I know I'm behind, but whatever, you're lucky to get anything with any kind of timeliness around here. I'm still trying to put together Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) impressions. But anyway, DUNE (2021) came out a while ago. Let's chat about that, with SPOILERS Forever!
This review comes from someone who has never read the Dune novel, but watched the David Lynch film once, relatively recently. Folks say that this series is unfilmable and too lore-heavy, but I never had much of a problem with this film. You get the just of it - spice is important, the planet Arrakis has spice, but also giant worms, sand, and dangerous natives. Makes sense, let's roll with it!
I am, however, a big Denis Villeneuve fan. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) remains one of my favourite all-time films, and that's certainly the film that echoes this the most. It's a bombastic but grounded sci-fi adaptation that was made for an insane amount of money that never seemed to catch on. Tho it won a handful of Oscars and got universal appraise. DUNE feels the same way, although it may not be the tremendous cultural force it should have been. Some of that is undoubtedly just the current distribution climate, which was in the toilet before climate, and the completely fractured way we consume media, but that's not really for us to discuss right now.
I found myself really enjoying DUNE while watching it, but it hasn't completely stuck with me. It is undeniably the most visually stunning film of the year, maybe since, well, Blade Runner 2049. The scope is wacky, the color palettes distinctive, if not typically muted, and the vistas and sets are breathtaking. It is certainly an event movie that should be watched in a big booming theater. There is more of a Fantasy element than a Sci-fi element to all this stuff, and you constantly get the sense that there is this unearthly presence (literally I guess) to everything going on. Moreso than just being set on other planets, there is such a high element of foreign architecture, costuming, and technology that feels natural within the world itself. It's spectacular world-building.
The cast is also thoroughly made up of the greatest stars of 2021. It's weird to consider Josh Brolin in that zone, but he is. Thanos, Rebecca Ferguson, Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Mamoa, and Bautista are all the hottest actors around right now. Not to mention Charlotte Ramping! I didn't even recognize Javier Bardem at first. Zendaya is probably good, but honestly not in this movie enough to really create a good critique. Stellan Skarsgard, who is contractually obligated to appear in every movie franchise and Sharon Duncan-Brewster round out the cast.
I really did want to see a Bautista / Mamoa fight. I mean, what are we in this for if we can't watch a clash of these titans? I get that that's not how the story goes, but what's even the point. The movie centers around only a few big plot elements, namely the Emperor's transition of spice-mining from House Harkonnen to House Atreides, which was all a set-up to betray House Atreides. Forgive me if I'm questioning holy Frank Herbert logic, but I didn't think it was clear that this was a set-up for Harkonnen to just murder Atreides. Like, why couldn't the Emperor just destroy them without this ploy? It seems like it would severely disrupt the spice flow. There are issues with motivation here that weren't as tight as it wants to be.
But there are far more undercurrents here. The main goal of Atreides is to work with the native population of Freman rather than create violence through subjugation. Some of the colonial subtext is obvious, but it's still relevant. Even though his goals are noble, it still exists in opposition to the Fremen's way of life, and the two entities cannot exist at once. There may be mutual respect and working together, but ultimately the imperialists require the guidance of the natives far more than the natives need the imperialists.
There is much to say about the white savior storyline - again, having never read the novel, it is apparently a critique of the trope, but it's hard to see it here. The ending fight for supremacy feels Black Panther (2018)-y, and honestly anticlimactic after the huge fight earlier. Some of this issue is the fact that this movie is cut in half, with a second part to come. We never see what happens with Josh Brolin, for instance. It thus hardly feels like a complete movie, but again, this might just be more down the line.
My understanding is that Chalamet is supposed to be the Boy of Destiny, the Star-child to Save the Universe, but also his mom, Rebecca Ferguson, messed with the Benet Gesserit thousand-year planned genetic and religious rumour plan to just do her own thing, which I can get behind. I like the idea that it's all bullshit, but we haven't really seen that quite yet.
In the end, that might be why it's hardest to truly evaluate this film. It's not really a full movie with beginning, middle, and end. Moreso than most modern two-parters it ends jarringly, which is a bold move considering Villeneuve wasn't even sure he'd get the chance to do another one. I really love every technical aspect, and it's an incredibly immersive world. I love the rainy throat-singing, the big ships, and the first worm sequence. Like I said, it's more grounded than fantastic, while also being really fantastic. But I'd like the themes and plotting to develop a little more coherently for it to really crack the Top Ten for me. It's a hard call. I think I liked it.
You ready for DUNE 2: TWUNE?! (2025)?