MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Dune - In Theaters and Streaming on HBO Max (until November 21)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson
To prepare myself for Denis Villeneuve’s filmed version of Frank Herbert’s Dune, I did my homework and read the novel. It’s a doorstop of a book – 800 pages plus appendixes and a glossary – but once I got through the first 100 pages or so and acclimated myself to all of the strange names, I found it to be a fast-moving and entertaining story with things to say about colonialism, ecology, capitalism, feminism and theology, to name a few. It’s a book of ideas. A lot of ideas.
When David Lynch attempted to film this book back in 1984, the finished product was a messy and confusing 137 minutes long. There were some nice weird touches and some incredible desert scenes, but also a lot of exposition. I recently revisited this earlier version and found myself quickly bored. But nevertheless, Lynch managed to get through most of this long story in record time.
This new and improved Dune is 2½ hours long, skips over a lot of the more complicated details, and covers about two-thirds of the book. Villeneuve’s contract with Legendary Pictures stipulated that the story be told in two movies. Since this film has experienced box office success, it was announced that the second half will begin production next year and make it to theaters in 2023.
The main plotline in Dune is about how the young Paul Atreides (Chalamet) travels to the desert planet of Arrakis with his mother Lady Jessica (Ferguson) and father Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), eventually identifying with the indigenist Fremen and confronting the evil empire while becoming a messianic figure. Along the way we are introduced to a wide spectrum of characters including the ecologist Dr. Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), the sword master Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), Paul’s friend Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and his soul mate on Arrakis, the beautiful Chani (Zendaya).
There is a lot of sand on Arrakis. The planet is also home to giant sandworms that are a constant threat but also part of the ecosystem on Arrakis that produces the “spice” melange, a drug that (according to Wikipedia) “prolongs life, bestows heightened vitality and awareness, and unlocks prescience in some humans to make safe and accurate interstellar travel possible”.
Yes, it sounds like a head scratcher, but this movie is full of wonders and delights, including major roles for female characters, incredible desert vistas filmed on location in Jordan and United Arab Emirates, and beautiful spaceships and flying vehicles. The film is well cast and the acting is sincere and heartfelt. (Zendaya fans need to be warned that she only shows up for the last 15-20 minutes of the picture but will be a major player in Part Two.)
While I got vaccinated, put on my mask, and geeked out to experience Dune in an IMAX theater, if you are not ready to return to the cinema but have a decent television, consider a one-month subscription to HBO Max. It will be fifteen dollars well spent.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A stunningly beautiful and respectful visualization of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic. Subtract a halo if you don’t like slow-moving sci-fi.
One pitchfork: It’s just the prelude for the main story; nothing here particularly disturbing or offensive, other than movie matinee violence.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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