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Review: 'Dune: Part Two'

Back in 2021, French Canadian film director Denis Villeneuve released Dune, the first of a planned trilogy binging Frank Herbert’s beloved and widely-acclaimed science fiction best-selling novel to the big screen.

It wasn’t the first time that a film adaptation of this monumental literary work had been attempted. 

David Lynch tried it back in 1984 with a cast that included Kyle MacLachlan, Virginia Madsen, Jose Ferrer and Sting.  The reviews were mixed, at best.

A three-part miniseries adaptation followed in 2000, starring William Hurt, Alec Newman and Giancarlo Giannini which also failed to become the definitive screen adaptation of Dune.

The question arose as to whether Dune could ever be successfully brought to the big screen.  Or if it would become one of those literary masterpieces like The Great Gatsby that would defy adaptation despite repeated, serious attempts, five to be exact.

Enter Denis Villeneuve, whose impressive resume included movies like Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).  He seemed to have all the chops to deliver the action-packed sci-fi epic that Dune fans had patiently awaited.

His version would feature Timothee Chalamet in the starring role of Paul Atreides, along with co-stars Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, David Buatista, Christopher Walken and Austin Butler.  It was an all-star cast with the latest, hottest, A-List performers.

Add to that, Villeneuve’s trademark, powerful visual style and it seemed that the team had been assembled to finally conquer the formidable and elusive science fiction novel.

The response to the first installment was positive enough in terms of critical praise and success at the box office to green light the second installment.  Villeneuve’s artistry and imagination seemed equal to the daunting task.

Part One laid the groundwork.  Audiences were buzzing with excitement and anticipation for Part Two which promised a more action-packed storyline.

Dune: Part Two has an epic feel in several respects.  It is big and splashy, a movie meant to be seen on the largest movie screens available.  It is also noteably long, with a running time of 2 hours and 46 minutes, without any kind of intermission break that epic movies like this used to provide back in the day.

Movies approaching the three-hour mark are increasingly common these days.  It seems that directors and studios just can’t seem to trim feature films down to the customary two-hour length that audiences are accustomed to seeing.

The argument is that some stories are just too big and important to be crunched down to two hours.  Oppenheimer is a good example.  But it may be safe to say that many movie goers might agree that at least 20 minutes could be cut in most of the current, longer-running film releases without really compromising the overall integrity.  A few might actually benefit from gratuitous, unnecessary or over-indulgent sequences being dropped.

Dune: Part Two is yet another movie that could have benefitted from some additional trimming and shortening.  Yes, there is a lot of story material with interweaving plotlines and a list of characters, but great movie adaptations manage to take complex novels and boil them down to roughly two hours of screen time.  The Godfather is a good example.  There is a lot of Mario Puzo’s novel that’s not up on the screen, and no one really misses it.  It feels like a complete and faithful adaptation, thanks to Francis Ford’s Coppola’s masterful writing and direction.

Visually, Dune: Part Two has the scope and scale of a cinematic epic.  David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia comes to mind.  It was one of the first wide-screen movies that took full advantage of the format, rendering camels as tiny ants crossing an endless deseert landscape.  Dune has a lot of that. 

Interestingly, it is balanced with extreme close up shots of faces that fill the large format screens.  The reliance on such tight close up shots is puzzling at best.  IMAX isn’t close up friendly.

As expected, the special effects in Dune are stellar.  To his credit, Villeneuve creates an otherworldly that is dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish and always a little surreal, though many of the effects sequences look like they were lifted from a Star Wars installment.  It’s probably inevitable when you stage stories like these with futuristic vehicles and weapons in a desert setting.  It’s going to look a bit familiar.

Nevertheless, the special effects are the reason to see Dune: Part Two.  Strangely, the story seems to joltingly skip ahead occasionally, despite the long run time.

While Timothee Chalamet is at the top of the list of current, bankable stars (with a standout performance in Wonka), his casting as the warrior and rebel leader here is questionable.  His handsome, but boyish looks fall short of the kind of strength and intensity that Peter O’Toole brought to Lawrence of Arabia.  In Dune: Part Two, his character is given the name of a desert mouse.  It unintentionally fits.

Overall, other performances fall short of expectations.  These would include Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson, who seem to have been cast to their faces in all the close up shots.  Javier Bardem and Austin Butler fare a little better, bringing some fire to their characters.

Christopher Walken does his best Christopher Walken in a role that he has been typecast to play dozens of times before.  Even he seems to be getting tired of it.

Yes, Dune: Part Two captures some of the essence of its literary source—the balance of politics and religion and the liberation of oppressed people by a Christ-like figure who fulfills prophesies including rising from the dead.

It is a complex story that definitely requires a refresher course in the storyline or re-screening of Dune:  Part One prior to buying your ticket.  Otherwise, it may come off as a squirming bucket of sandworms with some breathtaking special effects.


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