Synopsis: Young man on a sandduney planet fights to stay alive and lead an uprising. (Streaming on HBO Max)
Dear Dune, I have some questions. Why do all the characters have novel names (like Gaius and Liet), but the protagonist is Paul? Are the planets in another galaxy far, far away, as in Star Wars? Why is Zendaya filmed like she’s in a perfume commercial? Sincerely, Confused
Director Denis Villeneuve helms the latest screen version of the 1965 Frank Herbert novel. Like Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, the filmmaker had oodles of money for the production: $165,000,000. Add on tens of millions for marketing. This project has been so hyped for so long that at one point I thought I must have missed the movie, seeing as the original teaser photos of star Timothee Chalamet on-set seemed to be it out about five years ago. Chalamet, a fine actor, and the internet’s boyfriend, was cast as prospective desert planet messiah Paul Atreides.
Warner Brothers’ publicity insists that their Dune is the story of “a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding.” I will grant that the young hero doesn’t seem to understand much.
Sometimes I wondered how much I was understanding. There are Harkonnens, Caladon, Bene Gesserit, but I can’t keep the planet names straight from the people names. And characters say things like : Dreams are messages from the deep…When is a gift not a gift?… Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. It’s all very somber and reverent. And kind of ridiculous.
First off, I don’t even know if Timmi or his ancestors were ever earthlings. But they are some important family and keep jizzing about how grandpa used to bullfight, which is nothing to be proud of imo. Timmi seems more gentle though. His family is living on an “ocean planet” when he learns that his dad Duke Leto, played by Oscar Isaac sporting a fine beard, has been assigned to oversee the desert planet of Arrakis. Timmi solemnly walks the beaches with a pensive look on his face, just like when he was Laurie in Little Women and he was feeling tortured about his unrequited love for Jo/Saoirse Ronan.
The planet that they speed off to is important because that is where they mine “spice.” Spice is a multi-purpose product like olive oil. Unlike olive oil it is not something that can enliven a salad or enrich dry skin, but it is a hallucinogenic and spaceship fuel. My god, this sounds even more miraculous than the unobtainium from Avatar‘s Pandora.
On Arrakis, Timmi drinks orange juice with his always hovering mom, played by Rebecca Ferguson, and lounges around watching hologram movies about the planet. At one point he goes outside their compound to talk to the gardener who is watering the soaring palm trees with a ladle. He even goes on a helicopter ride with his dad.
Timmi is interested in the natives who have been cruelly dominated by previous foreign rulers –like the Na’vi on Pandora! The movie makes a big deal out of the fact that they all have blue eyes. Ahem, not to argue with the flawless science of Dune‘s science fiction, but wouldn’t a desert species have dark eyes, fortified with melanin to withstand the glare of a merciless sun reflecting off all the heckin’ sand dunes? No matter, Timmi has a dream of a beautiful native woman: Zendaya. One day he even dreams that he has blue eyes.
We already know that he is special because the family’s native housekeeper nearly fainted when she saw that Timmi tucked his pants into his boots like her people–The prophecy speaks of the messiah knowing our ways!
Timmi’s mom teaches him the ways of her mystical sisterhood which involve moving things with your mind like Yoda. Wait, no, you have to command the person with words like Jafar in Aladdin. Timmi’s mom is concerned about his visions of greatness and Zendaya slo-mo walking through the desert so she brings him to the old crone “Reverend Mother” of her order. Said cleric is played by Charlotte Rampling who wears a black fishnet draped over her head and brandishes a hairpin at Timmi to determine if he is the chosen one. Then she ovum shames his mom by saying: I told you to have daughters!
What else does Timmi do in this very lonnng movie that covers just part of the Dune novel? Well, his hair looks great of course, so he spends some time tossing his curls just so. (Later on, when times are tough, his hair looks bad, like a Zac Efron wig.) And there are the late brekkies with his mom where he looks hungover from a night of clubbing…
Oh, and he practices sword fighting. Right, I’m sure that’s really practical in a society that is technologically advanced enough to have interstellar travel. There appears to be no one under the age of forty in this empire’s military so long-in-the-tooth Josh Brolin teaches this young swain sword fighting. After besting Mr. Brolin, Timmi rubs his victorious muscles. Now, I have seen soldiers up close at international airports and I can attest to the fact that they move quickly under the burden of heavy bags and do not look like ahem, someone who looks like they might struggle hoisting their carry-on into the overhead bin. No matter– we must not underestimate our designated hero.
Timmi will have his work cut out for him because there are enemies aplenty. There are sandworms on the planet that, in an example of convergent evolution, operate like the giant wormish underground creatures on Earth, as seen in Tremors which stars Footloose‘s great Kevin Bacon. Dune‘s critters look more like ginormous sea cucumbers. But instead of wobbling around the oceans eating plankton and such, they blaze around just beneath the sands’ surface and burst out to eat whatever organic or inorganic matter they can get their orifice around. Yuck!
Even yuckier is a creature I will call Jabba the Skarsgard. Stellan Skarsgard boldly chews the scenery as an obese villain named Baron Vladimir Harkonnen who lives on some other planet. He is the leader of a people whose main traits are baldness and rage. In one scene we are subjected to Dave Bautista ( Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy) as Beast Rabban (these names!), prostrating himself before Jabba the Skarsgard who has just emerged from bathing in what looks like crude oil. To our horror, he starts floating around while he schemes against Timmi’s dad and the Fremen. You remember them, right? Zendaya is a Fremen. So is Javier Bardem who looks like he’s just been through a marathon reenactment of Lawrence of Arabia: LIVE! I think Javier is trying to convey, with weary eyes and a voice lacking in affect, that his character is exhausted by the subjugation of his noble people. But we can tell that he just wants to say his dumb lines, collect his paycheck and get back home to Penelope Cruz in Madrid.
You too will be exhausted at the end of the movie. Maybe you’ll find it a good piece of escapism. I just found it ponderous. Except for when Timmi had to hide in a tent under the sand. This made me think of a similar predicament in Lord of the Rings when Frodo and Sam had to hide under a magic cloak. Then there is Hermione’s magic glamping tent in Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows. Both are scenes from better movies and I didn’t have to listen to anyone explaining how the special desert suits recycle the wearer’s urine and sweat into drinking water.
Dear M. Villeneuve, Maybe you have big sci-fi blockbusters out of your system now. Perhaps it’s time to craft something on a smaller scale with better dialog. What??? You are making Dune Part 2? Mais, non!
Movie Loon Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Doesn’t match up to the hype or better series like the latest Star Trek movies.
Humor Highlight: Skarsgard’s character is pretty funny, and Jason Momoa’s soldier/friend of Timmi, is a breath of fresh air amongst the downcast characters.