The disappointment of Dennis Villeneuve’s “Dune” occurs even before the movie begins. In the opening credits we are informed that what we are about to see is “Dune Part One”. I thought that I had signed on or a complete movie with an actual beginning and an actual end. No such luck.
A Franchise World.
In today’s franchise crazy world, it seems that Warner’s and Villeneuve assumed that “Dune” would be continuing indefinitely. .
Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Although not an abject failure like David Lynch’s 1984 calamity, Villeneuve’s movie falls victim to the same inherent difficulties in adapting a difficult book. That would be Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel which, in true Tolkien fashion, has become an enormous popular success without losing its cult status. The book has also generated a massive literary franchise, with Herbert himself writing five sequels before he died in 1986. His son Brian Herbert, together with Kevin J. Anderson, has written another 13, giving a total of 19 books in the Dune series.
The story unfolds in the distant future on the inhospitable planet Arrakis. Famous for its endless deserts, the sands of which are at once prized for their medicinal properties and their source of energy for starships. This is due to the presence of a very special spice called “melange”, giving truth to the old adage that everything sounds better in French! Arrakis is governed by House Harkonnen whose members rape the planet and oppress the planet’s indigenous population – say hello to Zendaya!
Meanwhile, a prophesy has foretold that a young prince, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) from the House of Atreides, will rescue the citizens of Arrakis from Harkonnen tyranny.
Villeneuve has directed some interesting movies in the past like “Prisoners”. He got waylaid with his unnecessary sequel to “Blade Runner” and his debatably poor choice in material continues here. His “Dune” is burdened with a cumbersome amount of expository detail. In fact, there are times when you wish for a split screen with an unburdened movie unfolding one side and a glossary of key terms and events on the other.
Fraser and Zimmer
There are occasional wonderfully visual moments which, in typical Villeneuve “Sicario-style”, involve his camera swopping down over a battlefield as the Atreides-Arrakis alliance rage against the superiority of House Harkonnen. Kudos to cinematographer Greg Fraser and composer Hans Zimmer whose pulsating choir-driven score is over-the-top in a good way!. There is also the obligatory shot of someone being chased by one of the giant sandworms who live in the sands of Arrakis. And then there is the relationship of the sandworms to the spice itself.
A dystopian future
The visual awe is there. However, in the absence of a narrative drive, most of these moments get lost in time, like, dare I say it, tears in the rain! However, unlike “Blade Runner” (the Ridley Scott 1982 original not the Villeneuve sequel), with “Dune”, we never get a real feel for, or loose ourselves in a dystopian future.
Chalamet and other gifted actors like Oscar Isaac, playing his father, have little room to maneuver. Only Rebecca Ferguson as Paul’s mother, manages to make a fleeting impression.
Sitting through this long and sometimes boring movie you feel that, for all its moments of visual glory, the filmmakers may have kept the best of their inventory for part 2 or part 10 or part 20 or whatever they expected to be making. If so, how presumptive of them!