Movie Review: Dune

 

I got dragged to see the new adaptation of Dune, and it sucked. The movie takes place a million years in the future when everyone is a brooding bore who can’t speak above a whisper. It has less color than if it were shot in black and white.

I get it. Twenty minutes in, I wanted to scream, “I get it!” This is capital-S Serious cinema. Director Denis Villeneuve worked with a $165 million budget to make a blockbuster action movie based on a popular IP, but he wants you to know at heart he’s an impoverished artist who will bring his vision to the screen no matter what. He’s part of the 1% (you could place him in an even more impressive fraction of that percent if you want to do the math) and the payout from Dune will afford him another mansion, but fear not he’s as much an artist as the director who lives off ramen and sells his belongings to fund his weird arthouse project. Hence the entire cast speaks in hushed tones with the solemnity of a child’s funeral. I wanted every character to die, but even had they, how would that change their performances?

The story is about the desert planet Arrakis and blah, blah, blah. Villeneuve is the hot thing among Reddit cinephiles probably because of his French surname. Our only hope is they come to their senses when they realize he’s French Canadian. Quebecois chauvinism is as strong as its European counterpart, which is hilarious because without the countryside, Degas, rustic wineries, and pretty girls with “liberated” views of sex, it’s completely unwarranted. Canada isn’t a bucolic postcard landscape, where you’re always a walk away from a cobblestone road and the smell of baking bread, where you can visit the Eiffel Tower, where there’s a rich history of literature and philosophy. It’s a frigid wasteland; Hell if Satan half-assed it.

In fairness, French filmmakers are nigh intolerable, but we put up with their pretensions because of nudity. Sure their films feature listless smokers and their ennui, but they also feature young breasts being fondled. Dune does not feature nudity, though there’s nothing enticing about the thought of Timothée Chalamet staring gravely at Zendaya’s desaturated, dimly lit rack so maybe that’s for the best. Instead, we get endless shots of sand, a necessity given the source material, but was it a necessity to color grade the film like they were using a brew of piss and ash for reference?

Dune is ugly and not in a repulsive or otherwise interesting way. No-modifier-needed ugly. There are some visuals to appreciate. A line of palm trees stand against a monolithic edifice in a shot stark and powerful. What appears to be a bubble emerges in a vat of oil until we realize it’s the bald head of Baron Vlad Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård). The ornithopters have wings that flutter like a dragonfly’s and that’s neat. The movie is also loud. Spells of mumbling are broken by gunfire, explosions, and the clang of machinery so loud it shakes the theater seats. Underneath every ASMR video someone makes a joke about how we’re at the mercy of the uploader who could throw in some ear-shattering sound at any moment. Villeneuve seems to have taken that as inspiration. Maybe he’s a visionary after all.

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), futuristic dweeb.

Thankfully exposition is minimal. Unlike most sci-fi epics, we’re spared the indignity of names like Galex Varpann and BH-380. Instead, it’s Paul and Jessica and Duncan, though this is thanks to the original author Frank Herbert. I have not read the Dune novels, and every time someone commends this film for its faithfulness, it’s evermore damning evidence I shouldn’t.

My main thought while watching was why wasn’t this greenlit for the big screen during the Bush administration? Its story of desert people in conflict with an invading force over a valuable resource is an allegory so blunt and unmissable it’d make Hollywood producers harder than when they hear the sobs of an aspiring actress undressing in their office. Villeneuve is lucky it wasn’t. The time is ripe for megabudget, self-important slop aimed at nerds who mistake being boring with being profound. This same year people were overjoyed to subtract four hours from their life to watch Superman. Dune is already doing big numbers and is the talk of Twitter. Look forward to hours-long video essays analyzing every frame in autistic detail. They’ll make the movie look entertaining in comparison to their droning. Maybe that’s intentional.

Now I want to see David Lynch’s Dune from ‘84. It might be bad, and is probably not a success on its own terms, but like Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection, will be interesting from the mere fact of being a giant studio investment handed to a person totally unsuited to the material. It’s also a glimpse into the Lynch-directed Return of the Jedi that never was. Dune (2021) was terrible. I’m glad I’m no longer watching it, and won’t get roped into seeing the sequel.

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  1. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    I wish I could be this honest with other people about damn near anything.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    The Girlie Show: Things that suck

    Nice tags.

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    “I wanted every character to die, but even had they, how would that change their performances?”

    A typically funny, quotable Girlie Show gem. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I have no idea if I’ll agree or disagree with the review. But when Cat III takes the keyboard, I always agree with the laughs. 

