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USA 2021
Directed by
Denis Villeneuve
137 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Dune (2021)

As an audio-visual spectacle Denis Villeneuve’s film is monumental but unless you have a serious appetite for this kind of thing (sci-fi/fantasy/adventure), especially at a bum-numbing two-and-a-quarter hours, it is also monumentally boring.

Frank Herbert’s classic genre 1965 novel (which I haven’t read but about which the word “unfilmable” is often heard ) apparently has much appeal for art-house directors. David Lynch tried and failed ignominiously in 1984. Not to be put off, Alejandro Jodorowsky stepped up to the plate but never got the project off the ground (the saga was documented by Frank Pavich in Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013). I had high hopes for Villeneuve’s version particularly after his marvellous effort with his extra-terrestrials-meets-humans film, Arrival (2016) not to mention a back catalogue of fine and thoughtful works.

So why is Dune 2021 so banal? Well, Herbert’s novel may be partly responsible but the script is by Villeneuve with Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts and even though they have tackled only one section of the unwieldy text they appear to have been skewered, on the one hand by fidelity to a classic of the genre and the tropes of the genre, thereby meeting the expectations of a goodly section of their potential audience, and on the other something more intellectually and dramatically engaging that might attract others (such as Villeneuve fans) who would be willing to overlook the essentially silly story. With a US$165 million production budget one can understand that Villeneuve wouldn’t have had a lot of wriggle-room to bend the rules. 

Despite the futuristic setting, Dune is grounded in the sword and sandal epic blockbusters set in Imperial Rome that were so popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s and, even though there’s no great literature here, in Shakespeare’s plays about the English monarchs and their Machiavellian ways.  Instead of the Houses of York and Leicester we get Harkonnen and Atreides.  

Villeneuve also appears to have agreed to keep Chalamet on screen as much as possible. There’s no doubt that he’s a pretty boy and his performance is fine but he is physically so insubstantial compared to actors such as Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa who play Paul’s protectors, not to mention the women who in one way another slap him around. In this respect Rebecca Ferguson (and the screenwriters) deserve credit for a scene-stealing performance. There is also an amusing (for film buffs) reference to Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in Stellan Skarsgård’s cameo as the Harkonnen overlord.

Seventy-five percent of the effect of Dune belongs to the technical departments. Chuck in another five per-cent for Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score and the teeth-rattling sound effects and that leaves about twenty per-cent for Villeneuve. Whether that is enough to get him back for the promised second part remains to be seen. I certainly won’t be bothering but then again I’m not a fan of the genre.




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