DUNE: PART TWO [2024]

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Directed by:
Written by: , ,
Starring: , , ,

USA

IN CINEMAS NOW

RUNNING: 165 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

On the planet Arrakis, House Atreides has fallen due to a plot between the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV and Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, and is now ruled by the latter’s nephew Rabban, who’s been charged with restarting the production of the spice melange which can extend life, increase awareness and allow space to be traveled instantaneously. However, Duke Leto Arreides’s son Paul escaped, along with his mother Lady Jessica, into the desert and the world of the Fremen, the planet’s desert-existing natives, who have a prophecy that a mother and son from the “Outer World” will bring prosperity to Arrakis, though not everyone believes this. Paul is now busy learning Fremen ways, while Jessica is urged by Stilgar, a Fremen with knowledge of the Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood with a centuries-long breeding programme to create a messiah known as the Kwisatz Haderach, to drinks the Water of Life which and thereby become the new Reverend Mother….

Well there’s one way that the 1984 David Lynch version of Dune did better it’s the giant worms. Now we all like anticipation from time to time, but hear me out. The  1984 film showed a worm around a third of the way through, during the scene in both versions when one attacks a mining vehicle, then had them return for several successive scenes. Here, we don’t see one during the mining vehicle attack. We don’t see one when Paul and Jessica are out in the desert. And – get this  –  we don’t even see one when, in this part two to last year’s part one, Paul rides and tames a worm, the next step in his evolution. In 1984, this is a properly thrilling scene, set to one of the most rousing pieces in Toto’s musical score, but the new version shows us very little of what’s actually happening, with our only sight of the worm being its back. I mean, come on Denis, saving them for the climax is just going too far! Of course one shouldn’t spend too much of a review comparing two – or actually in this case three – different versions of the same source material, but it’s going to be hard for me not to do so here, especially when there are things in both the previous adaptations that were done better than in Villeneuve’s films, which aren’t a truly faithful filming of Frank Herbert’s novel, with the character of Alia, Jessica’s daughter, remaining an unborn baby except in one of Paul’s dreams, perhaps being the most notable change, this compressing the timeline and robbing us of a chance to see a powerfully moving moment, done differently from the book but brilliantly in the 2001 mini-series, that would add some emotion to the goings-ons. Instead, Jessica communicates with a sentient fetus throughout and some of Alia’s role is given to Paul, neither of which quite works. Removing the homosexuality [what, are gay people not allowed to be villains any more] and peadophilia of the Harkonnens [though they’re clearly still up to some kind of perverse stuff]  and enlarging the female roles were clearly done for PC reasons, and a few more action beats added to make Dune: Part Two more exciting.

However, it’s curious that Part One ended nearly two thirds of the way through the book, and at a rather awkward place, while the longer Part Two only covers the final third, though it certainly doesn’t seem stretched out, the 165 minutes moving at a considerable pace. With no recap, we delve straight into the rest of the story and meet a somewhat miscast Christopher Walken and Florence Pugh as the Emperor and his daughter Irulan, two characters we haven’t met before in this version. Irulan secretly writes, heard in voiceover, that Paul Atreides may still live, while her father is sad over the loss of House Atreides, in a scene that’s so short it hardly needed to exist, though I guess it does set up some anticipation involving these characters. On Arrakis, some Fremen troops, including Paul and Lady Jessica and led by Stilgar, overcome a Harkonnen patrol. Jessica saves Paul’s life, but perhaps goes overboard in smashing a guy’s head in repeatedly with a rock, which leads me to comment on one thing this film is quite clever at; containing lots of violence including several knife slashings, while showing very little even though you often feel the effect. As Jessica and Paul reach a Fremen stronghold named Sietch Tabr, some Fremen suspect they are spies, while Stilgar and others see signs of the prophecy that a mother and son from the “Outer World” will bring prosperity to Arrakis. Stilgar informs Jessica that their Reverend Mother is dying and that Jessica must be her replacement by drinking the “Water of Life”, which is fatal for males and the untrained. Jessica survives and inherits the memories of every female ancestor in the lineage. The Water also prematurely awakens the mind of her unborn daughter Alia, but I’ve mentioned her already.

