This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Carl Hudson’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Review of the 2h 57 minute cut, whichever that is.
David Lynch was the perfect director for this project, and he does his damndest, conjuring up an out-of-this-world-atmosphere, breathtaking set-design and surreal images like nothing you've ever seen in a space opera (and even a movie) before. Sadly, all his efforts are for naught because of the nonsensical and needlessly complicated plot (and yes, I've read the book, and think it's a fascinating world populated with interesting characters that don't do anything especially interesting, apart from telling you of the world they live in), featuring undramatic character revelations and worldbuilding-reveals that don't lead to much. Dune doesn't have too much plot, nor does it have too little, but it's just so poorly structured as a dramatically interesting story that even Lynch just seems to throw his hands up when he gets to the Fremen-parts and the last hour of this film. What comes before that is strange and magical and unique, a baroque hellish nightmare/daydream in a visually intriguing world where House Atreides try their best to outsmart destiny and grasp the power they think are rightly theirs, only to lose spectacularly. After that, it becomes a standard hodgepodge of epic fantasy/space opera-ideas, complete with evil emperors, mystical powers, messiahs and prophets, indigenous armies and a massive battle to finish it all off, and Lynch's surreal sensibilities all struggle to keep up as all the esoteric and philosophical ideas turn literal.
They completely assassinate Paul Muad'Dib's character in the third act too, making him a warrior and the leader of a rebellion that will wash the universe red with blood, something he tries desperately to fight against in the book. I can't help but feel like Lynch might've unlocked this had he been able to just scrap every story element and, in his own way, tell a story of a prophet that gained omniscience and learned his destiny,
then desperately fought against it, only to succumbed to it anyway. A space opera horror story about the uselessness of fighting your fate seems like Lynch's territory, much moreso than all this Game of Thrones-ian battle between the houses which the movie focuses on instead of Paul's journey. It would've been a very different film, much less politically interesting (but the film barely has time for that anyway), but it might've come out somewhat more whole than it feels right now.
Still, those two first hours are a thing of absolute beauty, two of the most unique and stunning blockbuster-hours I've ever seen (just, the mix of mutated humans guiding spaceships and then a scene straight out of a fairy tale, complete with a witch, but still somehow being set in the year 10,000-something, and it somehow all works... [at least it did for me]), before the film crashes down to earth and turns into just another epic space opera blockbuster.
I remain fully convinced that Dune is a terrible story set in an interesting universe with a lot of interesting subtext in regards to heroes and prophets, religion and destiny, politics and power, but it'll probably always be more interesting to read and think about than anything else. The novel remains, more than anything, a history book of a future time and place, moreso than a great story. But here's hoping Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts crack it. I have huge doubts.