Dune (2021). Film review of the blockbuster starring Timothée Chalamet

Standard

Science fiction

Helen Blaby

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Jason Day

star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Win Hughes

1 Star/Awful/Give this one a miss

Mike Williams

image four star rating very good lots to enjoy

Film review of Dune (2021). the science fiction spectacular based on the books of Frank Herbert about warring, intergalactic aristocratic families. Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac and directed by Denis Villeneuve.

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Synopsis

The all-powerful Emperor of a far-off galaxy decrees that a new noble family – House Atreides – will manage the collection and distribution of the substance Spice, highly prized for its ability to make interstellar travel safe and swift only located on Arrakis, a desert planet. The Atreides household – Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), his paramour Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) – are commanded to up sticks from their home on Planet Caladan.

On arrival, it soon becomes clear that the Atreides’ have been set up to fail and are in the middle of a cosmic conspiracy.

Review, by @blabers, @win_hughes, @Reelreviewer and @mikewill37

Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.

Duncan Idaho (Josh Brolin).

Despite being an industry that has sold millions of books, spawned numerous movie and TV adaptations and is a regular staple in the ‘comic-con’ world, there isn’t an official – or even unofficial – name for Dune fans.

A ‘Duniverse’ that describes the whole kit and kaboodle of places, people and possessions in Frank Herbert’s work and the media offshoots is referred to, but there doesn’t appear to be a single term like Trekkie (for Star Trek) for individual admirers.

Perhaps I have too much time on my hands, but I like my Herbert and am usually turned off by sci-fi, so my inner nerd wants to come out. I’ll go with ‘ArraKid’; I like that.

Now, on with the review (please note there will be frequent references to David Lynch’s 1984 film Dune which I use as a cinema equivalent rather than the many TV versions. It’s a movie I admire very much).

“Windswept and interesting…”; the sleeper has awakened. Timothée Chalamet is Paul Atreides in Dune (2021).

Dune (2021) is – thanks to coronavirus – another addition to the list of movies completed ages ago we are only just getting to see. Being a (self-styled) ‘ArraKid’ after reading Herbert’s work and watching David Lynch’s interesting take on it in 1984, I was naturally very interested in seeing the new movie, especially when it’s release date kept getting pushed back.

Dune (2021) is a lavish, colossally budgeted piece (around $160m), funds that correct one thing that scuppered the Lynch movie – the special effects.

It could be argued that 1984 special effects – particularly computer-generated effects – were in their infancy, hence why those in Dune seem so chunky and clunky (look at the ‘tetris block’ defence shields used). But Star Wars (1977) was produced earlier, had a much smaller budget and used new computer effects tech and still made the planet sit up in awe and wonder, so that line of reasoning doesn’t stack up. It always seems as if the tech team took the cash and neglected their core duty, to thrill and amaze.

But with the advantage of time and cash, Villeneuve’s movie gives us truly terrifying vision of huge regiments, epic battles and explosions and interstellar travel enabling ships that resemble the ferocious, superbly realised giant sand worms that endlessly stalk planet Arrakis, high on spice that is in the sand, they are over-stimulated and attack the slightest vibration emitted from the dunes above them. Technically, this movie is light years ahead of not just Star Wars, but other science fiction productions.

Dune (2021) opens up a can of worms…in more ways than one. Image: Warner Bros.

Villeneuve has created a movie that replicates being a dream. Perhaps the movie is too slow for some, but there is a very definite feeling that the audience is being hypnotised by the proceedings.

He uses recurring visual motifs that ape images during slumber. Lynch went for droplets splashing into water and creating ripples, images of a mouse-shaped crater on a distant moon and, most shockingly, a fetus being aborted.

Villenevue opts for more easily understood symbolism. Paul’s intended love Chani (Zendaya) calls to him from across space and time; bloodied swords and hands are see in close up; sands endlessly roll and shift and the much sought after Spice dances in the air and fills the bodies and consciousness of those near it.

