The much-anticipated release of the remake of “Dune” is finally here. Is it worth the wait? That really depends upon your perspective and investment in the book and/or the original David Lynch film from 1984. If you’re not a fan, you can skip reading the rest of this review because this film is not for you.
The writing team of Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth, and Denis Villeneuve who also directed the film, created a much more cohesive storyline than the original allowing viewers to follow the origins of the characters and their future tragectory. Unfortunately, the special effects team seems to have highjacked that script to showcase ad nauseum battle scenes.
At the core of the film is a struggle for power over resources; a time-old tale, but in this case it’s a spice on the planet Dune or Arakis. This spice has healing powers, longevity and the ability to fold space and time. Of course, the indigenous people, the Fremen, using their planet’s elements to survive, are overtaken and brutally ruled by the evil Harkonnens. The Emperor, in order to squash the growing power of the Atreides from the planet Caladan lead by Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his witchy wife Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) who bore him a forbidden son, Paul (Timothee Chalamet), ousts the Harkonnens and places Duke Leto at the helm of Arakis. (Are you still with me?) A bold militaristic move by the Emperor which sets up the ensuing onslaught of battles to come.
This complicated tale — this is only Part I of II — focuses upon that forbidden son, Paul. Is he the chosen one? Is he the one all people have prophesied? With plenty of religious references, Paul is tested to make that determination. Paul’s teacher, his mother, also questions whether or not her son is “the one” as they fight for their lives and begin to understand the power of the people and this orange spice.
The entire tone of the film is dark and foreboding. Catastrophes loom around every corner, heightening your anticipatory response of death. And these deaths are gratuitously violent ones not sparing the viewer any sordid detail. Additionally, visually stunning scenes take us to these other-worldly planets in a galaxy far, far away as both Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), Paul’s idol and Duke Leto’s right-hand man and guard Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) are constantly engulfed in hand to hand mortal combat. The constant emotionally morbid feel overrides the story. With no relief and no variation, the film flatlines.
The cast is an all-star one with Chalamet, Isaac, Ferguson, as well as Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista Charlotte Rampling, Stephen McKinley Henderson and many more. Chalamet is the star as he portrays Paul who is coming into his own. This boy is haunted by his visions, particularly of a Fremen woman (Zendaya), as Chalamet finds a small range of personality to connect us with this character. And Ferguson’s strength as she depicts a mother who is trying to protect her son comes across as one of the best performances in the huge cast.
“Dune” is a long-winded and bloated film typifying what men do to overpower others…they fight. While there’s a glimmer of hope with the character of Duke Leto, it’s not enough. And yes, the special effects are quite special, but the battle scenes are so repetitive and long that they become dull and ineffectual. Perhaps Part II wouldn’t have been necessary if the writers would have focused on doing one thing…telling the story.
1 1/2 stars