Aanji Sin ’24
Here’s the gist of my opinion on “Dune”: it has an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is how I know for sure that Rotten Tomatoes is full of shit.
Even from my first viewing of the trailer, “Dune” was not a movie that I felt particularly inclined to watch, mostly because it looked exactly like the kind of pretentious science fiction endeavor that shows up in that notorious category of a film bro’s Letterbox top 10. Still, the text that I received a few weekends ago from my best friend on the other side of the country — “I just saw Dune and I think you would hate it vehemently” — was nothing short of an attention grabber. So, I borrowed my friend’s HBOMax subscription, grabbed a few vegan chocolate chip cookies from Mallot, and tucked myself in for a long 156 minutes.
The universe of “Dune” is set centuries in the future, when Earth has faded from relevancy and space travel technology has evolved to a degree of that of “Star Wars.” Scattered across the galaxy are various houses of sovereignty that serve underneath the rule of a singular, all-powerful Emperor, who remains a shadowy figure throughout the film. Timotheé Chalamet plays Paul (perhaps the stalest name for a sci-fi protagonist I have ever heard), son of the Duke of the House of Atreides, who has just been dispatched alongside his people to take over the desert planet of Arrakis. Arrakis is the hub of spice production in the galaxy, spice being the most valuable substance in the universe, as it makes space travel possible. The native people of the planet are called the Fremen, an Arab-inspired tribe of desert wanderers, to whom Zendaya’s character Chani belongs. House Atreides is taking over the spice production in place of the corrupt House Harkonnen, who do not take to their removal kindly, and plot to regain control of the spice monopoly as part of the Emperor’s apparent plan to eradicate House Atreides in its entirety.
If you’ve immediately forgotten all of the names I just dropped, don’t worry, I had to pull up the Wikipedia entry to remember all of them correctly. Most of that information, plus another twenty or so proper nouns, are dropped within the first ten minutes of the movie through a Zendaya narration (the most we hear from her during the entire film, to my own sheer disappointment), and the audience is then expected to internalize all of it.
I understand the purpose of the first film being to set the stage for the rest of the series, and I would have less of a problem with “Dune”’s blandness if it were not for the fact that it sucks all the flavor out of every space-themed science fiction universe plot trope I have ever encountered. Apparently, “Dune” was even the originator of many of these parallels: themes of colonization, the inner workings of space politics, a famed prophecy and, of course, the capital-O One. How the film managed to simultaneously flatten these aspects of the apparently trailblazer of a novel while baffling the complete hell out of their audience is beyond me.
On top of the drawn-out worldbuilding, most other aspects of “Dune” failed to keep me engaged. Dialogue is kept terse and strictly informative with no real room for dramatic progression. Characters exempt from that of Chalamet’s get infrequent screen time and therefore make no lasting impression on the viewer, and despite the amount of time we spend with him, Chalamet’s protagonist experiences no clear arc or undergoes any real development to make him likeable, at the barest minimum. By the end of the film, almost everyone from House Atreides and their allies are dead, some even killed on screen, and I pretty much ceased to care about any of them beyond the actors they were portrayed by. And in not caring about these characters, I also couldn’t care about the progression of the plot. Timotheé Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson spend a third of the movie running through the desert and escaping multiple near death situations, and all I could think was if they died now, the movie would be over faster.
Dry dialogue and unnecessarily elongated plot points aside, “Dune” is a truly visually and audibly remarkable film. You can definitely see what the bulk of the $165 million budget went towards; details down to the grooves on battle-worn spaceships, the quivering hairs on the desert mice, every tooth of the sandworm’s gaping maw (side note: the sandworm. THE SANDWORM. Please look up this worm so you understand why I have to refrain from making a joke about it here) was painstakingly well produced with no sign of lazy CGI.
Equally as memorable, Hans Zimmer’s innovative original score doubles as both a viral TikTok audio and a thrilling, heart-pounding backdrop for a trendsetter like the “Dune” franchise — it quite literally sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Purposefully circumventing the operatic orchestrals popularized by space operas, Zimmer drew inspiration for this project from a myriad of atypical sources: scraping metal, distorted guitar rumblings, Indian bamboo flutes, bagpipes, even the sound of the wind howling through a Utah desert to achieve an otherworldly soundtrack through strictly non-Western practices.
I can appreciate “Dune”’s areas of strength and celebrate its audience success, but remain thoroughly unimpressed with the bulk of it. I’m not a die-hard Timotheé stan, but I do think that the poor man deserves to play a sci-fi protagonist that doesn’t have the personality of a saltine cracker. All that being said, I respect the hustle of investing $165 million into a two and a half hour long movie that makes no sense and has no real ending. It’s certainly doing well in the box office, and truthfully, I can’t even be mad about it. If you catch me at the sequel’s opening though, you can bet that I’m probably only there for Zendaya. Also the sandworms.
Image Source: IMDb