Another plus point is the incredible sound in this movie, which can be overwhelming. The score is fevered and all over the show, like the disjointedness of a dream. There is the sound of people whispering to Paul, and to us, to all places across the cosmos.

Dune (2021) gets the casting more or less spot-on. Chalamet is a callow youth to start with, but grows in confidence as he becomes a man; Mamoa and Brolin are brusque, macho supports and Isaac, although a good actor, is sidelined as the Duke. It’s a shame we don’t see more of the female characters; Charlotte Rampling in particular as a spooky, senior religious figure, hidden beneath ridiculously heavy veils, could have been utilised more effectively.

Where things go wrong – and it’s more the fault of the writers and director – starts with Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica. I appreciate that writers/directors have their own interpretations of a book and different approaches to telling a story.

But to introduce a character bred and trained to be in complete control of her thoughts, feelings and actions – and, by vocal manipulation, those of others – and then have her wailing with having a snotty nose during several scenes, is illogical. You’d expect a mother to exhibit some form of distress when she knows her son might die during religious interrogation, but also expect her to pull herself together when they two crash-land in the desert and have to spend the night there.

It also – and this might be because we are in a less hedonistic era than the mid-80’s – dodges the more overt references to narcotics and drug counterculture that feature in Herbert’s book. The man himself experimented with psychoactive drugs and Dune can be (rather crudely, I admit) summarised as a story about drug dealers and addicts in outer space. The new movie is a bit callow in this area.

My finals thoughts on Dune (2021) – and, for the avoidance of doubt, I like it – are about its tone. It’s too serious a movie, self-consciously regal and lacking the fun, almost cartoon feel of Lynch’s film. It lasts a long time and – whilst I have no problem with plus-two hour movies, I do balk if the pace is too leisurely and as empty as space itself. At times, I felt Dune (2021) needed the attention of an editor with some ruthless cutting sheers.

There are mixed feelings from my friends who went to the same screening as me. One of us loved it, two weren’t a hundred percent sold and another loved only one thing – the closing credits meaning the ordeal was all over!

Hot as planet Arrakis. Jason Mamoa plays Duncan Idaho in Dune (2021).

Dune is a long film and, sadly, I looked at my watch several times to check how much longer I had to sit through it. From the pretentious, cod mystical soundtrack to the long visions that looked too much like incomprehensible perfume ads at Christmas, it just wasn’t ‘my’ film. There was no zip in the filmmaking or wit. The main female character (played by Rebecca Ferguson) seemed to do nothing but snivel, which seemed a real step backwards in the treatment of women in film. My sole shout-out goes to Jason Mamoa who has real charisma and for him this film gets one star from me. Save yourself two and half hours and do something else instead!

Win Hughes

Two and a half hours of not really knowing what was going on, and wondering if my ears would ever recover can’t take away how amazing the special effects are on this film. Timothée Chalamet has got ‘windswept and interesting’ down to a fine art, even if I did keep getting distracted by his little (chicken pox scar?) dimple on his cheek.

Helen Blaby

Dune treated as it should be. Not too much was crammed in to the running time and the audience was given a well-paced storyline to brilliantly introduce the characters and houses at work here. Although, all being said, if you have a delicate sensitivity you may be put off oil and balsamic vinegar ever again.”

Mike Williams

Cast & credits

Director: Denis Villeneuve. 2hr 35min/155min. Warner Bros./Legendary Entertainment/Villeneuve Films.(12a).

Producers: Cale Boyter, Joseph M. Caracciolo Jr., Fuad Khalil, Mary Parent, Denis Villeneuve.
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth.
Camera: Greig Fraser.
Music: Hans Zimmer.
Sets: Patrice Vermette.

Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Mamoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Chen Chang, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Zendaya, Charlotte Rampling, Babs Olusanmokun, Benjamin Clémentine.

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