I’m the best and worst person to be interviewing the latest version of Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve. I was never a big fan of Dune, either the book or the 1984 version that was directed by David Lynch. It took me years to sit through it. You see, back in 1984, when it hit the theaters, they were making it look like it was the next Star Wars or Indiana Jones.
Topps had trading cards and I bought them, but immediately I noticed something was wrong when I saw that guild navigator that looked like a scrotum sack that had tumors and a vagina mouth, even though I didn’t know what a vagina was at that age. But the PG-13 rating was still in its infancy and if there was one movie that deserved it, it was Dune. When I finally saw it on HBO a year or so later, I could barely sit through it. And that was the problem.
A story like Dune can’t be sold to elementary school-age kids who want to see a space cowboy/swashbuckler flick. And I still don’t know much about the Dune universe with all the characters and what Frank Herbert was trying to do. I knew very little about the Lord of the Rings 20 years ago, but still was wowed by The Fellowship of the Ring.
Villeneuve tries to do the same that Peter Jackson did and he succeeds and fails. I’m sure a lot of people ran out to Borders and scanned Amazon to pick up the J.R.R. Tolkein books but found themselves bored by long passages of people introducing themselves to each other. And that’s what half of the Villeneuve version feels like. At about two and a half hours long, a good portion of this is people telling others who they are are or introducing themselves to each other.
The plot follows mostly of the 1984 version and I’m sure the Herbert novel. The universe is controlled by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, who doesn’t appear in this one, but is mentioned. Spice mining of melange is crucial on a desert planet of Arrakis. When the movie opens, the Fremen are battling the miners controlled by the House of the Harkonnens, but are ordered to leave and control is turned over to the House of Arteides on the ocean planet of Caladen.
The Duke Leto Arteides (Oscar Isaac) accepts this duty and sends his people to Arrakis. Weeks later, Leto and his concubine, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a Bene Gesserit witch, and their son Paul (Tmothee Chamalet) and others travel there but learn there are problems almost immediately. Paul’s life is threatened and soon it becomes evident there are traitors.
The Harkonnens arrive on Arrakis and overpower the House of Arteides. Lady Jessica and Paul are kidnapped but they manage to use the powers of the Bene Gesserit’s to control people’s minds to set themselves free. Leto is incapacitated but given a special tooth implant that will expel poison gas in hopes of killing the ruthless Baron Vladmir Harkonnen (Stellan Skasgard) but that doesn’t go as well as planned.
If you’ve seen the 1984 version, you’re about a third of the way through that movie, but this is already two-thirds of the newer version. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very exciting and well shot and acted, but the last third of the movie is such a letdown that new people watching it will throw up their hands and say, “That’s all?!” Thankfully in the last two weeks, Warner Bros. has given the greenlight to Villeneuve to film the second part. The intention was to film just the first half of the book and see what would happen.
I think this should show Villeneuve that the studio didn’t really have much faith in the movie. The marketing behind this movie spotlights Chamalet and Zendaya as Chani Cheng, who will essentially become Paul’s love interest. But while Paul is essential to the plot of the movie and Chamalat does a good job, Chani is almost irrelevant in this part. But she is featured so prominently on marketing and trailers, which might even leave some audiences familiar with the plot upset it just ends on a very overblown sequence when Paul and Lady Jessica, seeking refuge, come upon the Fremen.
And I’ll just say this I’m not a big fan of Zendaya and feel she was only cast to attract younger audiences unfamiliar with the Dune books. I really don’t like her portrayal of Mary Jane in the MCU Spider-Man movies and feel this is just stunt casting. Worse, she really isn’t given much to do here except look moppy. I feel that Villeneuve was forced to incorporate more of her in this movie with images of Paul sleeping or day-dreaming.
I actually was surprised to see the cast consists of other prominent actors like Josh Brolin, Charlotte Rampling, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Javier Bardem, David Dastmalchian, and even Ferguson. The plot of Dune has a lot of characters and trying to squeeze so many of them in a two and a half hour movie is a hard task for any director. Sometimes, they can make it work. Sometimes, they can’t.
I feel with this, I’m watching an origin movie. There are great special effects. I like how the ornithopters they ride around in on Arrakis look like dragonflies. And the sets and costumes are far more easier on the eyes than the drab and dirty looks of the 1984 version. You also can get a feeling that it still looks dirty with the sand a constant irritation on this planet.
But I’m left wondering what will happen for the second part. The sandworms are hardly pictured here as well and the Baron appears so little in it, hopefully he’ll have a bigger role in the second one. I heard Skarsgard had to endure long hours in the make-up chair, so I can understand why he’s not in it as well. But with many of the characters meeting their fates in this movie, what will Villeneuve do for the second one?
The Emperor is mentioned but never seen and the Guild Navigators are not seen. Will Warner Bros. roll the dice and decided to adapt the other Dune books or just let the second movie be that? I’ve heard a lot of people say the Dune universe should be expanded in a series. But still, that’s a big risk to make.
The problem is essentially no matter what a filmmaker does with source material, they’re never going to appease everyone. Some directors can do better work than the source material. I didn’t really think The Silence of the Lambs worked as a novel that well, but it was great as a movie. LOTR is so better because Jackson was able to present it to both fans of Tolkien’s and those just wanting to see a swords and sorcerer flick.
I’m a big fan of David Lynch and would rather watch his worst movies over other directors’ best work. His version of Dune is not the best but could their be a good version. I believe both both Lynch and Villeneuve have their own ideas of how the universe will look and feel. You have different people from different worlds and different filmmakers see them different. You also must realize that Lynch was limited by special effects of 1984. His version isn’t a bad movie. I think critics were judging him based on his previous works as well as what they expected from the Star Wars sci-fi ripoffs that came out in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
It’s not Lynch’s best work and for many Dune fans, it problem was an insult. But if you hire David Lynch to direct a movie, you get a David Lynch movie. If you hire Denis Villeneuve to direct a movie, you’re going to get a Denis Villeneuve movie.
One thought on “‘Dune’ Has Great Visuals And Casting But The Grains From The Earlier Version Still Linger”
Clearly Lynch’s film hangs like a dark shadow over Villeneuve’s film- you can see how what Lynch did impacted on Villeneuve’s thinking, as if Lynch was a lesson on how NOT to make a film of Dune, but on reflection there’s a lot that Lynch did that was right. I think the opening section with the Emperor being interrogated by the Guild Navigator and revealing his machinations was some kind of genius, because its absence from the Villeneuve film leaves something of a chasm. What is the point of Villeneuve’s Dune being a five-hour epic over two parts if it has to drop all the politics and conceits of the book? Why can’t he explain why there are no computers or AI or indeed show Thufir so suspicious of Lady Jessica that it blinds him from the real threat?
That said I did enjoy the film, albeit even as I fan of the book from decades ago I was still incredibly frustrated by how Part One ended, so can only imagine what Joe Public thought. It should have ended with a bang, not such a whimper: even had it been an irritating cliff-hanger it would have been SOMETHING.