Dune

Dune ★★★

There’s almost no introspection, no complex social or political navigation (all these things are internal monologue in the book I’m at least glad the movie didn’t try to capture in VO), the characters are mostly bland when stripped of this internal life, there’s some bludgeoningly PG-13 editing, night scenes are muddy, Chalamet’s sleepwalking. All my fears from the trailer were more or less proven to be true. 

But the me from the past failed to consider the possibility that the movie would be fucking cool. 

For all the clunky non-violent editing, there’s some really good intentional obscuring of stuff that would be hard to take seriously if shown more in full (the shields, the suspensor, the ornithopters booting up), and a scene where a character in a stillsuit gets stabbed and water gushes out instead of blood was not only a clever workaround but really hones in on the thematic significance of water. I really can’t think of any movie remotely recently that feels as big as this does, not in terms of significance or story breadth but sheer physical scale. The idea that it’s so big it inadvertently feels small doesn’t really track because the sound is so dense and booming. I’m referring to sound design of course but more importantly, I keep thinking I’m out on Hans Zimmer until he inevitably comes back with the heat on a film like this. The main theme is otherworldly and so much more percussive than any blockbuster film of this scope. There’s also, for all the modern effects, a reliance on classic techniques, visions expressed via simple cutaways with double exposures and in-camera refractions rather than a cg vision quest.

I’m certainly conflicted about much of this, though. I’ve always been the first to cite the thematic motivation behind the slow, droning plotlessness of 2049, and I can’t really do that here. Dune to me has never been about the design of the world or any sense of spectacle, it actually reads like a pretty small-scale character piece even with all the worldbuilding. But the stuff I like about the book isn’t adaptable to film and I do think the world and spectacle here are genuinely marvelous. It’s not possible to achieve the same sense of scale operating at a brisk pace, so I was content to watch more droning and bask in it, even if there’s not as much of a point to it. The pacing was doomed to be wonky from the start, but I can say at the very least that when it ended, I felt like I had just watched a movie, which isn’t something I can say for all Part I’s.

All in all, it was a good time learning just how many terms I’ve been mispronouncing, and after having seen the movie I still don’t think I can say Kwisatz Haderach with any sense of certainty. Villeneuve takes a complex political landscape and boils it down to an unambiguous dystopia via one simple inclusion: space bagpipes.

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