DUNE -- WHERE DO I BEGIN?
Hype and enthusiasm for Denis Villeneuve's Dune (2021) has been high among critics and viewers alike since Warner Bros. announced the remake. Having read the books, seen the flawed original produced in 1984, this critic with curbed enthusiasm attended last night's preview.
Timothée Chalamet portrays Paul Atreides, the heir to his father's dukedom destined to change their new home, Arrakis, the desert planet once ruled by House Harkonnen, the House of Atreides' enemies. Manipulated by the Emperor of the Imperium, the Harkonnens' ruler Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård) reluctantly allows Duke Atreides (Oscar Isaac), the latter's family and soldiers to replace their predecessors' control of the spice trade on Arrakis. Soon, the Duke's decision to relocate leads to tragic consequences.
Villeneuve has directed some of the most creative beautifully shot and told films in the last decade, e.g., Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). The auteur, nevertheless, has become too enamored with technique and forgotten his audience: those who admire the books, those who haven't read the stories but seen the first film, plus those who haven't read Dune or seen the earlier movie.
Early on, the poor sound editing/mixing became apparent. Sitting ten rows from the screen, the often-inaudible dialogue began to distract: naysayers, my hearing not an issue. The dark filters, "natural lighting," recalled other films where this choice ruined much of the viewing experience, Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) comes to mind. Faces often become obscured; Chalamet's hair repeatedly flying over his eyes doesn't help. On occasion, the chiaroscuro lighting effects of the desert recalled one of Villeneuve's, and many other directors' adoration for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) underlining some rare, stunning cinematic moments.
Breathtaking CGI such as the ships, inventive props; gadgets will impress techies. Unlike other sci-fi, fantasy films, though, these objects become primary to the visual experience versus the characters.
Plot-wise, too many dream sequences along with quick scene changes, detract from the story. Villenueve's decision to split the film into two parts, elongates the already plodding momentum, except for some battles. As one young man stated when we left the theater, "That's the longest two and a half hours I've ever sat through."
One cannot fault the actors. Chalamet, Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson (Lady Jessica), Josh Brolin (Gurney), Javier Bardem (Stilgar), Jason Mamoa (Duncan) all do their best to embody the iconic characters from the book. Stellan Skarsgård and Charlotte Rampling (as Gaius Helen) have little to do. More so, Zendaya (Chani) fans will be disappointed as we mainly see her in dream sequences until this movie's last few scenes. No introduction tis given o the Emperor, his daughter of the court, an integral part of the first half of the book and postponed until Part II.
One bright spot--Composer Hans Zimmer, once again, captures the mood of Dune to perfection.
Considerable criticism has been thrown at the 1984 predecessor to this version and its director, David Lynch. But by the end of Dune (2021), I wanted to rewatch and savor the (extended), albeit outrageous, forerunner. Lynch's film adaption is much more fun.
Rated PG-13 for frightening battles, minimal language, and pain.
Now showing at a theater near you.
Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com
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