Film review: Dune (2021), directed by Denis Villeneuve
tl;dr: At least I stayed awake throughout this one?
Dune is based on the 1965 (!) Frank Herbert sci-fi novel of the same name. Unlike the 1984 film, which is so condensed it apparently makes it really hard to follow if you haven’t read the book (I haven’t, Mr T has), it takes its time to tell the story properly. In fact, this is only half of it – part two is due later this month.
Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) rules one planet. The Emperor tells him to go be the caretaker of the desert planet Arrakis instead, so the Duke relocates with his son Paul (Timothée Chalamet), apparently not-wife Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and their entourage (Stephen McKinley Henderson, Chang Chen). The former caretaker, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) isn’t happy to be removed from this role, Arrakis being the only place used to harvest the mysterious – and super important – “Spice”, a sort of hallucinogen which also enables interstellar travel. The Emperor is hoping House Harkonnen’s forces will re-take the planet by force, exterminating House Atreides, as the Duke is a potential threat to the Emperor’s leadership.
In amongst all this, young Paul is being trained in combat by Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and gets tested to see if he’s the Chosen One by the Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) has been getting to know the native people of Arrakis, the desert-dwelling Fremen (Javier Bardem, Zendaya, Babs Olusanmokun). There are also big ass sandworms, Spice-induced visions, super creepy blood rituals, and people dying and other people having to go on the run both from bad guys and from big ass sandworms.
I’m in two minds about this film. It doesn’t rush through the plot and give exposition dumps in voiceovers, but at the same time it’s very dense. It gets really wrapped up in its own mythology and epicness, but at the same time also doesn’t bother to explain any of it, so if you don’t have the benefit of having read the book, you don’t get the details. I can see where Robert Jordan got some of the inspiration for the Wheel of Time, but that’s about it?
For instance, there was a time I turned to Mr T and said “is she going to do something other than crying?” because Lady Jessica had spent at least 90% of the film in tears. He could explain that as a Bene Gesserit sister she was trained in not letting her emotions show, and if she cries it means her facade has cracked, but to someone who doesn’t know that she just came across as “lady who constantly cries”. Even he thought it was a bit much because she’s been trained to keep it under wraps and clearly wasn’t.
As for the actors, no complains there. Mr T preferred Duke Leto in the old film, who he thought was more statesmanlike (or something like that). David Dastmalchian, bless him, plays one of the evil guys, because of course he does. If they were casting for The Lord of the Rings films now, I bet he’d be in the running for Grima Wormtongue, because every time I see him in anything he’s the bad guy. (Except Ant-Man.)
Mr T noted that the geologist/ecologist, Dr Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), was a man in the book but is a woman in the film, but he didn’t think it really changed anything important. Makes a very dude-heavy film a fraction less dude-heavy.
Flying Jabba the Hut was still a flying Jabba the Hut, but not quite as revolting. I guess we’ll see more of his nephew (Dave Bautista) going forward. They’re not good guys. At least it’s easy to spot the people who are the bad guys. No subtle nuances there.
It’s a long and often slow-moving film, with stunning visuals and scenery, and it’s not bad. I don’t mind it, but I don’t love it – but I also don’t hate it. I’m mostly indifferent, to be honest. I was hoping I’d enjoy it more than the old film, where I fell asleep and missed at least half of it, and … yes? I’m curious to see the next part, but I’m not in a rush to see it. Might give the book a go, though.
3 out of 5 insect-winged crafts.