Dune is a technically magnificent film. The massive adaptation to Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel features Jurassic Park or Lord of the Rings-level craft, but… without the fun. Without the feeling.
I love ambition, I love movies that go for it. Denis Villeneuve and company certainly do that as far as the cinematography, costumes, vehicle designs, et al, goes.
Yet on a planet as hot as Arrakis, I just felt cold. Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho is the only character with personality across 155 minutes. Even at such a long runtime, the film has a bewildering propulsive pace; it takes off without waiting for everyone to come onboard. Things happen, but the larger world context, the character dynamics, the romance, the drama, isn’t there. We’re thrust into an intergalactic Game of Thrones space opera with a messiah complex without giving us the map.
It’s not that I was confused. I read (and loved) the book and followed all the action on display, but it was sort of akin to marveling at the world’s fanciest screensaver.
On cue, that fearful voice inside speaks up: “Remember, this is just Part One.” Yes, this film is definitely incomplete. That voice continues with sarcasm: “Villeneuve deserves the Bene-Gesserit of the doubt.” Sure, we all do. I believe Part Two will be better. I envision a sequel that will be the other half of the whole, that will have color, vibrance and hope, mirroring the Fremen revolution, reflecting the rebirth of Arrakis and the overthrow of the Harkonnens. Indeed, Part One is perhaps intentionally cold. This world, this universe has been under the Padishah Emperor rule for too long. Only Aquaman can have a sense of humor under such conditions.
But that’s all conjecture, that’s all homework I’m doing for the movie, because I want to love it and don’t. In a world where everything is a sequel, prequel, part of a franchise or shared universe, a movie must stand on its own or we’ll find ourselves forever making excuses using movies that don’t exist yet, securing the Emperor’s primary goal: more ticket sales.
The truth is that I mostly felt as blank as messiah Timothée Chalamet’s face as tribal music by Hans Zimmer plays over it.
Fear may be a mind-killer, but it’s also more complicated than that. Fear is human, necessary and what we learn from and must explore. What Part One delivers is a black and white reconstruction of a book that sought to examine Western and Middle East’s fractured relations, to explore White Savior narratives (while sometimes falling into its own trap).
As it stands now, this is just a White Savior story. Paul Atreites is the chosen one, the Jesus Christ to save Arrakis/Iraq, to save the oppressed people of color hiding underground, and that’s the last thing I want to watch right now.
The story will become more complicated than that (it better), but right now, it makes me uneasy how much praise this film is getting when I see a movie stuck on the surface level.