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MATT'S OCCASIONAL WRITING BLOG

Dune Part 2

Spoiler: the worms win.

A little late posting this, but I got around to seeing Dune Part 2. The movie picks up where the last one left off, with young Paul Atreidis and his Bene Gesserit mother, Lady Jessica, enmeshing themselves with the desert fremen of Arrakis. The psychotically evil Harkonnens have slaughtered most (but not quite all) of House Atreidis on the spice-laden planet. The grotesque, oil-bathing Baron has plenty of slaughtering to dole out in order to get Arrakis' spice production back on line. Which apparently needs to happen. Because, apparently, there's an emperor breathing down his neck. Or something. The movie's plot, much like the novel's, is a little dense (think "Star Wars," if it had been written by George R.R. Martin). 

 

Meanwhile, Paul's psychic powers are developing quickly. Thanks to his mother's machinations, and the psychedelic spice he's inhaling constantly, and some friendly fremen (including a love interest, Chani), he'll transform from a pale, brooding twenty-something boy into a pale, brooding twenty-something Messianic revolutionary. Who leads a guerilla army. And rides giant sand worms. The action moves from desert scene to desert scene, all of which pretty much look the same. There's battles, big and small. And did I mentioned giant sand worms?

 

Dune Part 2 is a gorgeous piece of desert cinema. Like the Shari-Hulud, the action swallows you whole. And if you're a fan of the novel, it stays pretty darned true to Frank Herbert's story line. All the political intrigue, and futuristic contrivance, and vaguely Arabic-sounding nomenclature is there.

 

But while, overall, Dune Part 2 is an improvement from the first installment, it still suffers from many of the same flaws. With the notable exception of the amazing Javier Bardem, the acting's still flat. Timothee Chalamet has added a dimension to the one-dimensional mope of Part 1--now, he yells sometimes. Which I suppose is an improvement. Despite all the spice, there is no chemistry--none, nada--between him and Zendaya, playing Chani. The "goods" are all fungibly reluctant iron-willed heroes; the "baddies" are all the same irredeemably awful psychopaths.

 

Paul and Chani get moved along from place to place, set piece to set piece, fight to fight, like marionettes on strings. So does the plot, come to think of it, but that's more of a shortcoming with the novel. What's not Herbert's fault is the movie's script. Like the first Dune, the dialogue is utterly banal. Seriously, I've read comic books that had more penetrating conversations. The musical score is serviceable, but, as with the last movie, it revolves around one harmonic minor strain, sung over and over and over and over ... The sand worms sounded more dynamic.

 

But what are you seeing this movie for? You're not buying a ticket to Dune Part 2 for deep introspection or romance or masterful story-telling. Of course not. But if you want breathtaking special effects and heart-stopping knife fights (there's a lot of those) and giant freaking sand worms, you will not be disappointed. I certainly wasn't.

 

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