    Plus it reminds me of the overall tone of Mad Magazine’s “Borey Lyndon” (1976). 

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    The Girlie Show: Canada isn’t a bucolic postcard landscape, where you’re always a walk away from a cobblestone road and the smell of baking bread, where you can visit the Eiffel Tower, where there’s a rich history of literature and philosophy. It’s a frigid wasteland, Hell if Satan half-assed it.

    They’re going to need fire extinguishers in Canada tonight after that burn.

    • #4
  5. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    It always sounded to me like the Dune books are also a load of self-important dreck, so it may be that this movie is indeed very faithful to the source material.

    • #5
  6. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Did you like it, though?

    • #6
  7. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    OMG! Have to show to my french wife.  (I have Quebeçois ancestry.)  Who cares about the movie?   You have drawn a profound distinction between the true French and their Canadian imitators.

    • #7
  8. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    The Girlie Show: it’d make Hollywood producers harder than when they hear the sobs of an aspiring actress undressing in their office.

    Beautiful line. I’m living that now as I got my paperwork yesterday for Biden’s No Jab, No Job proposition. 

    • #8
  9. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    I found the movie mildly entertaining.  Especially in this COVID age of cinema where about any content makes it to the screen.

    • #9
  10. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    That subtitle – “It Begins” – that sounds like a threat.  Like there are more of these to come.  Is this the beginning of a series, like Star Wars?

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    That subtitle – “It Begins” – that sounds like a threat. Like there are more of these to come. Is this the beginning of a series, like Star Wars?

    It is a series of several books.

    • #11
  12. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    “I wanted every character to die, but even had they, how would that change their performances?”

    A typically funny, quotable Girlie Show gem. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I have no idea if I’ll agree or disagree with the review. But when Cat III takes the keyboard, I always agree with the laughs.

    Plus it reminds me of the overall tone of Mad Magazine’s “Borey Lyndon” (1976).

    I never read MAD, but I did see Barry Lyndon on TCM a few weeks ago. It was long, and yes it was plenty boring briefly interrupted by sex, only to return to boring, ending without much of a point. Perhaps all that was the point – life is boring and pointless, interrupted by brief spasms of thrill – but then why make it more boring and pointless with a movie like that?

    • #12
  13. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    kedavis (View Comment):

    It always sounded to me like the Dune books are also a load of self-important dreck, so it may be that this movie is indeed very faithful to the source material.

    Nah, the book is neither self important nor dreck. I only speak of  the first book; I hear most of the others are good too, but I’m just not interested. 

    • #13
  14. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    “Color grade a movie like they were using piss and ash for a reference” was my favorite line. Do you work for Rotten Tomatoes? You should. This review was hilarious and I thought the same thing when I watched the Trailer.  My husband says “I guess we won’t be going to see the new Dune film and I’ll have to wait for it to come out on TV”? Yep……

    I am looking forward to the new Bond movie. I can think of many great books that would make very interesting movies. If they would just bag the comic books and electronic games………

    • #14
  15. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    Hahaha I enjoyed your review. Even though I love Dune and I found this to be a fantastic adaptation, the story is 100% not for everyone. Don’t think Herbert was ever that subtle about it. But you gotta watch Lynch’s Dune and write a review. That movie is so hilarious in so many ways that Lynch never intended.

    • #15
  16. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    The one thing I do not understand is why a movie?  Dune is a very rich world to mine.  A series like Game of Thrones would make more sense and allow the more subtle plot lines to come forward.  

    • #16
  17. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    The one thing I do not understand is why a movie? Dune is a very rich world to mine. A series like Game of Thrones would make more sense and allow the more subtle plot lines to come forward.

    There are likely a couple of reasons. Despite the success of GOT and some other fantasy and scifi tv series in the last decade, Hollywood executives are still nervous about complex, cerebral stories. It took GOT a couple of seasons to catch on (it wasn’t a huge hit right away). This would have to be a hit right away. (So do the upcoming Wheel of Time and Lord of Rings tv series, but they have a very receptive fanbase already.) They also probably can’t get the likes of this cast and director to stick around for a tv series. A miniseries like the old SciFi miniseries might work, but again they may not be able to get this budget, cast, and crew for it. This is still a group that want to be on the big screen.

    I do think the future is TV series. If more and more complex fantasy and scifi series are successful right away, then this will likely happen more. I’m guessing WB want to create a Dune universe with movies and shows, but they’re not Disney/Marvel. So they’re reluctant to think big.

