There are movies you eagerly look forward to seeing the moment you hear about them being made. There are films you never heard of and watch and are pleasantly surprised -or not- by them.
Then there are films you have available to you and for whatever reason you simply don’t want to see them.
This was the case with the latest version of Dune.
Because I’d already seen David Lynch’s version of the film, released in 1984 and found some of it quite good (Sting in particular made for a great villain) while other parts were head-scratching and confusing. I also saw the Sy-Fy network’s mini-series released in 2000 and enjoyed it well enough, though it suffered from a lower budget and, IMHO, not as strong acting/direction.
I haven’t read the famous Frank Herbert written book both movie and mini-series are based on, though I tried. Like Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land, it seems like dense 1960’s era science-fiction novels are my kryptonite: I just lose interest as I struggle through their voluminous pages.
Regardless, I was familiar enough with the Dune story that the idea of sitting through another nearly three hour adaptation (and one that, I found out, covered roughly 1/2 of the book!) felt daunting. Add to the fact that Denis Villanueve, whose previous film was Blade Runner 2049, another nearly three hour sci-fi deep immersion which I ultimately found good but which suffered from a script should have been tightened considerably (read my review of that film here), and you can understand my doubts.
Yeah, the idea of sitting through another very long Denis Villanueve film featuring a story I was familiar with just… it was a tough thing to justify, especially when its so damn hard for me to find the free time to see any film nowadays.
Still, as luck -and my new best friend HBO Max- would have it, the film was available to be seen and I did have that free time so I decided: Let me give the film a try.
I wasn’t going to commit totally to it. My plan was to give it fifteen-thirty minutes and, if it appealed to me, I’d watch the whole thing. Otherwise, I’d shut it off an that was that.
I suppose I could end the review with this statement: I saw the whole thing.
Unlike Blade Runner 2049, the movie’s very long presentation’s felt fully justified and the script much tighter, perhaps because it was based on such a long, and meaty, novel.
Considering we are dealing with a lot of political intrigue involving alien cultures and similar political games of chess, the movie moved surprisingly well and the exposition didn’t feel dull, at least to me.
The movie was aided immeasurably by a top flight cast, including Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, Zendaya, and, in the role of Paul Atreides, the protagonist of the piece, Timothée Hal Chalamet.
Many of the names I mention above appear in the film in what could be considered “cameo” roles lasting no more than a few minutes (particularly Zendaya and Charlotte Rampling), but they all add their own intriguing elements to the story.
Mr. Chalamet, I feared, might wind up being a little too young for the role. Truly I feared we would have another Dane DeHaan/Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets situation where the protagonist simply wouldn’t look like he could survive in such a rough setting as presented.
As I turned out, though, Mr. Chalamet did fine. He had the advantage, versus Mr. DeHaan, of his character being very young and inexperienced at the film’s onset versus Valerian supposedly being already a Flash Gordon-like badass.
Here, we follow the growth of his character and his becoming aware of his abilities.
In many ways Dune plays out like a science fictional version of Lawrence of Arabia, presenting us this weird land and, via the protagonist, we immerse ourselves in it and her cultures. Dune’s story is a thinly veiled examination of policies in the Middle East. Replace the “spice” with “oil” and it all makes sense, though there is more to it than simply that.
As I said above, the fact that I found myself watching this film to its end despite having grave reservation I would is a testament to how I felt about it.
Now that we have the first half of the novel, I genuinely can’t wait to see the rest!