First of all, Dune already is a major motion picture, I will not condone disrespect towards David Lynch’s 1984 disasterpiece. But BOY OH BOY do I have thoughts.
Dune: Part One
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay by: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebbeca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa
“Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.”
Dune is one of my favorite stories of all time, Denis is one of my favorite directors, I watched the trailer at least 100 times, and yet I was ultimately underwhelmed. I was thrilled to finally have it, and do not think it’s a bad adaptation, but it is lacking. I’ve realized the reason my expectations were so high is because Villeneuve said this is his best work to date, and I’m happy for him, but I am genuinely what his reasons are.
BUT FIRST – my new review ~system~
I’ve always struggled with reviews because I have SO MANY THOUGHTS. So I came up with a new system that provides structure but will hopefully also be fun!! It basically is a countdown! Here’s how it will break down:
- 5 things I loved about the movie / tv show / book (I’ll try avoiding character / production elements)
- 4 critiques or aspects I didn’t enjoy (or felt needed expansion)
- 3 standout production elements (for movie / tv) or literary strengths (for book)
- 2 standout characters
- 1 favorite scene / episode / chapter
Hopefully it will make sense and I’m super excited to try it out!!
SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT
5 Things I Loved
- Obviously the sandworms are the best part of Dune and if you don’t love them I’m sorry. They bring me such joy. The creature design was beautiful. I am incredibly pleased by my worm friends. A+ for the Shai-Hulud.
- Whether or not I *loved* all of this, I can appreciate that there was a cohesive vision from the production team. They were on the same team and this was a collaborative project with passionate people.
- Book to Movie
- The plot of Dune (even as a book) is quite straightforward and the movie basically hit all the marks.
- New Audience
- This story is being shared with a new audience and is encouraging people to check out the book which is ~awesome~.
- Zendaya’s Promo
- From day 1 I thought “wow, for not being a big role in the first part of the book Chani (Zendaya) sure is in a lot of promo material”. I loved how they milked the heck out of Zendaya as a way to hook a certain audience (because of her and Chalamet) which would solidify $$ and ultimately ensure Part Two.
- I found there to be a serious lack of thematic and character depth. This is my biggest critique because Herbert’s work is about nuance through themes and characters and this is difficult to articulate on screen. It seems the production opted for plot-driven over character, but since they didn’t take many artistic liberties with the plot it made it very textbook and dull. I also hope the Fremen are better represented and explored in Part Two.
- Personally, I wanted more color. Yes, Arrakis is a desert planet but I guess I envisioned it with more vibrancy. The “spice of life” is rich in color and brings life to an otherwise arid planet. I do not mind the choice they made, but it would have been more interesting to have Caladan and the other planets be more of a juxtaposition to Arrakis. For me, color can be indicative of environment and I wanted that contrast that would make the audience realize the dangers. Arrakis just felt like another planet, it did not *feel* significant.
- Information Overload
- HOLY INFO-DUMPING. So much information was thrown at the audience and never seemed to be relevant again and some information was severely underdeveloped. If you are unfamiliar with the story it makes it difficult to keep everything in order. Characters especially suffered from this. Gurney and Thufir are non-characters (Thufir’s role in the household was not really explained); it’s never clear that Jessica and Leto are unmarried; relationships in the Harkonnen house are blurry; the Bene Gesserit are incredibly vague etc… Unfortunately I think there are a lot of examples for this.
- Dune features a “chosen one” kind of trope but sometimes it felt too much like the ~Paul Show~. They were definitely going for the theme of family but I found it lackluster because of the lack of information and development. The emotional bonds within House Atreides are something I love and I don’t think they got to be explored, and it especially made Dr. Yueh’s betrayal have almost no impact because we didn’t care or know enough about him.
3 Production Strengths
- Costumes costumes costumes! Robert (Bob) Morgan did a beautiful job. The stillsuit designs were fantastic, I loved the practicality! Lady Jessica’s wardrobe was the standout and her designs provided interesting contrasts as our resident witch.
