Reviewed by: Keith Rowe
A world in which the most valuable substance in the universe is ‘melange’ (also called ‘spice’), a drug that extends human life, provides superhuman levels of thought, and makes faster-than-light travel practical
What is a PROPHET in the Bible? and who is one?
List of Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ
Science fiction fantasy
Nobility and honor
Betrayal / walking into a trap
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.”
Timothée Chalamet … Paul Atreides
Rebecca Ferguson … Lady Jessica Atreides
Oscar Isaac … Duke Leto Atreides
Jason Momoa … Duncan Idaho
Stellan Skarsgård … Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Stephen McKinley Henderson … Thufir Hawat
Josh Brolin … Gurney Halleck
Javier Bardem … Stilgar
Sharon Duncan-Brewster … Dr. Liet Kynes, an Imperial Planetologist
Chen Chang (Chang Chen) … Dr. Wellington Yueh
Dave Bautista … Beast Rabban Harkonnen
David Dastmalchian … Piter de Vries
Zendaya … Chani
Charlotte Rampling … Reverend Mother Mohiam
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|Director||Denis Villeneuve —“Blade Runner 2049,” “Arrival,” “Sicario”|
Villeneuve Films [Canada]
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|Distributor||Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company|
The Padishah Emperor has ordered House Atreides to pack up and move from temperate timberland, Caladan, to arid sandbox, Arrakis. The cosmic house swap is completed when rival House Harkonnen abandons Arrakis for the incoming House Atreides. And so begins an era of peace and prosperity on the Atreides-ruled Arrakis. Guess again!
A member of the Atreides’ inner circle is a traitor. The conspirator arranges for a combined Harkonnen and Sardaukar (Imperial elite soldiers) army to slip into the capital city, Arrakeen, at night. Many Atreides warriors are lost in the battle; those who survive learn, too late, that they were set up from the start.
That bare bones description of “Dune,” the latest cinematic envisioning of Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel, is only half of the overall story since this film is the first of two parts.
If you had a hard time digesting the above synopsis, know that it was even more challenging to summarize Herbert’s sprawling epic. Aside from its Machiavellian intrigue, planet-hopping plot, coming-of-age subplot and pseudo-religious underpinnings, the story’s expansive glossary of terms (ornithopters, hunter-seekers, stillsuits, in addition to all the proper nouns listed above) is enough to give you a brain freeze… even on Arrakis.
A world (universe) so rich with different races, beliefs, creatures, weapons and cultures brings to mind another fictional masterwork, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, it isn’t much of a stretch to say that Dune is to science fiction what “The Lord of the Rings” is to fantasy. They’re the high-water marks for their respective genres.
For all the diehard, deep cut “Dune” fans out there, I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject. However, I’ve seen David Lynch’s 1984 film (several times), the mini-series that aired in 2000 on the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy), and have listened to the unabridged audiobook. That said, take my comments with a grain of sand …or salt.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”), “Dune” is a visually breathtaking film. The set design, particularly the interiors of the Arrakeen buildings, is nothing short of inspired and lends the film an aesthetic that’s familiar (based on human architecture), yet otherworldly. The costumes, weapons and technology are all well crafted and seamlessly blend into the story’s milieu.
Particularly striking is the film’s array of surface and space-faring ships. The dragonfly-like ornithopters are fun to watch as they flit over dunes and mountains. The harvesters fit the bill as large cargo vessels with tank treads to help them slowly amble across the desert terrain.
Due to their immense size and angular designs, the capital ships are jaw-dropping. They almost have a physical presence when ominously hovering above the surface. The surreal atmosphere created in these scenes is similar to the effect Villeneuve achieved in “Arrival” (2016) with his massive, contact lens-shaped alien ship.
Villeneuve has assembled an impressive ensemble of performers. Yet, some of the parts seem miscast. For instance, Timothee Chalamet (as Paul Atreides) is ten years older than his character and seems too brooding for the part. Oscar Isaac (Leto Atreides) is too hard-edged and fails to capture the world-weary aspect of the character, as portrayed in the book.
In my opinion, Jason Momoa and Dave Bautista don’t fit their parts and were brought in merely to shore up the movie’s action scenes (and to attract fans of their other movies). I’m conflicted about Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck. Javier Bardem and Stellan Skarsgård are perfect in their roles. The women are all fabulous, especially Charlotte Rampling as the Reverend Mother.
Despite its stellar production, this film isn’t everything I’d hoped it would be. Compared to the film’s massive scale, the characters seem small and insignificant. Indeed, the characters are swallowed up (as if by a sand worm) by the expansive sets and the sheer magnitude of the story. Character moments are few and seem insignificant against the backdrop of interstellar war.
Even the action sequences are uninvolving and (here’s something I never thought I’d say) too short. To provide an omniscient view of the battles, many of the scenes were filmed from a distance. As a consequence, the audience doesn’t get to feel the pulse-pounding intensity of close combat or experience the jeopardy that comes with following the main characters through the battle (e.g., the melees in “The Lord of the Rings”). The notable exception is when Momoa’s Duncan Idaho sacrifices himself Boromir-style to give his friends time to flee the rapidly approaching Sardaukar.
As with many movies, the biggest drawback here is the story; the screenplay was adapted by Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth. Though their script remains faithful to the source material (in most respects), the writers focused their attention on servicing the fans more than clarifying story elements for the newcomers. Granted, the narrative can be confusing, even to the initiated, but the writers failed to provide adequate context for the story’s plethora of planets and peoples. They dole out bits of exposition at a pace that might lose some spectators. If I wasn’t already familiar with the world of “Dune,” I would’ve been thoroughly confused by this presentation of Herbert’s novel.
