Dune (2021) – Movie Review

dune-poster-06oct20Overall: incompetent.

The movie is able to evoke emotions, but not set up plot points. The movie attempts spectacle, but can’t handle larger than life characters or epic situations. It can’t handle even moderately-lifelike characters, either, but that’s equally the fault of the actors–but then why didn’t you cast better actors? The movie attempts to adapt the book faithfully, in parts, but every single scene that is lifted directly from the book was honestly, legitimately done better in the gonzo 1984 version. No, I mean for real, without exaggeration and/or nostalgia filters: the 1984 version did every single specific scene better, from the gom jabbar to Duke Leto’s death to Jessica and Paul reacting to the death! It’s…it’s so poorly done, wow.

That being said, I can count on one hand the scenes which this movie does well: an original scene where Duke Leto accepts the Emperor’s decree; Paul saying good-bye to Caladan; Paul and Jessica escaping from the Harkonnen thugs in the ornithopter; and Paul’s knife-fight with Jamis. Those are good. I will also give it props for the ornitopters, which are extremely neat; and there is also no random pug dog (for the good guys) or cat-milking (for the bad guys.) If you don’t know what either of those things are, count your blessings and stay away from the 1984 version. Just read the book.

chani-dune-2020Well, this movie sets its own distinctive stamp on the procedings immediately: it’s narrated by Chani, instead of by Irulan. Very original. Chani plus the background action gives a brief (although with all the slow-mo it seems longer) overview of the situation on Arrakis. All I’m thinking is that this is 3 minutes in including credits and I am not impressed.

We cut immediately to Paul waking up and this immediately reinforces how the slow-mo of the past three minutes could have been replaced with “Tell me of the waters of your homeworld, Usul,” setting the groundwork for Paul and Chani’s relationship, subtly worldbuilding Arrakis, and a) being less annoying, b) being more accurate to the book. Incidentally, if Liet-Kynes is Chani’s (now) mother, and she’s very black, why is Chani merely pale brown? Dude, I just continue and continue to not be impressed by this girl as Chani. Put her as Irulan if you must cast for brown skin somewhere in your movie. You need someone who is actually lean and tough-looking (like the actress cast as her mother!) as a Fremen girl. They also try wayyyyy too hard to make her a STRONK FEMALE CHARACTER. Hint: she was cool, clever, well-rounded, interesting, badass, and compelling in the books, without forced antagonism towards Paul.

But movies are different than books! Why should movies TRY to be accurate to the books? Because filmmakers are morons, making entertainment for morons, directed, written, staffed, acted, and produced by morons. Prose writers might not be much better, but lacking the crutches that visual media offer, are forced to put a little bit of thought into their works. Movies should hew closely to the books whenever possible in order to borrow the thoughtfulness, internal logic, and worldbuilding that the original authors provided.

dune-delay-rebecca-ferguson-2714968Goddamnit, at 3 minutes and 50 seconds into this movie I AM DETERMINED TO APPROACH IT WITH A NONHOSTILE ATTITUDE. I woke up this morning with a hankering to watch it, I am going to watch it. This looks like Jessica. Jessica is my favorite character in all of science fiction. Let’s see what happens. (Ok, promising, promising, they have the painting of the Old Duke hanging up in the dining room.)

Movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak. For instance: rescuing the spice miner crew –in the book, the rescue ship simply doesn’t show up, having been sabotaged or bought off already. Here, it fails on “one point of contact,” oh noes!….and then buggers off. Not even a direct sabotage or hostile attack, something which would give the Judge of the Change legitimate pause for thought and give Leto’s already-heroic rescue of the crew additional polish. It just…buggers off, and the fact that it’s SINGLE point of failure precipated the whole scene makes Leto attempting to call Liet-Kynes on this makes him come across as blustery and weak.

