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Film Review: Dune – Part Two

Written by on March 1, 2024

Film Review: Dune – Part Two

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune franchise draws on sci-fi novelist Frank Herbert’s series of books, which were first published almost 60 years ago (and proved to be inspirational to the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg). They chronicle the conflicts and political intrigue as two opposing factions look to secure rule over the inhospitable desert world of Arrakis – and thus control supply of the much-coveted substance known as ‘spice’ that is found nowhere else in the universe (and on which civilisation has become dependent).

Just released in the UK earlier today, this is the second instalment of Villeneuve’s cinematic realisation of Herbert’s opus. It concludes the story covered in the initial book, with a third and final film (dealing with the follow-up book) apparently already in production.

 

This is far from being this first time that the story has been brought to our screens. It was preceded by the rather disjointed (and slightly camp) mid-eighties effort directed by David Lynch (the Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, etc.), which was really not helped by Sting’s pantomime villain performance. There were also a pair of rather turgid noughties TV series (one starring William Hurt and the sequel fronted by James McAvoy). However, most will agree Villeneuve’s work is well on its to being regarded as the definitive version.

 

A power struggle is underway between the houses of Harkonnen, led by Baron Vladimir, and Atreides, led by Duke Leto (whom the Baron managed to assassinate in Part One). It is now left to Leto’s son Paul (played by Timothée Chalamet) to avenge him and win back the spoils that have been lost to the Harkonnens, by waging guerrilla warfare. Having been stranded on Arrakis in Part One, and after some initial frictions with the planet’s natives (a nomadic people known as the Fremen), he now looks to instigate a full-scale uprising against the Harkonnen overlords.

 

As well as being seemingly devoid of water, Arrakis’ surface is inhabited by colossal sandworms capable of causing destructive havoc. The Fremen culture is also steeped in prophecy and folklore – with the emergence of a ‘Messiah’ supposedly being foretold.

 

Though I still have fond memories of Lynch’s film (which featured the likes of Patrick Stewart, Jürgen Prochnow, Sean Young and Max von Sidow), Villeneuve’s work is unquestionably superior. Rather than trying to fit everything into a single film, he’s had the good sense to span his version across multiple episodes. This allows much more time for plot development and characterisation (both of which were sadly lacking in Lynch’s attempt).

 

Wisely, rather than being vehicle for big established box offices names, the series predominantly relies on good quality character actors – with nobody over-hogging the limelight or hamming it up. The cast has strong, but not overstated performances from Josh Brolin (as Halleck, the Atreides’ ever-loyal military adviser), Charlotte Rampling (as the dour and malevolent Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit order) and Javier Bardem (as the grizzled Stilgar, a leading member of the Fremen resistance). Chalamet (Wonka, the King, Don’t Look Up) gives a much more believable interpretation of Paul than the rather wooden Kyle MacLachlan did in the Lynch version. His slightness of form and baby-faced looks also making him more convincing as a teenager coming of age (as the books originally describe).

 

Stellan Skarsgård brings the necessary weight – both in acting terms and physically too (with the help of padding and prostheses) to the role of the Baron. WWE wrestler turned movie star Dave Bautista (previously seen in Spector and the Glass Onion) does a stand-up job as Harkonnen enforcer ‘the Beast’. Though little more than a cameo, Christopher Walken gives a good portrayal of the jaded and weather-beaten Emperor Shaddam IV. Zendaya (previously in the Greatest Showman, etc.) plays Chani, a Fremen foot soldier and daughter of Dr Kynes (who got killed in the previous film). The romantic relationship between Chalamet and her is much more subtly developed than in the Lynch film (where it was basically clumsily crowbarred in). Of particular note is Austin Butler – the artist formerly known as Elvis  😊 (from the  Baz Luhrmann film). He’s excellent as totally crazed murderous nutbag Feyd.

 

A recurring theme in this film is manipulation – whether that’s Rampling and her Bene Gesserit underlings leveraging their influence on key figures, Chalamet’s mother and sister exploiting the Fremen’s beliefs to support a rebellion, or Chalamet himself making use of his noble bloodline for underhand political purposes (at the expense of the woman he loves).

 

Previously known for films like Sicario and Arrival, Villeneuve has already shown his directorial adeptness. In contrast however to his reworking of Blade Runner (which though critically well received was a bit of a box office flop), this film is much better at keeping high levels of tension right from the start (Part One being slightly heavier going). Also, though in these days where anything can be done with CGI, this still had scenes that were truly visually breath-taking. The stunning cinematography that his work has become renowned for is complemented here by the atmospheric and at times unsettling musical score penned by Hans Zimmer (having picked up an Oscar for his soundtrack to Part One).

 

In conclusion, a really well-crafted and nuanced piece that is definitely worth seeing – and ideally on the big screen, so as to get the full audio-visual effect. Though at a 2:40 duration it’s pretty lengthy, this is still justified. Looking forward to seeing the concluding instalment.

WIGWAM FliX Rating: 4.9
Reviewer: Mike Green (March 2024)

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