An extremely biased review of Dune 2021

(no spoilers) Dune 2021 is a massive budget and incredible opportunity pissed away. “Pissed Away” will be a central theme of this review. It was watchable, but not satisfying. I’m glad I didn’t pay $15 to see it in a theater. I would probably have walked out. The first 90 minutes of this 2 ½ hour movie were slow and boring. Lots of pretty pictures with almost no progression of the narrative and *negative* character development. The last hour was actually pretty good, largely due to the absence of the most egregiously miss-cast members of this criminally miss-cast cast. I never had hopes this movie was going to be great – but they could have at least saved it from total disaster if Alec Baldwin had been on hand to execute the casting staff early in production. My biases before watching this film were huge. I have read all of the original Frank Herbert Dune books multiple times since I was a kid. I have read all of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson books at least twice. I am also a fan of the original 1984 movie, despite not-so-special effects that made an armada of 400 meter-long sand worms look like litter box full of cat turds. After watching the trailer for Dune 2021, I flat ass did not want to see this movie. I didn’t want to see the Dune universe get damaged by current themes of “wokeness” and race and gender swaps purely for the sake of race and gender swaps. In the end, modern sensibilities did not ruin this film – poor story telling did. Dune is a hard story to tell. It’s why David Lynch went with narration in the 1984 movie – 2 hours is not enough time to tell a tale this complex. By splitting the story into at least 2 parts, Dune 2021 had the advantage plenty of time get the story told – too bad they didn’t f*cking tell it! You get snippets of detail from the novels here and there, but not tied into seamless plot. I liked that they included fine points like the hand signals of the Atreides battle language, but then they turned around and left out all significant character development. You never get a solid sense of people’s motivations. They are just doing “stuff” in reaction to other “stuff” and then some serious “stuff” happens and then Paul and Jessica end up in the desert – which is when somebody finally delivered a copy of the script – and then it starts to look like a coherent movie – 90 minutes in. Dune 2021 is like two movies grafted together. The first half is hot garbage and slow. The second half is quite good. The casting is extremely variable. The one actor I was worried about the most is the kid that plays Paul - Timothée Chalamet. I was expecting him to be a whiny teenager, but he actually turned out the be the best actor in the film. He seems to be one of the few people involved who “gets” the story. However, there is a failure to get across the critical concept that Paul’s entire life until this point has been training of some form or another. He is a teenage killing machine. They leave out too much and he comes across more “Mary Sue” than he should. He has a valid backstory in the novels that explains his prowess with a blade and understanding of complex politics – unlike Rey from Star Wars who was the bestest ever just because. The woman who plays Jessica – Rebecca Ferguson is TERRIBLE in the first half – not because she is a bad actress, but because her performance is *nothing like* Jessica was written in the novels. She does NOT behave like a Bene Gesserit Sister trained in emotional control and objective judgment from birth. This is what I meant by “negative” character development. They portrayed Jessica as completely different than her original character – leaving her with an incredible amount of lost (pissed away) territory to retake in the remainder of the story. In the second half, she is quite good and seems to grow into the part. I think her awful performance in the first part is 100% due to bad direction. It’s like the first part of the movie was shot and in the can - then director Denis Villeneuve actually got around to reading the goddamned book!!! The character and strength of Jessica, backed by the power of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood are fundamental to the story of Dune – but the opportunity to get this across is pissed away in the first part of the film. Duke Leto doesn’t come across as an aristocrat who values the welfare of his people and his own honor above all else. The actor is physically too short compared to the rest of the cast – especially Paul. He and his closest advisors (Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck, and Thufi Hawat) are like a bunch of frat boys hanging out in a club house – more likely to drain a keg than run a planet and the most important industry in the galaxy. Leto seems like a weak and ineffectual member of a peer group – instead of a strong leader with strong followers. He is made even weaker by the casting choices for Hawat and Halleck. Instead of severe and disciplined mentat of total competence who is now slowing down only due to extreme age, Hawat is a morbidly obese goof ball. Totally out of character. Totally not the guy you want safeguarding your family or as consigliere to a duke. Halleck is supposed to be a philosopher, soldier, poet, and troubadour – do any of those things come to mind when you think of Josh Brolin? Soldier maybe, but nothing else. Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho could probably work, but the relationship between Duncan and Paul seems unnatural and forced. The two actors may have some natural chemistry, but the expression of it is rushed and ham fisted – Villeneuve’s one attempt at some character development pissed away in poor execution. Whether Chani sucks or not remains to be seen. She seems fine for the few minutes she appeared in part 1. All of the trailers and stills I saw before the movie showed the actress (Zendaya) with mega-resting-bitch-face, so it was hard to imagine her as a love interest for Paul - before seeing a few flashes of personality at the end of the film. She was, however, a terrible choice for narrator at the beginning. She doesn’t have the voice for it and all the extra oppression stuff in the narration was out of place and unnecessary. Instead of using the narration for exposition like David Lynch did, they pissed it away on one of the only nods to wokeness in the movie. The race and gender swaps were completely unnecessary, but were inconsequential enough they didn’t ruin the movie. The differences in abilities between men and women is a huge part of this story. They need to continue treading lightly. I think the modern colloquial English that abruptly comes and goes was a mistake. I would guess it is a misguided attempt to update the film for a new generation, but it is jarringly out of place if you read the books. One thing that really strikes me about this movie is how empty it is. Not the emptiness of Dune, an entire planet covered with desert, but a movie barren of people and story. There is hardly anybody in this film. There is hardly any story in this film – even though it is longer than the 1984 movie and only covers half of the events the 1984 version did. I have seen several reviews by people who loved Dune 2021 and who seem to think it is a masterful job of retelling for a new generation. Sorry folks, but in my opinion, you are utterly wrong – probably because you don’t know what you don’t know. Covid and other current world events have made you so thirsty for *anything* above sub-standard that you are embracing this expensive swing and miss like a drowning man embracing a floating log covered in thorns. Modern special effects and stunning cinematography do not make up for sh*tty story telling. I don’t understand why everybody seems to believe Denis Villeneuvue is a genius – ‘cause he ain’t – and he totally pissed away this opportunity. This is a 6 out 10 tops. I would have said 4 out of 10, but the last hour was like a totally different movie and was actually good.

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