MOVIE REVIEW: Dune — Part One (2021)
I am a big fan of the Dune series.
Not the book(s) or this movie; I mean the weird-as-hell 1984 David Lynch version, the 2000 Syfy TV miniseries, and the 2003 Syfy TV miniseries sequel Children of Dune. They were off-the-wall and had amazing colors to them. I found the Eastern European accents of the Fremen in the Syfy miniseries’ to be an interesting touch. But Denis Villeneuve (of Blade Runner 2049 fame) has taken a shot at what was to be “the most un-filmable book in Hollywood”.
The most common experience of Dune is the 1984 theatrical version by the aforementioned director Lynch, which crammed a 412-page book and all its information into a two-hour movie. The movie suffered narratively as a result, with loads of Lynchian elements also cluttering the script. The 2021 version of Dune attempts to correct this error by splitting the film into two parts, with this film as the first. Unfortunately, they did not advertise it as a two-part film and that may have harmed box office earnings. Critics came out of the woodwork to tell us all to see this first part, because if they didn’t there would be no second part made.
The suits in Hollywood green-lit the second part anyway because I believe these films HAD to have been made back-to-back. NOBODY stays out in the desert that long for a sci-fi movie — not even George Lucas. Plus, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies exist, proving that it can be done. That said, it’s time to eat dirt…or spice, as it were.
Roughly 8000 years into humanity’s future, we destroyed the “thinking machines” (aka computers) AND conquered the stars. Thanks to the Spice Melange, a select group of people can “expand their minds” (read: “get high”) and make the calculations for interstellar travel. Unfortunately the Spice is found only on one world: a desert planet called Arakkis. The planet gets the nickname “Dune” for all the sand dunes. One day, a special boy named Paul Atreides comes to Dune when his family moves there because his dad’s job gave him orders to take over from a previous supervisor. Things go sideways when the ousted supervisor wants revenge for losing his job and the money that comes with it. Paul’s dad Mr. Atreides is killed, so the boy and his mom are homeless and now have to live with the native people of Dune called the Fremen. It is with them he gets high on Spice and learns to become — I kid you not —the Messiah. That’s about where the 2021 Dune movie ends, with more to come in the second movie, slated for release in 2023.
If you have seen the 1984 Lynch version or the Syfy miniseries, you know the next part is gonna get wild. Riding sandworms, magical shouting, and stuff that is appropriate to the science fantasy genre; no laser swords or robots though. There’s a lot to appreciate about Dune in general: no computers or laser guns in widespread use means they have to try something else and the result is fantastic. Some of the technology begs questions unending, but the film keeps rolling and does not stop. And I love it. Hopefully, you will too.
CHOICE CUTS (spoilers ahead):
- Apologies to repeat comparisons to the 1984 version, but it’s so weird!!!
- Unlike the 1984 movie, people of color were included. Actress Golda Rosheuvel (“Bridgerton” [TV, Netflix], “Luther” [TV]) takes over as Shadout Mapes for character actress Linda Hunt (Kindergarten Cop, If Looks Could Kill), and Stephen McKinley Henderson (Fences , “Devs” [TV, Hulu]) takes over for British actor Freddie Jones (Krull, Antony and Cleopatra) as the role of Mentat Thufir Hawat. There was even some gender-swapping: Dr. Kynes was played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, “Intergalactic” [TV, Peacock]), a dark-skinned British Black woman, when it was previously played by Swedish actor Max Von Sydow (Flash Gordon , The Seventh Seal, Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
- Several more brown- and black-skinned people could be seen as members of the Fremen, in line with the climate and span of time that passed between the arrival of the Fremen on Arrakis and Paul’s arrival. Most notable is the Fremen leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men, Mother!) and Paul’s Fremen love interest Chani, (Disney channel alum Zendaya, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Malcolm and Marie).
- A lot of Black and brown people die in this movie, with prominent characters like the aforementioned Dr. Kynes and the Fremen warrior Jamis (played by Nigerian actor Babatunde Olusanmokun, Wrath of Man, “Black Mirror” [TV, Netflix]) dying in extended scenes. I worry for Zendaya if the second part chooses to change the story.
- Let’s be clear: ONE MAN’S TERRORIST IS ANOTHER MAN’S FREEDOM FIGHTER. Though various earlier versions of the Dune story try to erase the background of the Fremen, it’s too obvious these people are the descendants of our world’s Muslim people. Our nationalist programming has led us to treat every brown and black person as a bad guy and every Muslim as a terrorist. I can imagine when the earlier versions cast actors to play Fremen, they wanted them to look as non-threatening as possible. So they cast White people to fill those roles, with the Syfy miniseries approaching the mark of “othering” the Fremen with Eastern European accents.
What does that say of Paul Atreides if someone outside of the Fremen and Atreides camp — does that make him a terrorist? Because by the logic of the books and movies, Paul is a hero for warring against the occupying and brutal Harkonnens. The same could be said for Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker — also hardened in the desert and warring against an occupying and brutal Galactic Empire. I suppose this is why China hates Star Wars, but America loves it. NOTE: I will repost this in the review for the second movie to this tale.
- I really want to know how the landing gear on the Atreides fighter wings work — they didn’t seem to be connected by anything.
- The moment the ornithopter's wings didn’t unfurl after leaving the sandstorm, I knew they were screwed.
- I am also a big fan of the music: the Middle-Eastern vocals and instruments let you know where you are and what’s up.
- Looking at the Imperial Army planet Salusa Secundus and the thousands of Sardaukar there awaiting deployment, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Imperial Space Marines from Warhammer 40,000.
- I remember the personal Holtzman shields from the 1984 film, all boxy and obscuring. The 2021 Holtzman shields are amazing and make much more sense visually. Not only that, they’re applied to the ships as well — something not shown in the ‘84 film. That makes an even better effect when House Atreides’ air fields are hit by Harkonnen attackers with slow moving drill bombs. When the bombs do land on a ship, the shields hold the resultant explosion inside its borders until the shield generators fail. It’s a damn cool effect.
Okay, that’s it; see you in 2023 for the continuation of this review!