Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Dune

Title: Dune

Describe This Movie In One Dune (1984) Quote:
FEYD-RAUTHA: All I can see is an Atreides that I want to kill.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Intergalactic noble house seeks to spice up its life.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4 Thumpers out of 5.
Tagline: "Beyond fear, destiny awaits."

Better Tagline: "I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere."


Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: After 80 years of ruling planet Arrakis, the only source of the critical spice melange, House Harkonnen is being removed by the Emperor in favor of House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). Along for the adventure are his consort, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), weapons master Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), sword master Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), and the Duke's son Paul (Timothée Chalamet). Paul is apprehensive, seeing as how he's having recurring dreams about the desert and a mysterious young woman (Zendaya).
"Critical" Analysis: Denis Villeneuve's expansive (and long-awaited) take on Frank Herbert's venerable sci-fi tale walks a tricky line, emerging as an original vision that's still strangely beholden to David Lynch's 1984 movie of the same name.

If you're not familiar with the latter, then you deserve admiration, or pity, or both. For those who remember it, it's going to be difficult to disentangle certain beats in this film from its predecessor. The bombast of Lynch's movie is lacking, the effects are better (to put it mildly), and at least Chalamet, Isaac et al. don't deliver their lines like they're Llewellyn Sinclair. Yet the similarities remain hard to ignore.

Fortunately, it's the differences that help this version distance itself. The Fremen, the natives of Arrakis, are a much larger presence from the get go, both as potential allies to House Atreides and keepers of the prophecy concerning Paul, while Jessica's machinations with the Bene Gesserit are more overt.

And Paul's family is evidently descended from a long line of matadors.


The pacing is also much more deliberate, as befits a planned two-part extravaganza. Villeneuve and co-writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth give the story a lot of room to breathe, while Greig Fraser's somewhat monochromatic cinematography captures both the alien vastness of Arrakis and the its earthy inner workings. And then there are the effects.

Dune is, in a word, freaking beautiful. The scale of the story is — of course — immense, but Villeneuve balances the outworld tech (ornithopers!) with the kind of scope usually reserved for old school blockbusters. There's a Cecil B. DeMille quality to the breadth of the action, and as a bonus: Villeneuve ends up killing almost as many men as the Ten Commandments director.

Villeneuve's successes have given him the confidence to take his time. "Part One" ends with Paul and Jessica's escape to the Fremen stronghold, meaning we get to see more of Leto's relationship with his son and Duncan Idaho being more of a bad ass. As a bonus, Jessica has a better chance to come into her own, playing a much more pivotal role.

And as Baron Harkonnen, you also get Stellan Skarsgård doing his best "Brando as Col. Kurtz" impression. Truly, something for all tastes.

Is it possible to spoil a 56-year old novel, the first adaptation of which hit theaters over 35 years ago? Not really. Still, even if you're not familiar with the book or the 1984 movie, the portents and prophecies threaten to drag things down. Dune is, by necessity, supposed to get a sequel, but a little murmuring about Paul's destiny goes a long way.

But *will* it get a sequel? Villeneuve reportedly only agreed to the project if he go two movies out of it, which explains his grumblings earlier this year about Warner Bros.' hybrid release strategy. He certainly teases a lot of goodies in whatever form "Part Two" takes, so hopefully it comes pass. Dune is an epic of the old school, with incredible design and fully fleshed-out characters. It deserves to be seen — on the biggest screen available, if possible — but see it you should.

Dune is in the theaters and streaming on HBO Max today.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar