‘Dune’ Is Well Made, But Ends Just As The Story Is Getting Good


As a longtime science fiction fan, I was thrilled at the news that the novel Dune was being filmed again. There was a dreadful version about 35 years ago, but those of us who loved the brilliant book always hoped for a movie to do justice to a masterpiece that combined religious fanaticism, ecology and realpolitik as its bases. And early reviews were good.

I caught the first show available here and, boy, was I disappointed. Not that it is a bad film. It’s done well. There are many good actors in the cast… it looks like they’ve stripped away half the casts of both the Star Wars and Marvel universes. But because it’s only a “part one,” we have the effect of seeing only the preface to a great story. And because there is no real ending, the film is not that brilliant mixture described above, but a coming of age story, and one that ends before the real point of the book begins.

Young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is the illegitimate and only son of the noble head of House Atreides, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). He is also the son of Leto’s official concubine, the Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who is a member of a semi-secretive sect of women called the Bene Gesserit. The group has been secretly breeding people throughout the galaxy for more than a thousand years to produce a man called the Kwisatz Haderach, who is “able to join past and future together in his mind.” Let us just say he would have immense mental powers, equivalent to the most powerful Reverend Mothers, leaders of the Bene Gesserit, but would be male, able to see where they could not.

The Emperor, fearing Leto’s popularity, makes a deal with the Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), a longtime enemy of Duke Leto, to create a trap that would destroy Leto. House Atreides is given the right to control Arrakis, a desert planet that contains “spice,” a narcotic that not only improves health but is necessary for space flight. Even before Leto leaves, Harkonnen and the Emperor make a deal to overthrow him. Harkonnen had used his nephew, “the beast,” Rabban (Dave Bautista) to abuse the people into giving him help.

Paul is trained by two great soldiers, Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), to fight, while his mother teaches him “the weirding way” of battle. In the meanwhile, Paul dreams of Arrakis and the people there, the Fremen, but most often of a lovely Fremen girl Chani (Zendaya). At any rate, the family goes to Arrakis, fights some battles and is betrayed. Paul escapes to the desert he meets up with a band of Fremen led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem). Paul must then fight to survive and then… well, the picture ends. This was frustrating. In the book, Paul becomes a Fremen leader, then a religious leader who takes down an empire. The movie ends just when the fun should really begin.

The actors were fine, but most had relatively little to do, often limited to two or three scenes each. Zendaya did not get to say any lines until about 10 minutes before the end. Bardem was really only in two scenes. I think Bautista had about five lines. Ferguson had more lines, but she never really did much to demonstrate her powers until a short fight near the end. Isaac was very good as the father, perhaps stealing the hero role from Chalamet. Momoa was excellent in his scenes, probably the best performance of the film. There were many shots of Chalamet brooding… he does that well. But Paul is supposed to be charismatic and seemed anything but.

Director Denis Villeneuve followed the book closely, which was nice, but two and a half hours is very long for what is essentially an introduction to a far larger story. As a result, the film had lots of desert images, strange architecture, weird helicopters, as well as some giant worm action. But you could get more action in any half hour of a Marvel film.

Is the film good? Yes. If you like science fiction, you will enjoy it. But I would take advantage of being able to see it for free on HBO Max. If you are not a sci-fi fan, it is a long two and a half hours.