Wednesday, November 24, 2021


"I dislike Dune with some intensity" - J.R.R. Tolkien

He was of course referring to the book. I also have read the book - once - about 45 years ago - and have barely cracked it open since. Nor have I seen either of the previous screen adaptations. I admired the book's scope but didn't really enjoy it, and have only general memories of the plot and characters. But this movie struck me as a good adaptation, subject to the condition that my memories of the book gave me a basic understanding of what was going on.

Of course I was mightily impressed with both the Villeneuve films I'd previously seen, Sicario and Arrival, which primed me on this, and those reactions are indeed as responsible as anything about Dune the book for my decision to go see this.

When I came home from the theatre (a nearly deserted multiplex matinee), B. asked how the movie was. "Epic," I said. That seems the best adjective. It told a fairly simple story with grandeur and scope, and while there was plenty of brisk action, the plot was given space: it breathed, it took its time - how unlike P---r J-----n in that respect - but without becoming slack or boring. "Epic" seems the closest description of this mode of storytelling.

In fact I found the movie better than the book in several ways. I disliked the book's ornate political maneuvering, which is whittled down in the movie. I even more disliked the way the book's characters relentlessly tried to psych each other out in thought balloons, which left hardly a trace in the movie. And most of all I remember preferring the first, court-based, half of the book over the second half of woo-woo mysticism out in the desert, and this movie only covers the first half. Nevertheless I was impressed enough with its handling of the story that I'll probably see part 2. (Though my track record on following up on expectations like that is poor.)

I was pleased with Timothée Chalamet as Paul. Physically unprepossessing, which is accurate for the character, he exudes enough inner strength to make his gradual transformation from a boyish scion into a lord duke and a skilled man of action credible, and to enable him to carry the movie despite a largely passive character arc. This was pleasantly surprising, since I detested him in Little Women. But since he played a weak man there, I wonder now if the problem is that he was just miscast.

Rebecca Ferguson as Jessica was less strong. I thought her very good in the last two Mission Impossible films, but here she seemed to have less grasp of her character. Just a little bland, maybe? She is also only 12 years older than her screen son, but that's typical of movies. Oscar Isaac and Josh Brolin were good but rather watered-down versions of roles they've been more vivid in during other films (A Most Violent Year and, yes, Sicario). I was more pleased with Charlotte Rampling (a one-scene cameo) and Javier Bardem (two major scenes), especially because neither of them mumbled which was a problem with a few others.

That's all niggling. The sfx, of course, and the vast scenery and even vaster spaceships were all impressive. Unlike a lot of big-scene movies it wasn't dark all the time, and when it was dark (which the indoor scenes mostly were) at least you could still see. How unlike P---r J-----n in that respect too. Dune proved you can still make a large-scale movie with plenty of action yet without the exclamation-point conflict, grotesque violence, and cartoon-pink characterization of superhero comic-book movies (and yes, I've seen some of those, so I know whereof I speak). It was at minimum an adequate movie, at least for those who did not dislike the book with some intensity, and it was not a waste of time or space.

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