It’s agreed that Northern Arrakis must be convinced first of the prophecy, especially the weak-minded – though of course you could look at this the other way and say that it’s the weak-minded who are actually more likely to swallow this stuff. Paul makes a speech about not seeking power and wanting only to fight alongside them, but we already suspect that this might not be the case, largely through the layers in Timothee Chalimet’s performance which is really very good, from an actor I’ve never taken to before. Also pleasing to see is Paul’s romance with Chani finally given a bit more time than we’ve seen before, even if it could still have done with another scene or so. While there’s very little chemistry between Chalimet and Zandaya [she can barely act so why is she cast so often at the moment?]. it’s still interesting because Chani isn’t that sure about Paul and his motivations, and we wonder how much she believes him. Also benefitting greatly from added space is when Paul reunites with somebody he thought was dead; we actually see them have a proper chat, which we didn’t do before. Due to the spice raids being carried out by the Fremen, Baron Harkonnen replaces his nephew Rabban as Arrakis’ ruler with his psychotic, murderous younger nephew, Feyd-Rautha, while Lady Margot Fenring, a Bene Gesserit, is sent to evaluate Feyd’s suitability as a prospective Kwisatz Haderach, and to seduce him and secure his genes, while Irulan fears that her father will lose his throne due to his loss of influence over warring factions. Villeneuve does handle the plot, which really isn’t that complicated at all, fairly well with surprisingly even pacing, and his thing about expanding characters really pays off in the case of Feyd, another result of the the Bene Gesserit’s genetic breeding program and a flipside to Paul in many ways. This certainly makes up for him no longer being played by Sting.

Villeneuve and co-screenwriter John Spaights [I tend to overlook him, perhaps because of the large amount of poor scripts that he’s written or co-written] don’t shrink from having their main character start to take a dark road, something sadly overlooked in the previous adaptations. In Part One, Paul was definitely the hero, but in Part Two he becomes more of an anti-hero, in a way more of one than in the book, which makes Jessica, who wants him to achieve the fullness of his powers while Chani thinks he’s increasingly dangerous and maybe even a charlatan, and fears for his soul, not wholly likeable either. He doesn’t seem to care how many die in his his holy war which he appears to want to wage on everyone except the Fremen, nor stop for even a second to wonder whether said war is right. Knowing what I know how of how the story continues in the next book, it’s just come to my mind how much Paul could have been an inspiration for a certain other character in a certain other science-fiction franchise which has a lot of similarities to this one. However, the film is more ambiguous than the book over whether Paul is the Kwisatz Haderach, which I’d say was a rare improvement over the source material in which he certainly is, even if it seems that the nature of the predicitons about him weren’t quite right [well, mistakes can happen, and we all know of Chinese whispers]. Here, we’re not even sure if Paul cares; he could be just after power and victory and using people’s belief in some ancient prophecy to help him attain these things.

Potentially weird and fascinating moments where Paul has visions are rather run of the mill, as if Villeneuve wanted to downplay some of the more fantastical bits [ah, that explains why we don’t see much of the worms]. Action scenes tend to disappoint, especially in the climactic battle which seems surprisingly small scale for such a big film and is over rather too quickly; here was an opportunity to set right something that had been poorly in both the previous versions, and said opportunity was botched. it feeling like a lot of footage is missing, with even the worms [okay I do go on about them] being shortchanged, though I suppose one can also admire Villeneuve for resisting the temptation to dwell on extended battle footage. The Sardaukar, who we feared in the first movie, are increasingly less menacing, sometimes panicking and running away from conflict. Visual effects are generally very fine indeed but the set design seems to have been done to look as uninteresting as possible, and again much of the film is shot by cinematographer Grieg Fraser in an ugly brown / yellow tint which is so unappealing that one can virtually breathe fresh air whenever we relocate to something nicer-looking, even some black and white which is strangely employed for some of the Harkonnen scenes. And this time Hans Zimmer’s score isn’t so much absurdly ponderous as highly grating to the ear, with lots of that mechanical “growling” that he uses from time to time. Again, he clearly didn’t feel the need to write a tune or indeed anything actually memorable, nor did Villeneuve, who had parts of the mostly already written soundtrack played during filming to get the performers into the mood, much like Sergio Leone sometimes did with Ennio Morricone’s music, seem to ask him to do so. I’m amazed that any of the performers were able to focus, yet focus many of them clearly did, maintaining the dark, sombre tone while still showing nuance.

Dune: Part Two concludes with rather too much setting up of things for Dune Messiah, which could be made next, rather than leaving us with the feeling of having just watched an individual film – okay two films that could be placed together to form one very long one. And I think that this version will play much better when viewed one after the after, with the shift to the more action and politics-orientated content of the second coming off really well. I’ll certainly do it. Yet, unlike a great many of movie critics, I can’t say that I’ve been anywhere near being wholly satisfied while watching Villeneuve’s Dune first time around, with certain script and filmmaking decisions being rather questionable and hampering the intended effect of this epic-scale space opera – even if he still deserves considerable praise for pulling it off. In the end, while I have an undying love for the Lynch version [I’d contribute good money if it will help him restore his cut], and also have a real soft spot for the mini-series which does some things really well and which I’m going to have to do a review of soon, none of the existing adaptations are really satisfactory. Combining the best aspects of all three results in a fantasy version of the imagination will have to do. Oh – and by the way – the shot three paragraphs above of the worms from the trailer is almost all we see of them!

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

 

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About Dr Lenera 1971 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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