    • #17
  18. W Bob Member
    W Bob
    @WBob

    LC (View Comment):

    Hahaha I enjoyed your review. Even though I love Dune and I found this to be a fantastic adaptation, the story is 100% not for everyone. Don’t think Herbert was ever that subtle about it. But you gotta watch Lynch’s Dune and write a review. That movie is so hilarious in so many ways that Lynch never intended.

    I thought the 84 version wasn’t that bad. I saw it when it came out and I thought it was great, but I was a kid. I still think it’s ok. I haven’t seen this new version, but it seems like it takes a lot of its look and feel from the 84 version. From the appearance of the stillsuits to the artistic license taken with the depiction of Vlad Harkonnen’s perverse habits. And if this version has lots of whispering, as the OP says, so did the original. 

    • #18
  19. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    It always sounded to me like the Dune books are also a load of self-important dreck, so it may be that this movie is indeed very faithful to the source material.

    Nah, the book is neither self important nor dreck. I only speak of the first book; I hear most of the others are good too, but I’m just not interested.

    I second that emotion. I read the first book which was ok. No interest in reading any of the other books or seeing the movies.

    • #19
  20. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    I found the movie mildly entertaining. Especially in this COVID age of cinema where about any content makes it to the screen.

    I agree.  The first movie I’ve seen on the screen in a long time and I was quite absorbed in it.  I haven’t read the book in 40 years and it was like a trip down memory lane.  The brooding dark atmosphere seemed to me to capture what I remember about the book.  I liked it.   

    • #20
  21. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    LC (View Comment):

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    The one thing I do not understand is why a movie? Dune is a very rich world to mine. A series like Game of Thrones would make more sense and allow the more subtle plot lines to come forward.

    There are likely a couple of reasons. Despite the success of GOT and some other fantasy and scifi tv series in the last decade, Hollywood executives are still nervous about complex, cerebral stories. It took GOT a couple of seasons to catch on (it wasn’t a huge hit right away). This would have to be a hit right away. (So do the upcoming Wheel of Time and Lord of Rings tv series, but they have a very receptive fanbase already.) They also probably can’t get the likes of this cast and director to stick around for a tv series. A miniseries like the old SciFi miniseries might work, but again they may not be able to get this budget, cast, and crew for it. This is still a group that want to be on the big screen.

    I do think the future is TV series. If more and more complex fantasy and scifi series are successful right away, then this will likely happen more. I’m guessing WB want to create a Dune universe with movies and shows, but they’re not Disney/Marvel. So they’re reluctant to think big.

    They’re probably watching to see how the Foundation series does too.

    • #21
  22. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    colleenb (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    It always sounded to me like the Dune books are also a load of self-important dreck, so it may be that this movie is indeed very faithful to the source material.

    Nah, the book is neither self important nor dreck. I only speak of the first book; I hear most of the others are good too, but I’m just not interested.

    I second that emotion. I read the first book which was ok. No interest in reading any of the other books or seeing the movies.

    I have a very low – okay, nonexistent – threshold for anything that claims it’s possible to travel through interstellar space based on consumption of some kind of “spice.”

    • #22
  23. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    colleenb (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    It always sounded to me like the Dune books are also a load of self-important dreck, so it may be that this movie is indeed very faithful to the source material.

    Nah, the book is neither self important nor dreck. I only speak of the first book; I hear most of the others are good too, but I’m just not interested.

    I second that emotion. I read the first book which was ok. No interest in reading any of the other books or seeing the movies.

    I read several of the other books and regretted them more the farther I read. 

    The first three books followed the Star Wars movie arc; begin as a one-off story follow with a change-up, and end in embarrassment. And then recycle for ever-diminishing quality. 

    • #23
  24. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Nicely written review/rant. I enjoyed reading it.

    It probably matters whether or not you read the books. Dune‘s is a particularly evocative universe for those who encountered the books at a receptive time in their lives: most specifically, for young men in their teen years. I can easily imagine someone who didn’t pick it up then finding it pretentious and boring today.

    I read the books as a kid. It was a ripping yarn, and one I remember well 45 years later. I wouldn’t enjoy the books today; I don’t even like Frank Herbert’s writing, really. But I’m sure there are a lot of us out there who remember the franchise fondly. (Not enough, I suspect, to make the movie a financial success.)

    I won’t watch this movie. I didn’t care for the earlier theatrical version, found it unnecessarily gross and perverse. And I don’t care for fantasy, which is really what the Dune novels are. But I do think that there are probably two distinct audiences for this movie, and one of them — the one that read the books — may have a different opinion about the film.