I have said before and will say again: modern movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak and their actions ineffectual, not to mention letting anybody have badass deaths. Yueh, having been a complete nonentity for the length of the movie, doesn’t even get the courtesy of his defiant last lines to the Baron, showing that he understands completely what he did buy for his Wanna. Duncan Idaho has to effectively come back from the dead in order to make his legendary last stand be effective, because Paul and Jessica JUST STAND THERE while he’s fighting TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE, MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT OF HIS FIGHTING TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE. Liet-Kynes almost manages to have a cool death, though it’s too rushed to have impact.

The director is largely to blame for most of the flatness of this movie. Yes, he’s good at slow-mo and there’s excellent set dressing and here and there he actually manages to inject sneak some color into the costumes (Jessica’s orange dress is so lonely and alone out there, it promptly goes away again and it looked bloody impractical anyway, but IT WAS THERE, wow!) What he’s not good at is, apparently, casting good actors; or drawing competent performances out of mediocre (looking at you, Timothee with two E’s) ones, or poor (looking at you, Zendaya) ones.

I’m not sold on this Jessica, or on her methods, but….Yeah, overall I’m not sold. She has an uncomfortable amount of chemistry with her on-screen son and it a) comes at the expense of her scenes with her actual husband, b) continues throughout the movie, c) IS CREEPY. She’s also far, far too emotional, for a noblewoman, a Duke’s consort, or a Bene Gesserit adept. However, I will say that (albeit with the copious help of ADR special effects on The Voice) she handles the escape scene excellently. This is how you adapt a scene from a novel: make it dynamic.

oscar-isaac-wollte-in-dune-ursprunglich-keinen-bart-haben-980x400-1 I am COMPLETELY unsold on Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto. A subplot of Paul wanting to accompany Duncan on the advance scouting mission has been added, which segues from characterizing Paul for the audience (and this makes him different from in the book, yes, and yes I know why, and yes I’ve already put my thoughts out about that) to providing more exposition for and characterization of Leto. And if you thought that a focus on Leto would showcase his arrogance, determination, family pride, or charisma, guess again.

Josh Brolin, whom I originally thought was Discount Kurt Russell, is….GURNEY HALLECK? The ugly, scarred minstrel guy with the big grin and bigger knives? Really? I always imagined him as blond. Jason Momoa, of course, playing SpaceArmor-Momoa, well, is playing SpaceArmor-Momoa. WITH A MAN BUN. The dude who plays Thufir Hawat drawls like some dude from Brooklyn and is utterly underwhelming. HEY THAT’S JIU CHENG THE GOD OF WAR AS DOCTOR YUEH! I guess it works to have Yueh be comparatively a younger, good-looking guy. Oh gods…was the spider-thing….? Thankfully, this movie glosses right along over that plot point.

Javier Bardem, someone has already noted, is riffing off Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin chieftain, and as such is miles ahead of everyone else in this movie.

Overall, the set dressing is great. It’s clean-looking, with just the kind of retrofuturism that works perfectly for this genre. But then you get little disruptive touches like…shiny beetle faceplates that just…don’t…work. Like: the ceremony of accepting the Emperor’s decree, spaceship landing, robed party walking down the ramp blah blah, all excellent scifi-y stuff. It’s immediately ruined by the shot of the robed people having giant curved opaque faceplates. It’s just off enough to throw you out of immersion.

The soundtrack is trash. I mean, like wow it’s trash. It’s legit just a collection of drones, tones and the occasional thump/bwaaaaa; it adds nothing to the scenes that it overlays. I am not exaggerating, these are scenes that are teetering on the edge of decent and could be elevated by better music.

So, it looks like many of the pure-spectacle scenes, and the majority of original-content scenes, are done well for a given value of “well done.” No one really knows how to do pure spectacle these days. Where this movie suffers is where it tries to take things from the book….because these are very poorly handled. Like, WOW the scene with Shadout Mapes and the crysknife was shot, acted, framed, choreographed, adapted terribly. Why not just make an epic scifi movie and say “inspired” by Dune? And then, also steal from a bunch of other scifi classics, like Foundation, The Star Kings, etc, mash them together and lay claim to the result? Instant success, I promise.

