Dune is one of those books you had to read during my high school, along with the Lord of the Rings, the Foundation series, and anything by Herman Hesse, or you just weren’t cool. I was cool, so I read all of them, the most mind-blowing of the group being, of course, Dune. Thank God for the glossary in the back or I would never have made it through.
And being such an epic and hipster-regarded story, it was inevitable that Hollywood would attempt to screen it, with mixed results. The David Lynch version is first to mind, and, as I’ve previously mentioned, really ain’t that bad, and probably should have been the last attempt. But, you know, a big story attracts big attention and that 1984 Dune is a little too campy for modern sensibilities and since the Avengers are dead and Hollywood can’t come up with any other movies worth watching, let’s cull old material. So here comes Denis Villeneuve’s version.
Lots of critics have been saying this is the epic greatest scifi film ever made and you should really see it on Imax and, since it is one of the stories marking my high school coolness, I had somewhat of an obligation. Not on Imax, just your piddlin’ regular Alamo screen and …
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, it’s the story and the acting is good, the direction is good, the cinematography is good. It’s good. But it ain’t the greatest scifi movie I’ve ever seen. That title still belongs to Blade Runner and Gattaca, sharing first place. This is a ‘me, too’ movie, you know, some director looks back at some other director’s work and wants to join in. Not that I’m so accusing Villeneuve, he shows a genuine respect and love for the source material, but I don’t see what new thing he brought to the table. Usually you expect a different viewpoint or take with a remake or reboot, like, say, the Bene Gessirit being some kind of manipulative, backstabbing bunch of witches (which they are) but you don’t get all those motivations for said backstabbing in this version. Nary a mention of their generations-long genetic and DNA manipulations, which are kinda important here. You don’t get a lot of other context anywhere in this version, either; Villeneuve apparently assumes you know the story. Because I do know the story, I didn’t have a problem. Which means I don’t know if this movie actually fleshes everything out or I’m doing so from prior knowledge.
It’s a dusty film, kind of ironic for something called ‘Dune,’ but a lot of the shots are obscure and distant and gigantic, which is probably why it should be seen on Imax. The CGI is excellent and the scenery is spectacular but, ya know, you expect that these days. The Harkonnens are not Harkonnen enough, IMHO, Lynch’s portrayal being half the fun of his movie. But the Sardaukar are just downright evil, and salute to Villeneuve for the depiction. You really don’t want those guys after you. The Fremen, eh, they’re the Fremen, guys with blue contact lenses pretending to be an oppressed desert race which, why? Guys should get with the program, I mean, my goodness, have you seen what the Imperium offers? Don’t have to live in caves in the desert getting chased by giant worms, ya know.
This, of course, has always been a puzzlement about the story. Yes, yes, need the Fremen to serve as the indigenous natives oppressed-by-civilization trope, but this is the far future, man, and you’d think the Fremen would be happy to secure their own planet in exchange for all the fabulous wealth that the spice provides. Think the Emperor could work out a much better deal with them than with the varying crapheads he has to keep moving in and out of management. But as one who strongly believes that people will remain crapheads forever, no matter how far in the future we go, this aspect of the story fits nicely with my convictions. Still, interested parties should have come to mutual agreements by now.
I’ve heard the usual whiners complaining that this is the Great White Saviour story but that means you didn’t pay attention to the book nor this movie. Clearly stated is that the Bene Gessirit have been sowing tales of the Great White Savior among the Fremen for quite some time now, so it’s not some White Male Patriarchy at work, but Female Witch political intrigue having to do with their manipulation of genetics and their desire to create The One.
What am I talking about? Read the book. Much will come clear.
And stay tuned for Part 2.