Movie Review: Dune

I watched Dune with the fam on Friday night. Daniela’s been looking forward to it for at least half a year, so she wanted to see it ASAP. (Had to talk her down from watching it late on Thursday night.) Yes, we watched it at home, but it was on quite a big screen. That said, I do think this is one that is best suited for as large of a screen as you can find. It runs on spectacle.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. The effects were fantastic, and the acting was all solid. The action pieces were well done, and the plot actually made sense (as opposed to a certain earlier adaptation of the book . . .) I’m going to assume people are familiar with the plot of the book. It’s been out a long time, after all. If you aren’t, then be aware that there will be spoilers ahead. Hard to talk about what I want to talk about without them.

That said, I had a number of issues with the film as well. Some of them are no doubt due to the higher expectations I had going into the movie, but I think I likely would have had the gripes even without those expectations.

  • The movie is 2.5 hours long, and it feels much longer. One of the main reasons for this is that there’s a serious lack of tension a lot of the time. House Atreides gets to Arrakis, and we’re told there have been Harkonnen sabotages. True, we see a couple of them: the faulty spice miner lift, and the attempt on Paul’s life. But in each of those cases, the problem appears sort of out of nowhere. We aren’t prepped for them in any meaningful way, and they’re both resolved as soon as they crop up, then not really addressed again in the film. It felt at times like the movie was just a string of isolated conflicts. It would have been helpful to know the stakes and know what the overall goal was.
  • The main characters often don’t seem to be in any real, meaningful trouble. Some of that is because of the visions, so we’re reasonably sure certain characters will be fine. But a lot of it also stems from the fact that so many of their problems are resolved for them. Paul and Jessica get out of the attack by . . . getting drugged. True, they have to get free of their captors, but once they’ve done that, they have convenient supplies that make their desert journey seemingly not that big of a deal. I don’t sense any danger for them, other than the sand worm, which appears and disappears just as conveniently.
  • The soundtrack felt very generic and underused. It’s Hans Zimmer, so it should have had potential, but overall it just felt like a bunch of blaring sounds that did little to add or enhance the mood of any scene. It was a disappointment.
  • I had a tough time really connecting to some of the characters. Yes, there are a ton of them, so that’s some of it. But even significant characters like Paul’s father just left me sort of . . . meh. For 2.5 hours of movie, I would have thought more of it would have been devoted to actually establishing those character relationships.
  • The movie feels like it’s almost all set up, and very little delivery. It’s setting the stage for what could be a really excellent Part Two, but how do I rate Part One without seeing how Part Two pans out? I would have liked to see more pay offs in the first part, and really felt the lack.
  • Even knowing that the movie was going to end abruptly, I still disliked the way it finished. It didn’t feel like it had any real significant climax. It just . . . ends. Yes, there’s the fight, but it’s not a fight that we saw coming, the same as so many of the other conflicts. And it didn’t seem particularly more important than any of the other fights.

I have read the reactions of many people who are big Dune fans, and they’ve all been quite positive. This leads me to believe that much of the success of the movie is hinging on one’s familiarity with the source material. I’ve read the first book a long time ago, and I remember liking it, but that’s about it. It doesn’t help that the ads were trying to call it the next Star Wars or Lord of the RIngs. Those are big shoes to fill, and I don’t feel this movie was up to the task.

What would I have done differently? Cut some of the characters. Combined some of them, perhaps. Do we need the random Fremen maid? No. She does nothing. How about the short, squat man with the beard who works for House Atreides? I can’t even remember his name. He does nothing meaningful, but the movie wasted time trying to keep showing that Paul likes him.

Ditch the long tent scene Paul and Jessica have, and instead devote the same time to them traveling. Show them in danger and really struggling to survive. Have them have one or two close calls with a sand worm, and have them use their wits to avoid them. Have them maybe struggle a bit to learn how to do the Fremen desert walk?

These aren’t revolutionary ideas, though maybe they would be if I were a mega fan of the series. My gut says it would have helped to combine Duncan and Gurney, giving more time for the movie to develop that character and those relationships. I also would have liked more time devoted to the Harkonnens actually doing things instead of just attacking and yelling all the time

I don’t know. The more I think about the movie, the less enthralled I am by it. Was it a better adaptation than the earlier one? Definitely. Is it a good movie? Sure. Is it a great movie? I’m far from convinced. I would love to hear what actual fans of the books have to say about it. What made you like the film? What made it really stand out? Because at the moment, it’s reminding me more of the Harry Potter adaptations than anything else. Movies that were fun the first time, because I liked seeing how the books were imagined on the screen, but which really haven’t stood up for the most part.

The movie still has strengths, and I know I didn’t dwell on them nearly as long. As I said, it really felt like spectacle was the main thing moving the film forward, and it delivered on that in spades, enough to bump what would otherwise be a 5 or 6 out of 10 movie to a 7 for me. I’ll watch the second part if it’s made, but I’m really hoping it fixes some of the many flaws I saw in the first.

What did you think about it?


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