October 28, 2021

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I just saw Dune

I just saw the DUNE movie and it is EPIC!

Intro

Hey guys, this is my DUNE movie review

Yesterday evening I finally saw Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, thus culminating my long-held desire to see a truthful cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic novel. What follows in this review are a number of observations that are my attempt to substantiate why Dune is the best movie of the year. I will also point out a few negative things, but with the disclaimer that I am a purist who also understand that adaptation of a novel requires hard choices that usually involves compressing the story to fit the 155 screen time allocated. A prior review already pointed out that the story should juggle both scope and pacing. I think director Denis Villeneuve managed to do that, but kept the emphasis on pacing.

As a disclaimer I will mention that there a number of minor spoilers. I know you can easily read the novel but if you haven’t or want to be surprised by this adaptation then it is time to stop watching. Lets get into my DUNE movie review

Characterization

The strength of this Dune adaptation lies with its characters, especially those belonging to House Atreides and the Fremen.

The member of House Atreides, and Paul, Jessica and Duke Leto especially, have a very close bond.

The move to Arrakis has everybody on edge. Paul’s dream and restless nature has both his parents on edge with only Jessica understanding what is going on. This intensifies after Paul is tested with the Gom Jabbar. Despite the very impressive visuals and world-building I enjoy how the director retained the focus on the characters.

Inevitably House Atreides falls to the combined onslaught of Harkonnen and Sardaukar. Those familiar with the source material will know it is in fact a lengthy affair. The loss of characters viewers have come close to is hard to watch. However, it is an inevitable step in the journey for Paul.

If Paul had merely joined the Fremen, become their leader and took revenge on the Harkonnen and the emperor then the accusation of this being a white-savior trope would be valid. As is, we see more on Frank Herbert’s original intent with the character. Paul only reluctantly steps into the role of the Fremen Messiah. Just as in the novel he is frequently overcome with nightmares of what he will unleash with his powers of prescience. All this and the very intense focus on Fremen religion in this adaptation counters the accusation that the trope is used – and the implied racism that so many think exists with it.

Fremen

However, I do believe not every viewer will understand the subtleties. Paul’s nightmares might not be understood by many and his seeming desire to join the Fremen might to some look like the trope. However, not everybody can be satisfied. I believe Denis Villeneuve went out of his way to portray Paul as the Anti-Hero that Frank Herbert intended him to be.

Finally, we come to the Fremen. This Dune adaptation ends just after the duel between Paul and Jamis. In prior adaptations this was not my favorite part as it depicts yet another death after a whole slew already occurred. But this adaptation is different. Yes, there is a duel, but Paul is quickly proven to be the better fighter. For Paul this was not in doubt, we see depictions of an alternate reality in which Paul allows himself to be killed just to avoid becoming the Kwisatz Haderach. With the death of Jamis Paul and Jessica officially become part of Stilgar’s tribe. This whole sequence is a delight to watch just for Javier Bardem alone whose morose yet direct attitude is captivating.

One shame that I felt is that the settling in of House Atreides on Arrakis is much shorter than in the novels. There is no talk of a traitor, no scenes in which Doctor Yueh acts suspiciously. Two important chapters from the novel are missing, the confrontation between Thufir Hawat and Jessica and the gala dinner hosted by the Duke and Lady Jessica. While I think this is a shame I do agree with the choice. It benefits the pacing as the fall of House Atreides then comes quite suddenly. As die-hard Dune fan I was taken by surprise. The brutality of it all makes this all very overwhelming.

The Negative

That is not to say I have nothing bad to say about Dune, arguably they are only minor gripes. In the prologue Chani’s voice-over states that the 80 years of Harkonnen rule have made their house even wealthier than the emperor. Obviously, this is not true, not in the novel nor in this movie adaptation. It is an odd thing to say, if it were removed the confusion on my part would be gone.

Beyond that I disliked how a lot of my favorite characters were reduced to just minor roles. The fast pacing of the scenes depicting the political machinations behind the story meant roles such as that of Thufir Hawat and Piter De Vries were small. It made me worry how the second part of this adaptation will complete the story satisfactorily. Despite stopping just short of two-thirds into the novel the second part will have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to the grand strategy behind the story.

Stray Observations

I could go on for a while mentioning the things I liked, or I could even milk some of the negative aspects I mentioned. However, instead I will just mention the things that come to mind.

The movie is somewhat darkly lit. Scenes that take place at night were obviously filmed during the day with a filter applied. As I saw the movie in 3D which makes everything look even darker I felt some detail was missing. On my next viewing of Dune I will watch it in 2D.

At times Lady Jessica can appear to be over emotional. She is arguably in a tough spot, torn between her Bene Gesserit loyalties and her love for her son and her Duke. While I like Rebecca Ferguson this depiction stills shows her to be weaker than in the original novel. Especially with the removal of her scene with Thufir. I did enjoy how Rebecca can go from emotional to stone-cold in a heartbeat, a good depiction of her Bene Gesserit skills.

Throughout the movie I was absolutely stunned by the scenery, especially Dune itself. The scale of everything is impressive, from the desert, to the mountains and Arrakeen. I liked how it made House Atreides seem small and vulnerable.

In the final act of the movie, when Paul and Jessica move into the desert we get even more impressive vistas, that combined with the desert survival techniques they need to apply changes the feel of the movie changes completely. Filming took place in Wadi Rum in Jordan and the exaggerated terrain features using CGI look nothing but spectacular.

More stray observations

I enjoyed how Jamis has a few cameos in Paul’s dream. We see how Jamis teaches Paul some desert techniques of survival. It makes Paul’s desire to no kill Jamis even more poignant. After he kills Jamis Paul slowly starts to accept his fate at becoming the Kwisatz Haderach.

I liked how the heigh-liners of the Spacing Guild look like giant sandworms. As there is no technology visible and the fact they do not move they look like mummified sandworms. It is a feeling of grotesqueness that happened multiple times through the movie. After all, there is a lot of death in Dune.

Characters such as the Emperor, Princess Irulan, Count Fenring and Feyd-Rautha do not appear in this adaptation. However, that was to be expected as in the novel they do not appear well into the second half. Except for Feyd-Rautha, however we see relatively little of House Harkonnen anyway. Considering it would have bloated up the story I think this was a wise decision. I fully expect to see all of them in the Part Two and I expect the story to go all in on the grand strategy plot of the original novel.

The music is just awesome. I think those that have listened to the soundtrack already know that. Hans Zimmer did a remarkable job, watching the movie becomes so much more of an experience. Just as with Star Wars the soundtrack is the secret sauce. Kudos for the vocalizations as well.

I could go on mentioning things that I like: Duncan Idaho, Gurney, Liet, the Bene Gesserit. Denis has managed to create his unique take on each while pleasing fans and newbies alike. As often mentioned, his worldbuilding is just fantastic.

Outro to DUNE movie review

Well, there it is… the first part of the Dune adaptation. I think this movie is absolutely brilliant and I intend to watch it again this weekend. I have mentioned a few negative aspects but they were relatively minor. One piece of criticism from other reviewers is incorrect, at least for me. Some state they are annoyed how the first of this adaptation makes little sense without the second, that the movie is inherently flawed. While I have a strong desire to see part 2 the ending for part 1 was just perfect. The long trek into the desert, the meeting with Stilgar and the duel with Jamis gave this movie a very satisfactory ending.

I thank director Denis Villeneuve for creating this wonderful adaptation, a fan could not want more. I thank Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaacs for their spectacular performances. And I also than the rest of the cast and crew for bringing it all together.

That was it for my DUNE movie – i hope you liked it.