I’ve read the first four (five?) Dune books quite a few times. I’ve watch the David Lynch film a few times. I’ve seen the Frank Herbert’s Dune miniseries a few times. And now, I’ve seen this new Dune, and I want to watch it a few times. Why? The cinematography is so incredibly gorgeous I could watch this puppy on mute (ditto for the inclusion of a whole lotta man-candy in the cast, because I am basic as hell.) The score is lush, rich, and is Hans Zimmer at the top of his game; Best Original Score will be your “gimme” vote in this year’s Oscar poll. And deeeeeeeam those costumes. Makes me want to learn to sew…or learn how to pick a lock and raid a wardrobe department. (What? I have no pride or shame when it comes to incredible wardrobe work.) But I do have a few points I need to address before I give my ultimate yay or nay. Let’s do this.
First off? If you haven’t read the books, you’ll be a bit lost, as Villeneuve’s story plops you right into the middle of things without so much as a by your leave. Yes, it’s a bazillion times better than the constant, droning info dumps from Lynch, though much of the character nuance is lost. Example: in the books, we know the traitor to the Atreides has spent their life being trained/conditioned to never harm those they work for in any way, so it’s a heartbreaking whammy when this traitor is revealed. Here when the traitor shows their face, it’s anti-climactic, because we’re not told any of that. There’s also a bare-bones look at the relationship between Duke Leto and his concubine Jessica. They were brought together by the Bene Gesserit breeding program, but actually fell in love; Jessica’s love for Leto caused her to bear him the son he’d always wanted, throwing breeding program into chaos. There’s a stronger bond between the two in this film, but still? As long as this film is, it would have taken a sentence or two to establish exactly what Jessica had done, and why the Bene Gesserit were so upset with her…leading to a richer experience for the viewer.
Villeneuve jumps between past, present, and dreams deftly here, though at times viewers who didn’t read the books will initially have a rough time trying to figure out why [X Scenes] are important. Another example? I’m happy to oblige you, my dears. The Emperor’s army is shown with impactful Nazi-Meets-Crucifixion imagery, but the dread is short lived, as it’s nothing more than an establishing shot. There’s also a few shots of Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides staring at an incredibly cute mouse, – #EEEEEARZ – which makes zero sense other than to make viewers think there’s most likely a merch tie-in. (Don’t worry, that mouse will become important in Part Two…she said hopefully.)
But while you’re definitely dropped into the action like a Sardaukar soldier onto Arrakis (see – it can be a lot of mythology to take in), the overall storyline is easy enough to follow; House Atreides and House Harkonnen are bitter rivals, and the Emperor of the known universe is jealous of the Atreides. Hijinks ensue, with the help of the indigenous peoples of Arrakis, and their (literally and figuratively) killer sandworms. The cast plays well with each other, though as per usual, Jason Momoa’s “you can reach out and touch it” charisma steals every scene he’s in. And Chalamet performs well as Duke Leto’s son/The Chosen One, and I’m happy the whole white savior narrative that seemed to be all over Lynch’s story is tamped down here. Because Herbert never intended this to be a white savior narrative: take it away, Quinn’s Ideas! (Seriously, give these vids a watch; it’s incredibly well researched, and Quinn is both entertaining and informative.)
tl;dr? This Dune is immensely watchable, and for viewers who’d like more story and less acid trip, a full head and shoulders better than Lynch’s version (Though you know I still love you, my first Dune boo.) Casual viewers may want to Google/YouTube a Dune primer if they’d like to fully immerse themselves in the experience. Grade: B+