Misc:
– OK, I legit cracked up: Gurney Halleck starts quoting poetry when they first land on Arrakis, but the preceding shot makes it look like he’s cheating and looking up the words beforehand. AND THEN SOME GUY, NOT GURNEY, WALKS PAST WITH BAGPIPES.
– Oh boy, ok. We get another original scene, of Salusa Secondus and the Saudaukar rituals, which apparently involve Tuvan Throat Singing and human sacrifice.
– So anyway, about one hour and 15 minutes in, the Harkonnen/Saudaukar attack, and just to emphasize how much the Atreides were caught with their pants down, there’s the obligatory “men running across an open space with fire in the background and getting blown up occasionally” shot. WITH BAGPIPES.
– Ye gods.
This is SO DUMB. No wonder people make fun of space movies with swords and magic powers.
Ye gods.
– (Jason Momoa JasonMomoas around with his man-bun a bit.)
– OH MY GOD GO GO POWER RANGER PAUL WHAT THE HELL. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY???? SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?
– Ew. SERIOUSLY, EW. MOVIE GO BACK TO INCOMPETENTLY ADAPTING SCENES DIRECTLY FROM THE BOOK.
– Just read the book. Really, even though it’s long it’s worth it. It’s engrossing, exciting, and it has all these really cool ideas and characters that are so much more interesting in the book and your own head than in this movie.

Rated: Just read the book.

13 thoughts on “Dune (2021) – Movie Review

      1. Do you alredy have hbo max or did you sign up just for this? Talk about a disappointment if it was just for this 😦

        I can’t justify signing up for one movie. So I guess I’ll wait.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Now, just out of curiosity (because I like knowing how other people do things and there’s zero pressure to reply), do you use your wp id name or the same email? I have a completely separate identity for that side of things that is in no way connected with either Bookstooge or the real life me.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I suspect one of the problems this film had was its conscious effort to distance itself from Lynch’s version, to the extent that it missed out on the (albeit few) things that Lynch’s film did well.

    Clearly one of the problems for Lynch’s film is all the endless exposition in the first twenty minutes or so, where it kept on grinding to a halt to tell us something about Arrakis or Mentats etc: so Villeneuve steered clear of much of that, but unfortunately it means this version suffers from not explaining some major plot points about the Spice, what it means for the Spacing Guild or why we have no computers or AI, but Mentats instead. Lynch’s film really needed a full two to three hours to tell the story once that exposition was out the way: paradoxically, Villeneuve’s film, now it has Part Two to go with Part One, has four to five hours to tell the story but hasn’t done the exposition that gives it a grounding, meaning and depth.

    Maybe that comes in Part Two. I just hope he doesn’t resort to flashbacks like It: Chapter Two did: they killed that film for me. We’d already seen a whole film with those kids, why did we need to see more when it was supposed to be the adults story? I hope for instance that the Duke, now he is dead, is gone and we won’t see him in flashbacks reminding us of what Paul and Jessica have lost and What It All Means To Be An Atreides.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. There isn’t enough emphasis on the importance of spice or, and this is crucial, on water (WATER!!!!) to the Fremen. Really, those are the two worldbuilding elements that I feel the movie suffered the most by omitting. And, as you say, it’s not as if the movie didn’t have “time” enough to develop them. They just preferred to have endless flashsides of babyfaced Chani looking over her shoulder, and conversations with some dude watering the date palms. /shrug/ The Mentats–I can understand why, for the sake of making the hero weaker in the eyes of the audience, the filmmakers chose to de-emphasize their importance/Paul’s Mentat training and abilities. Honestly, that is the one thing that can be glossed over and is, by reducing Thufir and Piter to just generic background “advisors.”

      My major problem is that I don’t feel the characters I loved and fell in love with are done justice. At all. The Duke Leto and Jessica especially. Jessica is way too emotional; Leto is utterly unrecognizable from the books. Beard or no beard.

      I honestly don’t know if I will watch the Part 2 when it does come out. This movie just… it’s just incompetent and people should just read the book.

      Like

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