One element that should remain invisible in any movie is the score. As a rule, noticing the music isn’t a good thing, because it can pull you out of the reality of the film. Much of Hans Zimmer’s score for “Dune” is like listening to an army of rhythmically-challenged people pounding on metal garbage can lids with turkey legs. This type of grating, banging, industrial sounding accompaniment, complete with screaming electric guitars, is fitting for the handful of Harkonnen scenes, but not for the bulk of the score.
Some of the music is noteworthy; Middle Eastern sounds are used for the Fremen scenes, and there’s a beautiful passage with a soprano during one scene. But, overall, the word I’d use to describe Zimmer’s score is “obnoxious” (or perhaps just “noxious”). I recently purchased his soundtrack for “No Time to Die” which is way, way better (and far more listenable) than this effort.
Alcohol/Drugs: No alcoholic beverages are imbibed in the film. The main industry on Arrakis involves the production of spice, a type of psychoactive drug.
Nudity and Sexual Content: Baron Harkonnen’s exposed, morbidly obese shape is seen through a dense cloud of steam. Leto Atreides’ bare chest is seen as he lies in bed. Later, a table covers Leto’s private areas; we see his bare legs and torso in several different shots/angles. Paul takes off his shirt as he changes into his stillsuit. There’s mention of a rape that transpired in the past.
Violence and Graphic Content: Much of the combat is obscured by smoke, fire or the shimmering of personal shields. Also, a good portion of the fighting is filmed at a distance, so gory displays typically aren’t foregrounded. It’s implied that two people are decapitated, but the violence takes place off-screen.
In several scenes we see bloody knives/swords or bloody hands. One character is impaled with a dart. Some characters are swallowed whole by a giant sand worm.
The struggle inside the ornithopter is one of the most violent sequences in the film. Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) uses her Weirding voice to make Harkonnen soldiers stab themselves or each other.
Two characters engage in a knife duel late in the film.
Most of the violence isn’t overly graphic or bloody.
Vulgarities: “Dune” has a relatively low number of swear words: h*ll (2), d*mn (2), a** (1) and sh*t (8). The movie has a few instances of inappropriate or irreverent speech: “good omen,” “like demons,” “My God!” and “God in heaven!”
Some of the terminology in “Dune” was inspired by Earth religions. Terms like Bene Gesserit (similar to Jesuit) and Reverend Mother have heavy Roman Catholic influences. Even the weapon “crysknife” sounds like its etymological root is in “Christ” or “Christian.”
The Atreides (Christians, Jews) are characterized as colonizers and capitalists, while the nomadic Fremen (Muslims) are the religious rebels who seek to wage a holy war against their oppressors. There’s a clear pro-Muslim bias here since the goal of the desert dwellers is to overthrow the industrialists so they can transform Arrakis into a paradise.
Though it’s en vogue to cheer for the downtrodden, it’s dangerous when those groups adhere to radical ideologies that promote the slaughter of Jews and Christians, believers in the one, true God (I Timothy 2:5). Alarmingly, pro-Muslim sentiment has permeated Western culture, especially our entertainment and media. Even iconic films like “Star Wars” (which may have been partially inspired by “Dune”) feature a rebel force destroying the fortress of oppressive imperialists. It’s a satisfying resolution because good triumphs over evil. However, in our modern world, where the line delineating good and evil has become increasingly blurred, and when many call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), discernment is needed when choosing sides.
Early in the film, it’s mentioned that the Bene Gesserits have been trying to breed “The One,” which hints at Paul’s potential to become a religious leader. Also, Paul sees visions of the future, which makes him a prophet at the very least.
When Paul arrives on Arrakis for the first time, the Fremen crowds shout a word that translates as “messiah.” This sequence is reminiscent of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11). It’s mentioned that the Fremen are preparing the way for the arrival of their savior, which is what John the Baptist did for Christ (Mark 1:3).
Later in the film, Paul fulfills the Fremen prophecy “he shall know your ways as if born to them.” This gives further credence to the belief that Paul is the Fremen messiah. However, regardless of how heroic Paul is portrayed, the Bible clearly states that only Jesus is the way, truth and life (John 14:6).
The religious symbolism in “Dune” has been analyzed by amateurs and scholars for decades, so I’ll wrap up my comments on the subject by saying there’s a great deal to consider for those interested in digging deeper into the topic.
Shifting to some ancillary issues, the movie’s MacGuffin is the spice (melange), which is created by the sand worms. In addition to allowing rapid transit through space, spice is used as a drug and allows people to see future events. As with real drugs, constant exposure to the spice can create dependency and produces brain-altering effects.
The drug epidemic was blossoming in 1965, when the book was released. Sadly, our nation’s drug problem is far worse today.
When Paul engages in personal combat with a Fremen challenger, Lady Jessica says he’s never killed a man. Since the contest is to the death, Paul kills the Fremen. Not only is the murder permitted, it’s required by Fremen custom. Though done in self-preservation, Paul’s murderous act is a violation of the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13).
Despite being the best visualized version of Herbert’s classic, this version of “Dune” is a mild disappointment.
Unlike its scorching hot environs, the story is cold and aloof, offering insufficient context and scant character development. In a strange paradox, the film manages to be both awe-inspiring (production) and uninspiring (story).
The ending leaves the audience lost in the desert. We’ll see if they find their way back to the theater for “Dune, Part 2.”
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.