Denis Villeneuve's Dune is a cinematic masterpiece.
Based on one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time, I was hopeful but skeptical. from any angle, it's an unfilmable tale.
And this isn't our first rodeo.
I'm actually a mega-huge fan of the 1984 David Lynch Dune adaptation, even though it doesn't really capture the book. But, to be fair, Villeneuve's version doesn't either. It excises all the political nuance that makes the book so deep. In fact, if anything, the new movie cuts more detail from the story than Lynch did.
But it's not cut haphazardly.
Villeneuve set out to create something approachable for people who haven't read the book. There are nods to bigger ideas that true fans will appreciate, but distractions which would take too much time to explain are quietly dropped. Wisely.
I absolutely love the film. No, it's not the book... how could it be? But it is a breathtakingly beautiful movie and respects the source material better than I thought possible. It's worth $10 for a month of HBO to see it. And I am confident I will see it many more times...
I just hope that we get the second half. Because, wisely again, Villeneuve also didn't try to cram everthing from the first book into a single movie. So we only got a Part One of Two.
Upon my second viewing (yes, I watched it again back-to-back) I made spoiler-filled notes that I've put in an extended entry.
There's a lot of ground to cover, so let's not dally, shall we? There will be a lot of comparisons to the 1984 Dune, so you'll have to forgive that!
- I'm just going to get this out of the way... this is yet another white savior complex story. White boy from another world has come to save the universe.
- One more thing to note. When Lynch made his film in 1984, he decided to go over the top as a way of selling such a fantastical and bizarre story. If everything is bizarre, the bizarre becomes normal. Villeneuve does not. He takes the material very seriously, and it makes for a more compelling take. Not more correct, just different.
- By cutting the book in half, we get more time develop things and savor the atmosphere that's been given us. It's... luxurious?... I think is the word I'm looking for. But it's not as tight as it could have been, and it seems like every scene could have been trimmed just the slightest bit.
- The casting... without exception is phenomenal. Paul Atreides is a privileged kid who literally transforms into a messiah thanks to ingesting the spice drug on Dune. As this begins to happen, Timothee Chalamet brings a creepy edge to his character that makes you believe he's changing.
- All other characters are used sparingly... but to great effect. Jason Momoa has never been given material like this before and he positively owns it. That was unexpected. David Bautista chews through the scenery as Beast Rabban like a man possessed, and it's fantastic. Jason Issac is phenomenal as The Duke, giving him a weight of importance that would have been difficult for any other actor to pull off so seamlessly. To say I'm anxious for him playing Moon Knight for Marvel is an understatement.
- I love Stephen McKinley Henderson and David Dastmalchian, which makes it all the sadder that their mental characters were underserved in the movie. Lynch actually did a better job of making sure you understand that they are human computers... with the 2021 take, you get a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene where Thufir crunches some numbers and his eyes turn white. It's not enough.
- One of the more genius edits that we get is the complete elimination of "weirding module" technology. A weapon which uses sound to powerful effect. I was shocked at just how unnecessary they were to the story. The Lynch movie wasted so much time on them and I never realized how utterly pointless this was until I viewed it in hindsight.
- Glossing over Dr. Yueh's Imperial Conditioning is also a genius edit. The diamond on his head is just his symbol which let's Paul and Jessica know he's hidden FremKits for them. Even so... it stings a little bit that non-book-fans will never know just how utterly shocking his betrayal was. He was incapable of betraying The Duke, but he was made to do the impossible. I'd have liked to have seen something to that effect.
- A curious omission is the character of Feyd-Rautha (famously played by musician Sting in the Lynch film). He's not critical, but it has me curious how the very end of Part Two will play out without him.
- Space travel... which is described as "folding space" in the book... is glossed over. They merely say that it's made possible by the spice melange, not how. Lynch showed us a Guild Navigator
- The personal shields in the 1984 movie were better. The geometric force of them is SO cool, even today. The 2021 shields are visually interesting, but to telegraph deflected hits with a blue glow and body hits with a red glow is handholding nonsense.
- Giedi Prime (homeworld of House Harkonen) is deliciously realized, even if we see it all too briefly.
- I do like how Dr. Yueh uses touch to get a read on a patient, instead of computer devices which, in the world of Dune, are forbidden.
- The way the new movie portrays "The Voice" is far better. It feels like what it is... a complete subjugation of a person's will. Not just some weird echo effect. That makes for a very cool scene with The Reverend Mother and the pain box. And the way Villeneuve has Paul dominate the pain at the end is far, far better than Kyle MacLaughlin screaming "THE PAIN!" It also gives us a delicious echo of future events.
- A lot of the mystique about the Bene Gesserit was sadly absent. You don't get a feeling for just how integrated they are into imperial politics and how much control they have over the universe. I know this was out of necessity, but surely something more could have been done to play it up a bit more? This is an edit that hurts more than helps. All you get are hints.
- The Ornithopters are really, really amazing. Rather than come up with something weirdly foreign, they just made mechanical dragonflies. If this movie did nothing else, I would be grateful for this incredibly visualization.
- The scene between Shadout Mapes and Jessica is one of the more important turning points in the book. But they really killed it. No context is given for Mapes's cry. When she says "The knife is meant as a gift if you are The One" needed Jessica's response of "And the method of my death if I'm not." (or whatever). Without it the scene just plays weird and makes little sense. Jessica's response would make it seem that she has secret knowledge to make it make more sense.
- When the Reverend Mother is meeting with The Baron, she refers to Jessica as The Duke's wife. She's not. In the book or the movie. Later when Leto and Jessica are in bed, he says "I should have married you." How could such an obvious error get through?
- The scene with Paul and the date palm gardener is a mystery to me. Maybe to show that water is life on Arrakis? Seems like wasted time because it doesn't do much... which makes me wonder if I'm missing something.
- The hunter-seeker drama is actually less clear than the 1984 movie. This is a real missed opportunity, and I wish the time given to the date palms was put here instead.
- Stellan Skarsgård is a truly terrifying Baron Harkonnen instead of a "floating fat man" played for laughs. He seems a much more lethal villain even though he says far less than the Lynch movie.
- That Javier Bardem took such a small role as Stilgar seems strange, but it's a huge benefit to the film. The guy gets the character. His deep understanding means that the character can do more with less, and that's exactly what you need when your screen time is minimal.
- The carryall balloon design is just phenomenal.
- A lot was made over Villeneuve having Dr. Liet Kynes be played by a woman. Absurd. She is flawless. No disservice is made towards the character with a gender swap in the slightest... no offense to Max Von Sydow, who played the part perfectly in the 1984 flick.
- Paul getting inundated with the spice melange for the first time was really well-handled. As I said previously, you can feel him changing. And I loved how he whispers "I recognize your footsteps old man" even though there's no way at all he could have actually heard the footsteps. Genius. Pure genius. You know Paul is a different person now.
- Villeneuve made a conscious effort to distance himself from the more popular trappings of the first movie. Not hearing Paul say "THE SLEEPER MUST AWAKEN" is jarring... but in a good way, I think.
- As in the 1984 version, the time between the Atreides landing on Arrakis and the Harkonnen attack seems badly abbreviated. I understand the movie has to keep moving... but the sense of some time passing would have been nice.
- The slow sedative dart hitting Leto's shield in that comical red glow to let you know it's getting through is just so bad. If there's one thing that I'd like to have seen different visually, this would be it. It gets even worse when you get to the massive land battle on Dune. Everybody is slashing at full speed, so the idea of "the slow blade penetrating the shield" is silly. They compensate with red and blue hits in the most nonsensical way, and that stings.
- The Harkonnen invasion has an epic scope that I dearly would have loved to have seen in a theater on a massive screen. I have a very nice television and home theater, but it's not the same. This movie was built for a huge screen. When Duncan escapes in the ornithopter and the laser is slicing through frickin' BUILDINGS trying to hit him? Holy cow!
