Here we go again! This is the fourth time putting Frank Herbert’s Dune on the screen. Besides the 1984 cinematic bomb, there was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt in 1974, plus the 2000/2003 mini-series on the old Sci-Fi Channel. Will this one be any good?
It’s the year 10,191 and nobody’s invented sunglasses? Really? If you’ve seen the previous “unfilmable” attempts, you’ll know what’s ahead with director/co-writer Denis Villenueve’s epic, grand-scale opus of political power, spice, and gargantuan worms. On the planet Arrakis (aka Dune), the truly evil Harkonnen (from planet Geidi Prime) lay waste to this peaceful desert planet that belongs to the indigenous Fremen. Why? Nowhere else in the galaxy does the Spice Melange exist, which is critical for space travel, amongst other nice things like extending life. In an act of underhanded treachery and a power-play to get rid of House Atreides (the good guys), the Emperor (who we never see) has the Harkonnen leave Dune after decades, giving the spice-mining operation to super-cool Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his son, Paul (Timothee Chalamet).
I quote Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”, but more on that later. Meanwhile, Paul and his mom, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), have got bigger problems. While Jessica is being chastised by her Bene Gesserit reverend mother (Charlotte Rampling) for having a boy, Paul is being plagued by dreams and premonitions of a certain Fremen girl, his buddy Duncan Idaho’s (Jason Mamoa) death, and the local Fremen who keep telling him he’s like Harry Potter. . . a prophesied savior to free them. So, no pressure. Pretty soon a sneak attack comes, led by brutal Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista) of House Harkonnen, nephew of the floating fat man, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard). Rabban, along with the Emperor’s powerful Sardaukar troops, crush House Atreides, but Paul and his mum manage to escape to the desert.
While being pursued, Paul and Jessica meet Fremen leader Stilgard (Javier Bardem), and the girl from Paul’s dreams, Chani (Zendaya). Just as you want to see what happens next (the Water of Life, riding a sandworm, etc.) the movie ends with part one. Part one?? Yup, this film is split in two (surprise!!), with part two TBA, so you’re gonna have to wait. You’ll see many things in this screen adaptation by Villenueve, Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), and Jon Spaihts (Dr. Strange) from the 1984 version and miniseries, but no Emperor, no “wielding module”, no Feyd Rutha, no “folding space”, and no pug dogs. Awww! What you WILL see is wildly imaginative space ships (the helicopter/dragonfly hybrids are cool), outstanding production values & sets, costuming, and acting.
Villenueve, like Michael Bay, is known for his sweeping, grandiose, magnificent camerawork and that LOUD signature pounding musical sting/sound of “BWWRROOOUUMMM” that accompanies nearly every shot. I happen to be (probably the only one) a fan of the 1984 version for all its campiness and silly exposition, however this one, clocking in at 2hrs and 25mins, really took its time with storytelling and character, even though there was a weak main antagonist. Isaac is ever the stalwart, but Chalamet inhabits the role with such great intensity and strength, as does Ferguson as his fearless mother. And what’s up with their electronic body shields? I must say, those things are pretty ineffectual! LOL!
**Now showing in theaters and streaming on HBOMax
Depending on what version you saw: the 136 minute Alan Smithee (fake name) theatrical release or the 188 minute DVD/Blu-ray by director David Lynch with narration, extended scenes, and a lengthy prologue. But in any case, this movie was a juggernaut at the time.
There are SO many revolving, interconnecting stories that I may have to omit some plot points. It’s 20,000 years in the future and the one thing binding the universe together is the Spice Melange. It’s needed for space travel, expanding life, and just about everything, but it’s only found on one planet, Arrakis (aka Dune). Naturally, whoever controls the spice controls the universe. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, there’s a power struggle between House Atreides (the good guys) and House Harkonnen (the bad guys). But nasty Emperor Shaddam (Miguel Ferrer) plans a secret coup to destroy House Atreides so that he can win favor with the Harkonnen’s. To do this, he’ll need to kill Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), the only heir to the throne of his daddy, Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow).
But there’s a snag: After the good Duke takes over Arrakis as ruler, he’s killed by a sneak Harkonnen attack! Paul and his pregnant mom, Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) get lost in the vast, unforgiving desert of Dune when they’re found by the Fremen, a tribe of glowing blue-eyed nomads that like to ride Godzilla-sized sandworms. Here, Paul drinks the Water of Life (yummy!), has his “eyes opened”, and changes his name to Paul Muad’Dib. As the Harkonnens take over Arrakis, Paul leads the Fremen on an all-out war to destroy the bad guys using voice-amplified weapons. Once defeated, Paul (with just his voice) dramatically kills Feyd Rutha (Sting), and becomes the Kwisatz Haderach, the super-being.
Screenwriter & director David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) had a daunting task, to be sure. Take Frank Herbert’s massive sci-fi novel(s) and make a movie from them? Like Watchmen, some say it was unfilmable, but Lynch did it (actually it was Alejandro Jodorowsky who did it first, but it never got filmed. Check out his documentary!) and paid the price with a magnificent box office bomb. He was so embarrassed that he took his name off the film, using the fake moniker, Alan Smithee, instead. Universal offered Lynch to make his own ‘director’s cut’, which he made years later.
Personally, I liked it! I have the 188-minute version and it’s incredible. Since this was made in 1984, it’s full of 80’s cheesy stuff like the over-acting of Kenneth McMillian’s ‘bloated fat man’ Baron Harkonnen, the goofy SPFX of the Spice Guild Navigators that look like talking butts with eyes, the expositional opening prologue, and six-year-old Alicia Witt as Paul’s little sister, Alia, who’s dubbed over with some silly cartoonish Simpson’s voice. Then you have the impressive sets, production designs, and costumes, not to mention those ginormous sandworms which are quite impressive, given the times. MacLachlan is excellent as Paul and carries the movie with a sort of wide-eyed wonderment until his world is turned upside down.