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Arts & Culture

Friday Film Review--"Dune"

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This week’s film isDune [Part One]”, starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Oscar Isaac. For the uninitiated, Dune” is based upon the 1965 best-selling and award-winning science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. The novel features an epic story about the politics of humanity, ecology, religion, and colonization. Set in the year 10191, the main plot revolves around the control of a desert planet called Arrakis, which is the sole source of a psychedelic powder simply called “spice” which fuels interstellar travel by bending space. As the only place to get spice, Arrakis becomes the central battlefield between warring planetary aristocrats. Complicating the fight for power over Arrakis is the fact that the planet is inhabited by giant worms and the Freman, a blue-eyed race of fierce desert warriors.

“Dune” gained widespread notoriety in 1984 when Academy Award winning director David Lynch adapted the novel into a film which bombed both critically and at the box office. Lynch had filmed the movie with the intent of distributing it in two parts. When the studio balked and demanded a standard two-hour version, Lynch lost final edit control and the work was reduced to two hours with a heavy dose of voice over narration.

So, when word got out that 2021 Dune” director Denis Villeneuve, fresh off his success with “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049”, was also planning on a two-part release but the studio had yet to sign off on Part 2, eyebrows went up higher than Brad Dourif’s original portrayal of Peter De Vries. Villeneuve’s version re-focuses the story on the House of Atreides, a noble family sent by a conspiring emperor who seeks to sacrifice the House of Atreides to gain long term control of the spice planet. Lady Jessica, concubine to the Duke of Atreides, has born a son Paul, who many believe to a “chosen one” to lead the universe to a new destiny. As Paul, Timothee Chalamet brings a mysterious depth to the conflicted heir and Rebecca Ferguson is a force as his mother who blends aristocratic elegance with the bewitching skills of the mystic sisterhood that gives her and Paul psychic powers and voice control somewhere between a Jedi mind trick and Ghostbuster’s voice of Zuul. Another big difference maker in the new film is an ensemble cast that includes Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Zendaya, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem.

So, on my ski trail rating system, “Dune” earns my highest Black Diamond Ski Trail rating. Like an Olympic aerialist attempting the hardest flips, Director Denis Villeneuve gets extra points for the degree of difficulty. While this film may not have broad appeal, fans of the novel and sci-fi generally are finally rewarded with an elegant and immersive adaptation of the complex story, as well as elevated roles for the supporting cast and superior cinematography of the desert landscape.

“Dune” is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and disturbing images, but nothing close to as disturbing as the 1984 film which included face boils, homoerotic blood baths, and of course, Patrick Stewart’s battle pug.