- Production Design
- Production design. Patrice Vermette’s work is what made the cinematography so impactful. I appreciated the nuance even though some aspects felt bland – again, Caladan did not feel comfortable or like a “home”, it was similar to Arrakis’ interiors: clear lines, solid neutral colors, minimalist. The glow orbs were excellent and the artwork on the walls were gorgeous. I especially appreciated the motif of the bull continually appearing. Also – ship design! I loved the ships!
- Special Effects
- Special effects were impressively seamless. I never found myself toooo hit in the face by CGI. Some cool explosions, their shields were super neat and the Fremen eyes were not terribly fake (but the 1984 movie doesn’t present much competition in either arena).
2 Standout Performances
- Jason Mamoa
- Jason Mamoa 100% made this movie. Duncan Idaho had the most depth and best arc (mostly because he was the only character with any kind of arc at all). I enjoyed seeing him look like he was not sculpted from rock, there was a softness to his performance that enhanced Duncan in a unique way I was pleasantly surprised with. I would’ve preferred staying with him during his death sequence and not cutting away, it would’ve given more of a noble Boromir-esc death that we could sit with and really feel.
- Rebecca Ferguson
- Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica – maybe I’m biased because I adore Lady Jessica but I do think it was an excellent performance! She got a lot of screen time and made the most of it. Shoutout to Paul’s meeting with the Reverend Mother and the entire Gom Jabbar scene. The cuts to Lady Jessica seemed a bit unnecessary and jarring but her performance was an awesome display of a powerful woman in a completely powerless position I just have to mention it. Unfortunately, I think her performance grew weaker as the film went on but I honestly think it’s because she grew into a non-character because all focus was on Paul and she was just ~there~.
- Fall of House Atreides
- I didn’t feel huge connections and I knew it was coming, but I still cried when the Harkonnen’s arrived. It felt like one of the strongest sequences and I was actually surprised with how emotional it made me. Right as it’s about to happen there is a moment between the Duke and Lady Jessica where he tells her “I should have married you”, unfortunately this relationship did not have a strong foundation and this line took a lot of people by surprise but because of what I know from the books about their relationship, I found it tender. It is strange because I was also let down by this sequence and it was because there was no reason for the audience to care about Dr. Yueh betraying the Atreides and I think Duke Leto was done dirty. I adore Leto and Oscar Isaac had so much potential!! I think he did the best with what he was given but in my opinion Leto was written as a man with no real warmth, even his intentions on Arrakis lacked passion. I’ve always viewed him as comparable to Ned Stark: a good and kind man who did not ask for power and it ultimately gets the best of him.
This did not exceed my expectations or even really meet them. Unfortunately I struggled to care about a lot of things. However, I did not leave the theater feeling disappointed that this was the representation of Dune for a new audience. Even the best of film and tv cannot capture the nuance of novels, and I’m no stranger to that so I cannot fault it too much. Dune went for visual spectacle more than anything else and I just hoped for more character and thematic substance to hold up those visuals. I believe it’s worth a watch if you’re curious but if you’re just curious about the story, I will always scream about my love for the book – or watch the 1984 movie and feel like you’re on an acidic trip!
ONE LAST THING!
I was telling my partner about how I loved the easter egg of the “mouse” throughout the movie and he brought up an EXCELLENT point. The audience never knows what that mouse is or how it’s there or survives and an epic way to end the movie would’ve been to have that mouse in the desert with them, Paul sees it and asks Stilgar “what is that?” and Stilgar could tell him: “We call that Muad’Dib.” We hear him being called Muad’Dib in his visions (I think) and it would’ve been so cool. Anyway, I’m now very disappointed that’s not how it ended and think it was a big missed opportunity so thanks for making me bitter Jake.
ANYWAY, those are my thoughts so let me know yours!! Did you like this format? Was it too long to read? Should I film it instead? Let me know and let me know what you rated Dune!