By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
Duh, you might be thinking.
Of course, whether or not I like a movie is totally subjective and based on me. But not entirely. Some movies are dubbed classics and nearly everyone likes them, while other movies are quirky cult-classics that only a select few enjoy. But whether or not you will like 2021’s “Dune,” the newest attempt to put Frank Herbert’s story on the big screen, depends very much on who you are and what you bring to the movie.
Do you like “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” movie saga? The structure of “Dune” is similar, as it is really just an installment of a longer, already planned, movie sequence. “Dune” does not cover the entire story, and so just be ready for it to end, like “The Hobbit” did, with you hanging.
Do you like “Star Wars” and “Game of Thrones?” This “Dune” movie has been called a combination of both, and I agree. In fact, there are some blatant nods to “Star Wars” in several scenes, where I just about got chills with the clever, and I hope on purpose, cues that were given. For example, Duncan Idaho, played by Jason Momoa, flies in on his spaceship and disembarks, all cocky, and starts working on his ship, just like when Han Solo arrived on the Millennium Falcon. The resemblance continues as Idaho jibes with the young Paul Atreides, our hero, played by Timothée Chalamet, who could very well be standing in for Luke Skywalker.
Where “Game of Thrones” comes in is with the warring “Houses” of the story, some of which are definitely bloodthirsty and darn kinky. It’s a political story, which can be very foreboding, about House Atreides, who is invited by the Emperor (Sith Lord Palpatine) to take over the planet Arrakis, after House Harkonnen, who has grown quite rich and headstrong mining that planet’s main commodity—“spice”—is seemingly kicked out. They have done so at the expense of the planet’s native population—the Fremen—one of whom is a lovely desert nymph played by Spiderman’s girlfriend, Zendaya, who Paul has been having psychic dreams about.
Paul is the at-first reluctant Atreides heir, raised by his parents with dual purposes—his father would just like him to be a good son and maybe take over after him. But his mother is a member of the Bene Gesserit, advisors of a sort to the Emperor, basically witches, who have designs of their own and have been not just waiting for but deliberately breeding over generations for a Messiah to arrive.
I hope you’re with me so far because that’s just some of the story. Which brings me to the third question: did you read the books and more importantly, if you did, what did you like about them? It’s not always that important to read the book before you watch a movie. But for “Dune,” I would suggest you at least brief yourself a little bit before you go see it if you don’t want to get lost. I don’t think “Dune” is solely for lovers of the original books, but I do think that will be one of its main audiences. The others who will enjoy it will be from the above categories—lovers of other similar stories. It has an old-fashioned feel, with ideals of duty and loyalty to one’s leader, that are not seen as much these days. And it really does require you to learn a whole new world.
Some lovers of the book have complained that “Dune” does not have enough of the intellectual conversations that the books are known for (it’s a very cerebral series), but I didn’t find this to be a problem. Key lines were taken, I am sure, nearly verbatim from the books, and given at just the right times. There was a little bit of trouble with the sound mixing, as an overlapping effect was used of people talking at different volumes, all prophesy-like, and it was hard to dissect. These same book fans have complained that “Dune” is too much of an action movie, with a lot of emphasis on explosions, and I disagree here as well. I did get a bit sick of the constant footage of giant spaceships landing and taking off, and I can attest that director and screenwriter Denis Villeneuve, of “Blade Runner 2049,” has a thing for LARGE BUILDINGS. But other than that, I thought “Dune” was a great mix of action, sci-fi, and character-driven story.
The argument with “Dune” is whether it follows the form or the spirit of the books, and that will depend on what you liked about them in the first place. I was thrilled by tiny reminders that surfaced of details I had forgotten. “Oh yeah!” moments, such as an assassination attempt on Paul using a tiny robotic insect thingee, told me that Villeneuve did a good job. And I appreciated that the movie takes its time. It can be confusing, yet this version does its utmost to avoid that by taking us carefully through events. Because of this, though, “Dune” is slow. But I prefer that over the mish-mosh mess that was the 1984 version, the only appeal of which, for me, was the presence of Sting, and that still didn’t make it worth watching. Also, this new version turns down the grossness—thank you—but still creates a convincing alien landscape.
There was one scene where they didn’t drag out and I wish they had. A lot of us are familiar with the iconic “box” that Paul must put his hand in, and which may or may not contain a nasty bitey monster. The nature of this test is that the monster inside this box isn’t necessarily there but just in Paul’s mind—it is a psychological test of one’s ability to master fear, a main theme of the story being that if you can’t do that, then you aren’t fit to lead. The box scene was everything that was Herbert’s Dune series—it sucked you into its unique, intense universe and you didn’t come out until the story was finished. The box scene was also reflective of what was popular at the time—as we all recall Luke was sent by Yoda to “master his fear” in the caves of Dagobah.
Is “Dune” perfect? No. Is it better than the last attempt? A million times. Stephen Colbert, a fan, has called it “big and beautiful,” and it is. If you like to learn about new worlds, if you like a bit of “Star Wars,” “The Hobbit,” and “Game of Thrones,” along with good acting and stunning scenery—and if you like, well, dunes, as this is a love song to the desert—then put on some comfy clothes and go for it.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.