    • #24
  25. Yudansha Member
    Yudansha
    @Yudansha

    This review is hilarious and a huge hoot to read.  It’s also wrong in every particular.  This movie is not stupendous, but a pretty good adaptation that has re-created the moody darkness, if not the depth, of the source material.  Feudal societies (which always exist in constant conflict, fear, and turmoil) are not happy places.  Dune is such an interwoven and complex story that it’s not possible to faithfully adapt the whole thing into a visual medium.  This film did a great job with what it could properly adapt.  

     

    Though I must admit, I too have no desire to see Mr. Chalamet in… Um… the altogether.  Zendaya though?  You betcha!

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and
    @Misthiocracy

    It sounds like a perfect adaptation of the novel.

    • #26
  27. Paul Schinder Member
    Paul Schinder
    @PaulSchinder

    kedavis (View Comment):

    They’re probably watching to see how the Foundation series does too.

    The difference is that Apple TV+’s Foundation has next to nothing to do with the Foundation books (used some names and “psychohistory”), while Dune was pretty faithful to the first book.  I stopped watching Foundation after the second episode.  I liked Dune, and was glad to see that Dune Part 2 was announced today.  I’ve read all of the Frank Herbert Dune series (I’m old enough to have read the serializations in Analog), and liked them, although the quality fell off with the later books.

    • #27
  28. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    kedavis (View Comment):

    LC (View Comment):

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    The one thing I do not understand is why a movie? Dune is a very rich world to mine. A series like Game of Thrones would make more sense and allow the more subtle plot lines to come forward.

    There are likely a couple of reasons. Despite the success of GOT and some other fantasy and scifi tv series in the last decade, Hollywood executives are still nervous about complex, cerebral stories. It took GOT a couple of seasons to catch on (it wasn’t a huge hit right away). This would have to be a hit right away. (So do the upcoming Wheel of Time and Lord of Rings tv series, but they have a very receptive fanbase already.) They also probably can’t get the likes of this cast and director to stick around for a tv series. A miniseries like the old SciFi miniseries might work, but again they may not be able to get this budget, cast, and crew for it. This is still a group that want to be on the big screen.

    I do think the future is TV series. If more and more complex fantasy and scifi series are successful right away, then this will likely happen more. I’m guessing WB want to create a Dune universe with movies and shows, but they’re not Disney/Marvel. So they’re reluctant to think big.

    They’re probably watching to see how the Foundation series does too.

    You mean the TV series that’s about as faithful to its title as History of the World, Part 1.

    At least Mel Brooks gave us, “Don’t get saucy with me, Bernaise.”

     

    • #28
  29. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and
    @Misthiocracy

    Paul Schinder (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    They’re probably watching to see how the Foundation series does too.

    The difference is that Apple TV+’s Foundation has next to nothing to do with the Foundation books (used some names and “psychohistory”), while Dune was pretty faithful to the first book. I stopped watching Foundation after the second episode. I liked Dune, and was glad to see that Dune Part 2 was announced today. I’ve read all of the Frank Herbert Dune series (I’m old enough to have read the serializations in Analog), and liked them, although the quality fell off with the later books.

    Indeed, the trailers for Foundation left me firmly convinced that I had zero desire to sign up for Apple TV+.

    In no way shape or form did the depiction of Trantor line up even remotely with what I have in my mind’s eye, which is of course greatly influenced by the cover art of the novels, and the performances by the actors felt like the showrunner is a big fan of the humourless and wooden style of THX-1138.

    i.e. It looks like a snoozefest.

    • #29
  30. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    Paul Schinder (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    They’re probably watching to see how the Foundation series does too.

    The difference is that Apple TV+’s Foundation has next to nothing to do with the Foundation books (used some names and “psychohistory”), while Dune was pretty faithful to the first book. I stopped watching Foundation after the second episode. I liked Dune, and was glad to see that Dune Part 2 was announced today. I’ve read all of the Frank Herbert Dune series (I’m old enough to have read the serializations in Analog), and liked them, although the quality fell off with the later books.

    Indeed, the trailers for Foundation left me firmly convinced that I had zero desire to sign up for Apple TV+.

    In no way shape or form did the depiction of Trantor line up even remotely with what I have in my mind’s eye, which is of course greatly influenced by the cover art of the novels, and the performances by the actors felt like the showrunner is a big fan of the humourless and wooden style of THX-1138.

    i.e. It looks like a snoozefest.

    Well, some people need background noise to sleep, so maybe it’s a valuable service for them.

    • #30