Mildly spoiler review of Dune (2021)

For the first time since the pandemic began, I braved the movie theater experience at the nearby Bay Street AMC location, to see the newly-released Dune film from director Denis Villeneuve. What follows is my lightly spoiler-y review. Basically if you ever saw the 1984 David Lynch version, you will be almost entirely unsurprised by the events of this film, much less the major story beats I mention below. But… you’ve been warned. This is also taken directly from my notes to myself, with minimal editing, so it may be repetitive or otherwise not up to par for a well-written review. I just thought I’d get my initial thoughts out, for what it’s worth…

First and foremost, it was a truly beautiful movie, with great sound (though occasionally hard-to-hear dialog), and good music. However I oddly found myself feeling a bit distant from it all. Possibly in part because it really did echo most of the same scenes and story points as the previous Dune film, which apparently I remember oddly well (I do recall watching several times when I was younger), especially since I haven’t seen the previous film in probably 10+ years. I don’t know whether that speaks to it being more familiar to me than I realize, or if this version truly is a little too similar, even more so than the adaptation from common source material would demand.

I also felt like the main character Paul kind of just got swept along through much of the movie, and faced little real challenge, or at the least wasn’t that affected by the challenges that arose. The hand-in-the-box scene was a bit intense, and showed perhaps some mastery by the character, yet somehow still seemed lower stakes than my memory of the same scene in the earlier film. Likewise the attack, while spectacular and beautiful, seemed less visceral perhaps? Perhaps more importantly, Paul’s reaction to his father’s death was muted (which one could view as hiding from his feelings to some degree), and then simply abandoned quickly during their escape, even though his mother grieved. I get that to some degree him being strong in that situation was potentially good, or that it could be something where he has to confront those suppressed feelings later, but the way they structured it felt like it left no room for that potential before the movie ended. I don’t know, it’s hard to really quantify it all, but just generally I left the theater feeling less invested and affected by it than I expected.

I think part of it may be that the character of Paul really focuses heavily on his visions and future potential, and to some degree he really is just being carried along through much of this film. The earlier Dune showed an entire (second) half of the story that this one reserves for a future sequel, and in many respects it is there that Paul gains more agency. But it’s also true that potential adversity arose in the part of the story told here, and for the most part it was either just Paul being largely unemotional and unaffected by it (with some happier/excited moments that do stand out a bit, e.g. of seeing Duncan), or deciding to just leave his fate in the hands of, well… fate? I mean what else can a prophecy be called. But it felt like unnecessary throwing-up-of-hands, surrender without real stakes? I don’t know, hard to describe.

I think perhaps the scene in the sand storm really nailed this feeling home for me. Just knowing what I know about G-forces I’m pretty damn sure that neither of them would have survived. Paul’s fight with the Fremen warrior toward the end also seemed to demonstrate his mastery without having really earned it previously, or suffered any real defeat, learned any combat lessons, etc. The most we saw of him struggling to be good at fighting earlier was just “not being in the mood”, after which he kicked some ass when his mood shifted.

I’m not certain that Paul’s lack of being much affected by the journey of the story is the only reason I didn’t get that info it, but it’s definitely a big one. I was also just kind of bugged by “it-girl” Zendaya playing Chani, Paul’s Fremen (eventual) love interest in his visions. I dunno, in a way she’s an obvious casting, but only because of the star power-driven approach of Hollywood. I’d much rather see someone unfamiliar to match with the strangeness and feeling of danger of the Fremen. And it would be a fantastic role for a less well-known actor to really make the role their own and perhaps get their own big break. The movie already has more than enough star power! I think it could have been really appropriate for at least someone in that role to not be someone we’ve seen 50 times already. They seemed to have understood this with the majority of the other Fremen, too.

Even Javier Bardem, although a well-known actor, did not stand out so much; it was not so obvious to me who he was and he seemed to inhabit the role quite well I thought. And the rest of the Fremen are largely unknowns, at least to me. When you compare to the stars playing most of the significant figures in House Atreides, this seems like a good contrast, again matching the general unfamiliarity of the Fremen, their ways, their look, etc. So the choice of making Chani someone so of-the-moment and famous stands out, I think. And I get it, she becomes a major character in the next movie. But it’s still a bit disappointing and honestly took me out of the movie more than I already was. Maybe just me? I know there are tons of people who didn’t get enough of her in this first film. :laughing:

Anyway, it was an incredibly well-made movie, with truly spectacular visuals. But I think I found myself much more appreciating it as a piece of cinematic art than as a story, and that’s disappointing. I saw someone comment that it was like a really high budget music video for the Hans Zimmer soundtrack, and while that may be rather hyperbolic, it doesn’t feel entirely wrong either. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes: That said, I’m glad I saw it, I did enjoy it, and I will happily see part two, where I may yet have some of my feelings changed as the story is further advanced and, especially, the characters of Paul and Chani become more developed. Perhaps I’ll appreciate the Zendaya casting more when I can see her with more than a scant few scenes and lines of dialog, many of which were in blurry, choppy visions (visions are supposed to be choppy and blurry, I’m just saying it didn’t showcase much of her in the role :stuck_out_tongue:).

Edit: while looking up some info on the movie to get a few details right in the review, I came across this person who I think does a good job of articulating what I was grasping at above:

As for the theater experience itself, after 18 months of not being in such close quarters with strangers, well… it was mostly fine. People were generally good about mask wearing when not eating, except some people had their mask off their nose. :roll_eyes: