What is this “Dune” if not a first cousin to “Star Wars” and a white savior, extreme climate, science-fiction fantasy?
It is also as much a massage as it is a movie, thanks to all the sub-woofer action. This first installment in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” films (there has to be a second because this is only half a film) is an impressively immersive experience thanks to the marvelous visuals of Greig Fraser (TV’s “The Mandalorian”), production design of Patrice Vermette (“Sicario”) and the over-the-top music of German sonic batterer Hans Zimmer. This “Dune” and its desert planet are also related to “Lawrence of Arabia.” It is, like the book, on one level an allegory about the way the West has treated the East, especially the Arab states, stealing their oil, leaving them the sand.
Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and his concubine, Lady Jessica Atreides (the unavoidable Rebecca Ferguson). Paul, who is described several times as “a boy,” has been trained by mentors Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) in military skills. Paul has also been schooled in the dark arts of secret sign language and using “the voice,” a tone that compels obedience, by his mother. She is a member of the Bene Gesserit Order, a witch/nun-like religious group sporting space-age burqas. On the desert planet Arrakis, giant killer “sand worms” cruise beneath the surface and a hallucinogen named “spice” is harvested. Spice is the most valuable substance in existence.
In the expository opening, the powerful, war-mongering Harkonnen clan is recalled from Arrakis, where they made themselves super-rich and cruelly oppressed the indigenous people, known as Fremen. The Fremen have ways to survive on the planet. Primarily, they use “stillsuits” to recycle the moisture from their bodies. The resemblance to BDSM outfits is probably coincidental. The point of this initial episode is to introduce the characters and the planets to us, get the plot moving and Chalamet on Arrakis to learn the ways of the Fremen and introduce him to Zendaya. Done and done.
Shot in Jordan, Abu Dhabi and Norway with IMAX cameras, “Dune” is heavy metal sci-fi of a very high order. It must be seen in the largest format you can find to gape at the fluttering, dragonfly-like vessels and other wonders. Villeneuve is gracious enough to give David Lynch’s 1984 version a tip o’ the hat. Like Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Villeneuve’s film proffers all the fanboy Gummy Bears: a Luke Skywalker-like protagonist with mysterious powers, a warrior princess, spaceships, swords, explosions, dark intrigue, blasters, drugs, witches and giant worms.
The screenplay by Jon Spaights (“Prometheus”), Villeneuve and Eric Roth boasts dialogue that is both nonsensical and liturgical. It’s a sci-fi “Lord of the Rings” with Islamic, instead of Celtic, etymology.
As far as the acting goes, Brolin, Isaac, Momoa, Henderson, Charlotte Rampling as a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother and Javier Bardem as a Fremen have enough charisma to put just about anything over on us. They are this film’s Alec Guinness. Dave Bautista is fun as a scary Harkonnen. But an almost unrecognizable Stellan Skarsgard as the part-CG Baron Vladimir Harkonnen steals the show. Emperor Ming, Baron Vlad just jacked your gig. Zendaya, who is already in love with a Spider-Man, does not have much to do, yet. Chalamet is good, even if his hair does half the lifting, again.
(“Dune” contains violence, disturbing images and suggestive material. Rated PG-13. Grade: A-)
This article was written by James Verniere from the Boston Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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