Fear is the mind-killer.
Okay, this one isn’t a horror movie (though it does feature some scary worms that tend to be a little on the large size). This October sees the release of the highly anticipated, third adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 SF classic.
The first adaptation (1984) featured spectacular production and design, but it lurched into incoherence.
The second (2000), a TV miniseries, stuck to the script, but production and performances were not consistently stellar.
Third time’s the charm?
UPDATE: It’s a go for Part Two!
Cast and Crew
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
From the novel by Frank Herbert
Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides
Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica Atreides
Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides
Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho
Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat
Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck
Javier Bardem as Stilgar
Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Dr. Liet Kynes
Chen Chang as Dr. Wellington Yueh
Dave Bautista as “the Beast” Rabban Harkonnen
Zendaya as Chani
David Dastmalchian as Piter de Vries
Charlotte Rampling as Reverend Mother Mohiam
Babs Olusanmokun as Jamis
Benjamin Clémentine as Herald of the Change
Souad Faress as Bene Gesserit Sister
Golda Rosheuvel as Shadout Mapes
Roger Yuan as Lieutenant Lanville
Seun Shote as Arrakeen Residency Gardener
Neil Bell as Sardaukar Bashar
Oliver Ryan as Hawat Specialist
Ben Dilloway as Sardaukar Assassin
Elmi Rashid Elmi as Shamir
Tachia Newall as Tanat
Aristocratic families of the distant future feud over a desert planet with a critical resource, involving in the process the world’s established settlers and a quasi-religious sisterhood hoping to produce a superhuman.
But that’s too much for one movie, so this one ends just as Paul and Jessica join the Fremen.
Villeneuve found a way to take a complex story with a developed historical and cultural context and present it visually. Yes, we lose some details along the way, but he eschews excessive exposition and makes the intricate narrative comprehensible even to people unfamiliar with Herbert’s Dune.
He also made a film visually worthy of your return to a large-screen theatre.
I have a Low Point with a possible expiry date.
Even in a nearly three-hour (two hours and 35 minutes) adaptation of half of the novel, a lot goes missing, necessarily. In this case, we get told, briefly, why the spice matters, and we never see a Guild Navigator. That strikes me as a significant omission. However, the filmmakers have said they were concerned about front-loading too much, and the Guild’s role in Part One’s events may yet be explored– a sort of twist for those unfamiliar with the source material.
Originality: 2/6 We have the third adaptation of a novel from 1965. The director brings his own touch, but he has tried to do a version of the established story.
It seems even less original, because (1) it uses tropes and cultural references more familiar to current viewers than to the novel’s original readers and (2) the source has had a strong influence on the SF-minded. I’m sure that somewhere out there, some clueless audience member is walking out a theatre door and complaining how much this Dune thing rips off Star Wars.
Effects: 6/6 The visuals have been seamlessly integrated.
Production: 6/6 Inspired by the novel, the film creates a melange of a hundred real cultures into a fascinating far-future.
Acting: 5.5/6 The film features an epic cast who, for the most part, give epic performances. Jason Momoa makes a memorable Duncan Idaho, while the Harkonnens are repugnant without becoming full-on WWE grotesques. Zendaya remains a fascinating screen presence, whose key role will be in the second half.
Charlotte Rampling strikes the correct notes as the Reverend Mother.
Story: 5/6 That might be a 6 or a 4, depending on what happens in Part Two.
Emotional Response: 5/6 The film is powerful, but the response is occasionally muted. Timothée Chalamet is an impressive actor whose version of Paul we’re only just beginning to explore.
Overall: 5/6 I give Villeneuve and company credit for making a film of this length move so well. Yes, the pacing of the early portions is deliberate, and not for those with short attention spans. That pace picks up as the story develops.
I have no real issues with most of the changes. The usual suspects have complained about the casting of Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Liet Kynes. However, she does an excellent job as one of the few characters for whom sex is not really relevant. A female Kynes and the expansion of Chani’s role in the first half also provide a balance for contemporary audiences, given that the film needs must maintain the source novel’s overall handling of gender. It’s complex, nuanced, and fascinating, and necessary to how Herbert’s story unfolds, but it is also problematic and dated.
The film accepts Herbert’s world on its own terms, making some allowances for the differences in genre and era. A lot has happened since 1965. I’m struck especially by Herbert’s understanding of imperialism, colonialism, religion, and environmentalism. His analyses may be far from perfect, but they’re certainly prescient.
I only hope we get the next installment, so that, at least, the first (and, IMO, best) of the novels gets a complete, big-budget adaptation.
This first half deserves that more exciting second half (at least), and contemporary audiences must learn the answer to the central question: is Paul Atreides a Man or a Mouse?
In total, Dune receives 34.5/42
Our Mind-Killer Countdown Continues:
Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Vampire Circus (1972)
30: Body Bags (1993)
31. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)