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Film review — Dune

Right, so. I watched this at home. No, you can’t shame me. Some of you people talk about the cinema being so necessary to the experience as if any movie gets more than a few weeks before it has to live or die on its reputation on home video. Anyway, it looks like an eye-wateringly expensive streaming series more than a blockbuster motion picture, its often hauntingly beautiful composition notwithstanding, so no big loss.

In terms of atmosphere, this is a Dune movie in 2021; its existence is inextricable from David Lynch’s still-fascinatingly-weird attempt in 1984, the more-influential-than-many-care-to-admit TV miniseries (plural) from the early 2000s, and the wonderful 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. This new film has echoes of all three, often loud ones; at times their presence looms as if it’s caught in their gravitational pull.

As for the story? I’m no Dune scholar, but my SO has actually read a book that many people claim to have read but usually give up in the boring bits, so I defer to her analysis on how the film adapts the novel. It’s interesting what parts Denis Villeneuve and his co-writers chose to omit, ultimately boiling it down to a grey narrative of political intrigue (knotty, sure, but some of those knots unravel too easily) and messianic bildungsroman. Paul Atreides, the boy who becomes a man. It really gets no deeper than that in this iteration. Yawn.

The film also conveys no sense of the critical importance of spice to the Imperium. It’s the reason we’re all on Arrakis, right? We get a single line of dialogue (in voiceover, if I recall correctly) that it’s necessary for humanity to navigate the vastness of space, but no tangible notion that we as a species will literally transform ourselves to achieve this. Even Lynch’s Dune got this part right.

On the other side, the Fremen’s relationship to water is significantly underplayed, as if the notion that it means more than ‘desert dry, makes me thirsty’ were dismissed out of hand. There is a moment at the end (don’t worry, this is too oblique to be a spoiler) where the shedding of a tear should have a profound resonance, but they just … leave it out? That’s a questionable choice at best.

In a nutshell? It’s fine, but could have been deeper. And it’s weird the choices they made to make it so shallow. I’ll watch the next part, if it doesn’t bomb in the US and they actually green-light the sequel. ★★★

Cross-posted from Letterboxd