Dune: Part One


Paul Atreides’ catwalk is in the desert.

(2021) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chang Chen, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Babs Olusanmokun, Benjamin Clementine, Souad Faress, Golda Rosheuvel. Directed by Denis Villaneuve

 

Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi epic novel Dune has very much informed the landscape of science fiction; its themes crop up in the Star Wars saga as well as in literally dozens of movies thereafter, including Tremors and even Game of Thrones. The novel was largely considered unfilmable, although visionary Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowski attempted it until the production fell apart of its own weight, and David Lynch finally succeeded in getting a version filmed in 1984 which he has since disowned; the studio cut it to shreds, making the film nearly incomprehensible, even to people familiar with the book. A 2001 SyFy miniseries fared somewhat better, but many feel it still didn’t capture the essence of the novel.

Acclaimed director Denis Villaneuve is the latest to attempt a shot at Dune. He takes the familiar story, but in a perhaps wise move, elected to divide the novel into two parts. Part two wasn’t greenlit at the time of the movie’s release, although it has since, so there was no guarantee that the sequel would ever be filmed, which was taking a huge risk, but it eventually paid off.

Young Paul Atreides (Chalamet), son of Duke Leto (Isaac) and the duke’s concubine Lady Jessica (Ferguson) has been having dreams of a blue-eyed warrior woman on a desert planet. Paul is aware his father, head of the House Atreides, has been ordered by the Emperor to take over spice production on Arrakis, a world known more colloquially as Dune. It is a lucrative offer; the main rival of House Atreides, House Harkonen, has held onto Arrakis for more than 80 years and has amassed an immense fortune. Spice, you see, is the drug that prolongs life and allows space navigators to fold space, which makes interstellar travel and commerce possible. The drug is found only on Arrakis.

But Duke Leto smells a trap and he’s right. Baron Vladimir Harkonen (Skarsgård), a devious corpulent man with an anti-gravity belt, means to put paid to his enemies the Atreides with the aid of the Emperor’s own troops. Arrakis is therefore a trap, and Harkonen has an ace up his sleeve.

That’s just a VERY rough outline of the plot, which is much more intricate and confounding than I make it out to be. Most of the really interesting performances are coming from characters with more or less minor roles with the exception of Rebecca Ferguson, who is absolutely superb as the regal Lady Jessica, who schemes to deliver to the Bene Gesserit order of space witches the Galactic savior the order has long prophesized about, but that also exists as a legendary deliverer on Arrakis.

Describing the movie would really take up more time and space than you’d probably be willing to peruse; suffice to say that the scale of this movie rivals essentially anything you’ve ever seen in a cinema before. The sets are massive and absolutely gorgeous and each planet, like the stormy ocean world of Caladan where House Atreides is based to Geidi Prime, the iron caverns where House Harkonen schemes and Arrakis itself, have distinct personalities in architecture yet each retains its own individual grandeur. It is an absolutely gorgeous film to look at, made even more impressive by a large-format movie screen (or even a regular movie screen). The sandworms are spectacular, so let’s get that straight; so too are the spacecraft which Villaneuve uses comparative scaling; in space they are tiny but on the planet surface they are enormous, the size of a small city. The scale of this movie is unbelievable.

The trouble with epic movies is that often something has to get lost, and here there are so many wonderful characters and actors, many of which are onscreen for only a scene or two, that they get lost in the shuffle. Jason Momoa, as sword master Duncan Idaho, brings a larger-than-life presence to the part which barely was featured at all in the 1984 version. Charlotte Rampling has little screen time as the imperious Reverend Mother Helen Mohiam but is impressive in it for the brief time she’s around. There are a number of other actors who have moments that resonate but are quickly dispatched or fall out of the story.

The story revolves around Paul Atreides and indie film darling Chalamet does a fairly decent job in the role, although I found him a bit too doe-eyed and pretty for the part of a young man who was also supposed to be an outstanding warrior; his fight scenes are particularly unconvincing. It is one of the movie’s biggest drawbacks (but not it’s biggest one; see below).

