item seemed a natural and integral part of the world rather than a stylized tool. This is exemplified by the ornithopters, dragonfly-like ships that felt as normal as a helicopter and if the interviews are to be believed, could really fly. The design of the Frem Kits, including the all-important Stillsuits (which I would kill for), and the giant sandworms which create the spice and threaten any attempts to harvest it, were all just as I imagined.

For the legions of fans, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. Is it perfect? No. And there are also several notable changes from the novel such as Dr. Liet Kynes recast as a woman and multiple instances where they’ve simplified the political landscape for the sake of clarity. While purists may be offended by these changes, most will be thrilled there’s finally a movie that looks and feels like the novel they love.

For newcomers, this movie is a bit of a toss-up. If you need your action scenes at regular intervals, you’re bound to be disappointed. If tension-filled political dramas are your cup of tea, this is an exquisite example created by an army of artists at the top of their game. You should definitely give it a chance.

A potentially biased 4.5 out of 5 Crysknives

Quotes:

Duncan: “Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.”

Paul: “What’s in the box?”
Reverend Mother: “Pain.”

Jessica: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration...”

Jamis: “The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience. A process that cannot be understood by stopping it. We must move with the flow of the process. We must join it. We must flow with it.”

Baron Harkonnen: “This is MY Dune. Kill them all.”

Shari loves sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, and anything with a cape.

16 comments:

Samantha M. Quinn said...

My experience is a little odd, I've seen all three adaptations now and this is by far the best. Yet I have not been able to get through the book. So while it has been a while I was vaguely aware of the general story. I knew there was political struggle, a scary villain and some kind of betrayal.

The first hour of this film is basically perfect, but just as they settle into Arrakis I started to feel like I wanted to pause. Maybe because I knew the second half hadn't been greenlit (now given an Oct 22, 2023 release date) and I didn't want to invest another 90 minutes into a story that would not end. But the other day I finished it and I was pleasantly surprised.

I'm gonna see it again on Sunday on the big screen and I hope it will be even better the second time around, but I have to 100% agree that the cast was wonderful, the visual spectacular and the atmosphere utterly claustrophobic while appropriately grand. There is something inherently creepy about such giant spaces filled with tiny people.

I didn't get a good sense of what was going on with the villains, although it might not have helped that I watched this in to parts a week apart. I know a second viewing will likely be a lot better.

The director has stated he would love to do a trilogy including Dune Messiah as the third installment.

Billie Doux said...

Thank you so much for your review, Shari. I read the book twice (but long ago) and I hated the other adaptations. I haven't seen this one yet but it's good to know that I will probably like it.

Shari said...

Thank you both.

There were a couple of things I took issue with but overall I thought it was a brilliant adaptation. I saw an interview with the director where he said he'd been dreaming of this movie since he read the novel as a teenager. It showed. My biggest frustration is that my schedule has kept me from seeing it a second time.

Mark Greig said...

Looks like it is third time lucky for Dune adaptations. Lynch's version was memorable and often interesting, but a completely mess as it foolishly tried to cram every character and storyline into one 2-hour film while making a lot of bizarre and unnecessary changes to satisfying the ever conflicting desires of the director and producers. The 2000 miniseries was more faithful, but very bland and forgettable (save for all that bonkers costume design), not to mention incredibly cheap looking. It was more like Dune: The Stage Play than anything else.

Villeneuveis' film is the Goldilocks Dune. It manages to get almost everything just right. There are some weaknesses here and there, the villains are underdeveloped and the ending is abrupt, but nothing that comes close to the flaws of the previous two versions. Hopefully Part Two will be just as god if not better, and that it is successful enough that Villenuveis gets to wrap up his trilogy with Dune Messiah, which I honestly think is a better place to end things than Children of Dune.

Patrick said...

My experience is similar to Samantha, I've seen all three screen adaptations but I found the books to be rather tedious. I've read Dune, Dune Messiah and Children Of Dune(after having seen both Sci-Fi Channel miniseries). I liked the story, but I just wasn't a fan of Herbert's style. The 1984 adaptation was about what you'd expect from a 1980's adaptation of this story. It was kind of a mess. The Sci-Fi Channel mini-series was quite a bit better, especially the extended cut, referred to as "Frank Herbert's Dune" on disc. The follow-up mini-series Children Of Dune(featuring a young James McAvoy) wasn't quite as good, but was still enjoyable. I still have a soft spot for the Sci-Fi Channel adaptations, and wish they were easier to find on disc here in the US.

This new adaptation of Dune was absolutely fantastic. I'm not so much of a purist when it comes to adaptations that I go ballistic about every little thing they leave out, each medium has its own advantages and limitations. What's important is to create a version of the story that works for that medium, and will allow someone unfamiliar with the story to enjoy it on its own. By that standard, I think Dune 2021 does a great job. Would it be a richer, more layered story if they had kept more detail? Possibly. But would it have made for a better movie? I don't know. What I do know is I loved every minute of Part One, and I am thrilled that we'll be getting Part Two in a couple of years.

Shari said...

Mark, Patrick,

I agree with both of you wholeheartedly. In my dream world there's an extended cut with all the details I would have liked to have seen in this film. But I don't know if that would make the film better. It would just let me live in that world longer.

Samantha M. Quinn said...

I saw this again in the theater, and knowing the beats of this adaptation made for a far more emotional experience. I actually got choked in the third act which is just wonderful. Knowing how it will end, and what they were going for works, especially knowing that part two isn't that far away. I think I would like a longer more detailed director's cut but I don't know if that is in the cards. All I can say is I am now anxiously waiting for Part 2.

Shari said...

That's how I felt watching it, Samantha. Which is why it was hard to be objective in the review. I knew before the movie was halfway through, that I would buy the blue-ray when it came out. My fingers are crossed that it'll have an extended director's cut.

But more than anything, I'm happy they've finally confirmed there would be a Part 2. I'd assumed it was already in the works and when I found it wasn't I freaked out. And if that does as well as this one they're planning on making movies of the next 2 books as well.

Patrick said...

Shari - According to Denis, what he put on screen IS the "Director's Cut". He did also confirm that he'd be interested in making a third film based on Dune Messiah, but I think he said he'd stop there.

Shari said...

If that's true, I hope the blue-ray includes the deleted scenes. There are photos they've released and images in the trailers but not in the final version that suggest somethings were shot that would probably be fan favorites for people who read the novel.

I heard the word trilogy and thought he was talking the first three books. but that makes more sense. Dune Messiah is really the end of Paul's story. Children of Dune is more about his kids. But a girl can dream.

Mark Greig said...

I'm also hoping we at least get some deleted scenes. I wanna see Gurney jamming with his baliset.

If the Dune films continue to be a success I wouldn't be surprised if we get Children of Dune, even if Villeneuveis doesn't want to do it himself. Doubt they'll do God Emperor though and they sure as hell won't bother with the last two.

magritte said...

I certainly hope they don't do God Emperor--that was godawful boring as a book and I can't imagine you could make a movie from it. I just reread Dune Messiah and while I can see why you would say it's a more fitting place to end than Children, I'm not sure how well it would work on film.

Shari said...

Ending with Dune Messiah would certainly disappoint movie fans who are expecting the typical Chosen One or even Hero's Journey story.

Josie Kafka said...

I enjoyed this quite a bit, especially the score.

But why didn't they call it Dunes? There's more than one!

Mark Greig said...

They're saving that for the sequel, Josie.

Josie Kafka said...

And they'll call the inevitable gender-swapped reboot Nudes in a few years?