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Monday, March 11, 2024

Dune (2021) and Dune: Part Two (2024) [Spoiler Review]

For the first time last week, I got sucked into the world of Dune

It is for this reason I decided to review both Dune and the newly released Dune: Part Two this week.

In case you don't know, director Denis Villenueve, production company Legendary Pictures, and studio Warner Brothers chose to divide Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune into two parts. While this may have been a gamble, it sure paid off. 

Both films follow the journey of Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the son of aristocratic leader Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a member of the cultish sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit, who possess strange, mystical powers through years of physical and mental training. 

Because of the rivalry between his and the Harkonnen family, a group of mostly bald, anti-social people, Paul is a bit of an outcast, which is why the idea of him being the heir to his kingdom known as Arrakis poses a threat.

In both films, Paul leads a fight against the Harkonnens over "spice," a commodity analogous to oil that increases vitality and awareness and has psychotropic properties. He finds key allies in the Fremen, a group of poor, Bedouin-like people. 

The rather skinny Paul undergoes Jedi Master-like training in the first film from the likes of soldiers Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), physician Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen) and military strategist Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson), all associates of his father. 

Arrakis is eventually conquered by the Harkonnens in the first film, leading Paul to officially be taken in by the Fremen, along with his mother Jessica. Father Leto ultimately sacrifices himself in a duel with Baron Von Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgaard). 

Dune: Part Two Poster
Dune Part Two Poster | Copyright 2024 Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures

Cut to the second film, where Paul has taken up with a mysterious young female member of the Freman named Chani (Zendaya), who appeared to him in visions in the previous film. 

With the House of Atreides officially disbanded under the leadership of another monarch named Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), and he is disheartened over the news that Paul might still be alive at the beginning of the film. 

Jessica replaces the head of the Bene Gesserit after its Reverend Mother passes away by drinking the Water of Life, a poison designed for non-pregnant women. She transmutes the poison to her son, only to have him fall into a deep coma. After awakening with the help of Chani, he starts having visions of his stillborn sister Alia (Anya Taylor-Joy in a fabulous, uncredited cameo) and recognizes that he is part-Harkonnen after the revelation that his maternal grandfather is Baron Von Harkonnen. 

Speaking of the Harkonnens, we are introduced to one of its most interesting family members, the sociopathic Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler, in a performance that would make the late Heath Ledger proud). Butler commands the screen much like he did as Elvis Presley, although in a manner that is less welcoming and inviting. He is, by far, the standout in Villenueve's second act.

That is all I am willing to divulge about this most recent film. If you haven't read the classic novel, you're just going to have to spend nearly three hours watching the glorious battle sequences and imagery, all expertly shot by Villenueve and cinematographer Greig Fraser (The Batman). 

Villenueve, Jon Spaihts, and Eric Roth have somewhat mastered the art of modern blockbuster filmmaking, subverting without winking. What rung out during the second film's trailers by Chani is, "this prophecy is how they enslave us!" 

The Chosen One Narrative that has driven fiction forever seeped and spread into our very real world thanks to how much smaller it has become. Now, it's become Main Character Syndrome, celebrity, and politics propping up actual figureheads. In Dune: Part Two, it's Paul's reluctance for power slowly subsiding as he as continuously looked toward for guidance at the critical time of young adulthood and during unprecedented times. This is delicately explored and it looks like, once again, that story is only just unfolding. 

All I will say is what I unfortunately left out of my initial thoughts on both films: that Villenueve is a master at sucking people into rather complex sci-fi. Even if you have to Google more finite plot details afterwards, he takes you on a ride you wish never ended, even with the rather long run time of each film. The good news is that a film based on the next book in the Dune series, Dune: Messiah, is on the way.