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DUNE gets 5.5/10 An empty sandstorm


Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin

5.5/10

Coming after years of hype and COVID-19 delays, this expensive-looking blockbuster is impressive for its technical qualities and the cinematic impact it has, but it’s all to no avail. This problem is further compounded by the fact that this is only half a film (that you still pay full price for).

This adaptation of Dune is apparently faithful, which means it’s filled to the brim with story and characters. The planet Arrakis is in turmoil over invaders trying to mine it for its precious spice (a key fuel for interstellar travel), which is led by Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). His concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) has a son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) who is practising his combat skills, as well as his hereditary Bene Gesserit powers (ie mind control), in preparation for an imminent war he has visions of – if he manages to pass the test.

A story like this isn’t too original in the sci-fi genre, but it’s ripe with societal connections and allegories that can be made to our own modern world. But that’s the problem with Dune – it never makes that connection from its own fantasy world to our real world. It feels vapid because it either has no subtext or the subtext is too subdued to feel important at all – all this film is about is itself.

It’s undeniably a grand production, full of loud booming music and incredible vast shots of this other world. In terms of the story and characters, all of that is permeated with a strong sense of seriousness. There are a couple of witty lines, both of which you can see in the trailer, but other than that, Dune is a super-serious film and has no time for jokes or levity.

Like Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, this is a blockbuster with art-house aspirations. There’s less action in it than you think (probably because most of it will be in Part Two) and the film highly regards its themes and concepts as much as its highly dedicated technical craft, though it doesn’t have real artistry in how it conveys these themes and concepts, missing an original perspective on them, giving the feeling this is a hugely laboured production rather than a genuine artistic expression.

And then there’s the “ending,” which reflects the “to be continued” times of blockbuster films. It can’t be in just one film because it would be too long, but it also can’t be a TV miniseries because we wouldn’t get the cinema experience. So the audience endures the compromise, watching half the amount or paying twice as much. Other films in a similar predicament, like The Two Towers, make a great effort to still bring filmic closure to an unfinished story, which Dune fails at, limping along to Part Two.

It’s been said that you should see this on the biggest screen possible, which is true because you’re more likely to be distracted from how empty it is. Maybe you shouldn’t see it at all, unless you want to see some really good CGI sand. But on the plus side, it’s still better than the 1984 David Lynch version.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

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