When I heard that Dune
-- the science fiction classic based on Frank Herbert's masterpiece -- was going to be remade, I was pretty excited! I had high hopes that this time they'd give it the creative justice it deserved. From the previews, it certainly looked
like it would be Dune
Done Right. But I knew better than to trust the trailers. All too often they're packed with the best tidbits of the experience and the film itself falls flatter than a Kansas pancake.
I finally got my chance to see the movie in the theater last week (which I believe is the first time in two years I've had that experience, thanks to lockdowns) and I wanted to share a few thoughts.
Did they finally get it right?
Well, yes. And no. It's actually a difficult question to answer.
There was certainly a lot to like. The set location was amazing and felt natural and immersive and seemed to draw me into the world of Dune as I'd always imagined it. The film used very little blue screen, from what I understand, and much was shot on location so it avoided the "fake rock" syndrome of the earlier release. (I'm referring to the 1984 version here. I only saw the first reboot once, and remember almost nothing about it.)
This scale in this "new Dune" was enormous and did justice to this sci-fi icon that is all about sweeping and epic.
Just a side note that the ornithopters were particularly well done and a much closer match to what I had always envisioned in my head as a sort of bird-like helicopter (in this case, very much like a Hummingbird).
And the sound! Wow. Not really a sound track -- as in a musical score -- but an amazing compilation of realistic auditory mood-setting. (No, there was no Pink Floyd playing in the background--as with the trailers. But the sound that came with the scenes was vibrant and lent much to the sense of being there.)
The locations were spectacular, in particular the Dune capital of Arakeen. It suggested Egypt, Atlantis and a futuristic alien city all morphed into one.
And there was one emotional buy-in that really grabbed me. It had to do with palm trees and how they were being meticulously cared for, even at great cost. I live in the desert, and I understand this code--where every tree is precious and it takes a lot of work to keep things alive, even though sometimes it's all in vain. (I'm being deliberately vague here to avoid potential spoilers for one particular scene, so it's difficult to get my meaning across, but yes...the palm trees matter.)
Dune also boasts a pretty amazing cast, and I thought most were perfect for their roles.
Zendaya as Chani stepped right into her sandy Fremen shoes. From the moment I saw her in the trailers, I knew they had the right actress for the role. (I admit I may be a bit biased because I loved her in The Greatest Showman.)
Rebecca Ferguson as Jessica (another from The Greatest Showman who played the Swedish Nightingale) made for a convincing, and a bit more violent, Bene Gesserit sister and mother of Paul.
Javier Barden is brilliant as Fremen leader, Stilgar.
Josh Brolin makes a great Gurney Haleck, and adds a bit more understated humor to the stern character. He's stepping into Patrick Stewart's shoes, after all, and I love how he made Gurney his own. I've been a huge fan of Brolin's ever since viewing Only The Brave
, where he played the no-nonsense chief, Eric Marsh, in the story about the ill-fated Hotshot team from Prescott, AZ.
Oscar Issac is a great fit for Duke Leto Atreides, and his one line about how he once longed to be a pilot brought a few chuckles. (He was ace pilot Poe Dameron in the last Star Wars trilogy for any who don't recognize his name.)
Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho? Heck, yeah! Khal Drogo (Game of Thrones) and this role will probably be career-defining. (I really wasn't impressed with his character in Aquaman
Stephen McKinley Hendersen works as a much more military version of the mentat Thufir Hawat, a character that was a great improvement on the bushy-eyebrowed, and just plain odd, predecessor.
The bad guys (aka House Harkonnen) were a huge improvement on the originals, where the audience was subjected to some outrageous, almost cartoonish behavior and really hideous visuals. Dave Bautista was born to play the Beast Rabban Harkonnen. I didn't even initially connect him to his Guardians of the Galaxy character because he was so well-suited to this role. The Baron in the new movie (Stellan Skarsgard) simply oozes evil, and does it with very few words and no over-the-top ickiness. Well done.
So what, then, was not to like?
Well, quite frankly, I wasn't terrible impressed with Paul. Nothing against Timothee Chalamet, the young actor who may very well become the quintessential Paul when all is said and done, but...well he wasn't what I was expecting. That's probably because with Kyle MacLachlan holding the title of the heir apparent to the Atreides Dukedom for so long that it's difficult for another, very different actor to wear it well at first viewing. But that said, Kyle MacLachlan was one of the few redeeming qualities of the original campy epic, so the situation is a bit reversed. And I certainly have no qualms about the newbie's ability to act. He's moody, brooding and often deeply confused and troubled by what is unfolding around him...and sometimes to him. I think his character will probably grow on me in future viewings. Different isn't always a bad thing.
I also felt the Guild's part in the politics of the plot was completely skimmed over, and that seemed a huge disservice. The introduction of the Guild and its completely spice-addicted navigators is monumental to framing the political conflict in the novel and played a big role in the original film. (The spice must flow.) What happened here? If it was cut for the sake of the run time...well, it seems there are a lot of other less important details that could have ended up on the cutting room floor. It really bothered me that this vital piece of the story was missing, other than a mention or two.
But the biggest thumbs down for me was that they have apparently divided the book into two parts, probably because that's Hollywood's way of squeezing an epic for every dime they can get. But by doing so, the audience doesn't get the full experience. It didn't work out too well with The Hobbit, and I wasn't pleased to discover that once again I wouldn't be getting the complete story. But Dune, at least, had enough substance and plot to hold the audiences' attention, which isn't something I can say for any of The Hobbit installments. So there's that.
In spite of the negatives, my overall rating is still a thumb's up. Whether you've been a fan of Dune for most of your life via the original movie(s) or the novel(s) or if you're thinking about experiencing it for the first time in the cinema, my advice is to GO! Go see it and form your own opinions. It's definitely worth the time and the ticket price and isn't an insult to your intelligence, which is more than I can say for most of the fare coming out of tinsel town in recent years.
Have you seen Dune yet? Are you planning to see it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Have a great week.