- Paul trying to use The Voice as he and his mom are being taken to the dessert to die is very close to the first film in structure, but plays so very differently! The way Jessica immediately lashes out with The Voice once her gag is removed is thrilling to see. And it diminishes the attempted rape in a way to make it more about the fight than about sex, which makes for a stronger scene.
- The poison tooth scene is stronger for not trying to go over the top... and the reveal that The Baron survived as the hazmat team cleans up the bodies? Very cool.
- In Paul's future-vision where he's mowing through Sardaukar like paper, then seeing the horror of what his power will bring, is there just in case we don't get a Part Two, I'm sure. So... some closure, I guess, if Warner Bros. bails on the back-end?
- THE DESSERT MOUSE COLLECTING MOISTURE FROM THE MORNING AIR TO DRINK IS MY FAVORITE SCENE IN THE MOVIE! I WANT A DESSERT MOUSE PLUSHIE!!!
- Paul convincing Kynes that he can change Arakkis as Emperor by telling her secrets that only the actual messiah might know is a brilliant way of condensing a lot into a very short scene!
- The sequel books to Dune provide a different future for Duncan Idaho than the movie would lead you to believe. I want to see a movie adaptation of those books just to get more Momoa in this role.
- The click-click-click-THUMP of the thumpers in this movie were sublimely well-thought-out. And Dr. Kynes's revenge is the best revenge! SO much nicer than the end that Max von Sydow got!
- Lynch did the best he could with the technology of the day with his sandworms. Problem is that they looked comical even when they tried to be scary. Villeneuve had access to much better FX technology, and this is one area it came in very, very helpful. By having the worms be the truly terrifying, it makes the feel of the story change entirely. In a good way.
- Lady Jessica is a stronger character in this adaptation. This is a more intelligent take on the character, whose Bene Gesserit training makes her a more formidable character. It remains to be seen how she will play in the sequel given where her character ends up. Will she be discarded as a Reverend Mother prop... or be given something to do that puts her on a level equal to Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam?
- Zendaya isn't give much in this film, but boy does she make the most of the scene where she's preparing Paul for his fight with Jamis! She's jusssst detached enough to be interesting, but a touch sad about Paul facing certain death to not come across as cold.
- The optics of having Yueh's betrayal given to an Asian man and Paul's unhinged challenger, Jamis, be given to a Black man is a bit cringe given how the majority of heroes are white. The movie just gets away with it by not having all the Harkonnen's or all the Sardaukar be Persons of Color which, let's face it, was a reeeeeal possibility in Hollywood So White.
- The End. And we only just got started! Interesting to note that we end on a shot of Jessica... not Paul. And her look says that she fully realizes who her son is and what that means for the known universe. Chills!
- The pronunciations of many things... Harkonnen, Geidi Prime, Padishah, etc. etc. are noticeably different than the Lynch film. It's as if they wanted to go intentionally different, which is fine... it's just strange when I've lived with them so long the other way!
- The special effects are seriously amazing. All that sand in the air makes for some gorgeous visuals and a nice play for shadow and light. It took me right back to Villeneuve's brilliant Blade Runner 2049 when they were in Las Vegas. It's almost as if that movie was a test case for how he would handle Dune, and the look of it all is stunning.
- A second shout-out to the blue-within-blue eyes FX, which look far more natural than having a weird blue glow... which always took me out of the first film.
- The music is very good. But, and I know this will be a tough one, I actually prefer the Toto soundtrack from the 1984 film. The closing credits song, Take My Hand, is one of my favorite movie tracks ever created. I am still listening to it these
- Costume design is epic without being ridiculous, which I appreciate. It would have been too easy to just blow past functionality in favor of an aesthetic, but we got both... with the still suits being particularly well-designed. But the standout? The Reverend Mother outfits and Lady Jessica's gorgeous frock when they first land on Arrakis.
- The movie ends on a cliffhanger. This sucks. They really should have filmed both parts back-to-back so we'd be sure to actually get both parts. As it were, I guess we just get to pray Warner Bros. Does the right thing and green lights the rest.
And that's all she wrote. For the second time. But not the last time.