REview: Dune (2021) | In Lynch’s Shadow

Recently I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and visually speaking it’s a feast for the eyes and ears (I’ve never been particularly enamored of the work of Hans Zimmer, but he does some really interesting things here).

Villeneuve acquits himself admirably exactly for the reason I originally thought he wouldn’t, namely he knows how to compose beautiful, naturalistic shots and unlike most people that happen to direct science fiction movies, doesn’t particularly seem to fetishize technology for it’s own sake (In other words, the spaceships, weapons and whatnot aren’t the stars of the movie, the actors are).

The problems I had with Dune were relatively minor, but telling.

One is that Villeneuve couldn’t seem to escape from under the shadow of David Lynch’s 1984 movie – which is odd because I’m willing to bet most people beyond hard-core Frank Herbert fans have even seen it, which is why it’s so strange that Villeneuve even seemed to feel the need to acknowledge it. One way this is expressed is that the movie takes pains to change the pronunciation of ‘Harkonnen’ – in the movie it’s ‘Hark-N-Nen’ and ‘Padesha’ – ‘Pa-De-Sha’ – which was not only silly, but as I implied, unnecessary.

Though what was really telling was the portrayal of Vladimir Harkonnen from one movie to the next.

Kenneth McMillan in the 1984 movie played Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in a over-the-top, lascivious manner that approached iconic status.

So what does Villeneuve do? He takes the polar opposite tact in virtually every instance in reference to this character. Skarsgård’s Vladimir Harkonnen was subdued both in dress and action, almost reducing the character – and more importantly his presence – to a literal and figurative mumble.

And that’s not to say that the performance was bad, but it was oddly understated.

Another bugaboo is the running time. which comes it at about 2 hours and 35 minutes and felt more self-indulgent on Villeneuve’s part than anything else because there’s a scene in the movie, about an hour and 40ish minutes in, when Paul (Timothèe Chalamet) and Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson) have escaped to the desert after the Harkonnen overthrow of the city, where they busied themselves planning their next move and finding a way to reach the Fremen.

That was a perfect place to end the movie. Instead we get a lot of imagery that could have been worked into what we’ve already seen (which might have extended the running time beyond 1 hour forty but certainly not 2 hours and 35 minutes).

What’s also interesting to me is that I’ve heard people say that Lynch’s movie wasn’t as faithful to the movie as they would have liked, but the thing of it is Villeneuve’s movie wasn’t structurally different – the Fremen were given more of a sense of agency and the background of the Atreides family was more developed, but beyond that?

Essentially the same movie as Lynch’s.

Now, that might have something to do with the source material for both movies being the same, though as anyone will tell you, Frank Herbert’s Dune is a lot of book. There’s nothing to say that the screenplay for each version should appear so similar.

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