Truth be told, I always had a soft spot for the 1984 version, even though I recognize that it was flawed. It wasn’t the movie that Lynch wanted to make, which was a blessing and a curse; the movie he wanted to make may well have ended up bloated beyond all recognition. Fans have been clamoring for a director’s edition of that Dune for decades but it will never happen; Lynch isn’t interested in revisiting it, and even if he was, I doubt that Universal would even allow it, given that Warner Brothers holds the rights to the property now. The legal ramifications would make even Frank Herbert’s head spin.

In any case, if spectacle is what you’re after, this movie has it in spaces. It is slow-moving in places and the plot can be pretty convoluted which is really going to put some people off, but it is a lot more easily understood than it’s 1984 predecessor. Is this going to be the definitive version of Dune? Probably. At least I’m looking forward to Part 2 when it is released in October 2023. After that there is a whole series of novels based on the Dune universe written both by Herbert and his son, after the author passed away. Potentially, this can be a franchise filling the coffers of Warner Brothers for decades to come. Let us hope so.

REASONS TO SEE: One of the most epic movies (in scope) of the past decade. Terrific work by Momoa and Ferguson.
REASONS TO AVOID: Slow-moving during the first half and occasionally confusing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence (some of it graphic), disturbing images and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The first trailer for the film used composer Hans Zimmer’s orchestral version of the Pink Floyd song “Eclipse.” This was a nod to the aborted Jodorowski version in which the Mexican director had planned to have Pink Floyd score his movie.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (through November 21)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/11/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews; Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Starship Troopers
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Silent Hours

New Releases for the Week of October 22, 2021


DUNE: PART ONE

(Warner Brothers) Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista. Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Possibly the most anticipated movie of 2021 is here! In the distant future, the young scion of a noble house travels to the most dangerous planet in the galaxy to confront a destiny he can’t begin to comprehend, while malevolent forces collide to take control of the most precious resource there is. But young Paul Atreides will discover an incredible secret even as he fights to protect those he loves.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide (also on HBO Max)
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material)

Becoming Cousteau

(National Geographic) Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Vincent Cassel, Louis Malle, Philippe Cousteau. A man’s love for the sea becomes his ticket to exploration, invention and ultimately, unwanted celebrity. Cousteau’s name became synonymous with the oceans of our world, and he became one of the first conservationalists as he witnessed firsthand the damage being done to the deep.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, some disturbing images and smoking)

Every Last One of Them

(Saban) Paul Sloan, Jake Weber, Taryn Manning, Richard Dreyfuss. An ex-Black Ops soldier hunts for his missing daughter and finds the chilling truth behind her disappearance. His quest for justice turns into an obsession for revenge as he uses all his skills to find those responsible.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for violence, sexual assault, drug use, language throughout and nudity)

The Harder They Fall

(Netflix) Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Idris Elba, LaKeith Stanfield. When a gunslinger learns his bitter enemy has been released from prison, he puts together his old gang to confront his rival in this new school Western.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Western
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Premiere Fashion Square
Rating: R (for strong violence and language)

Ron’s Gone Wrong

(20th Century) Starring the voices of Zach Galifianakis, Jack Dylan Grazer, Olivia Colman, Ed Helms. When a socially awkward middle schooler gets a digitally connected device that walks and talks, it feels at last like he might just fit in. But when the device begins to malfunction in humiliating ways, it seems like he will be more of an outcast than ever.

See the trailer /www.imdb.com/video/vi481674009here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG (for some rude material, thematic elements and language)

The Velvet Underground

(Apple) John Cale, Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison. The story of the band that became far more influential than successful, the darlings of the New York literati and who were championed by Andy Warhol. Diected by indie darling Todd Haynes.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: R (for language, sexual content, nudity and some drug material)

Warning

(Lionsgate) Alex Pettyfer, Alice Eve, Thomas Jane, Annabelle Wallis. As humanity becomes more dependent on technology, we grow more distant from each other. When a massive global storm wreaks havoc with electronic equipment, the consequences are terrifying.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for language, sexual content, a sexual assault, some drug use and nudity)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

At the Ready
Broadcast Signal Intrusion
The Green Wave
(Thursday)
Introducing Selma Blair
(Thursday)
Shirobako: The Movie
(Tuesday)
Skull: The Mask
(Tuesday)
Somewhere With No Bridges
(Tuesday)
The Subject

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

At the Ready
Becoming Cousteau
Dune
The Harder They Fall
Introducing Selma Blair
Ron’s Gone Wrong
The Velvet Underground