Dune

Dune ★★★★★

I've seen this four times now, and it's still nearly impossible to talk about it without using empty platitudes like "cinematic masterpiece" and "once in a lifetime" and "like nothing you've ever seen." Even putting words to any part of it feels like I'm doing a disservice; above all else, Dune is a movie that has to be experienced before it can begin to be discussed. Which, in itself, sounds like a pretentious wordy meaningless statement until you experience the movie. On a big screen, preferably! It looks incredible and the full-frame IMAX aspect ratio is just magnificent to behold, man.

Just a few scattered thoughts from multiple viewings:

- First, this is one of the most transportive pieces of sci-fi we've been given since 1977. Dune is called Dune because the story is inseparably grounded in one particular (and very sandy) place, and the sense of place here definitely conjures memories of Middle Earth and Hogwarts purely based in how real and thought-out and tangible it all feels. It's hard to talk about Dune without making comparisons and callbacks to other prominent sci-fi/fantasy worlds, and that's not because it's derivative of those worlds (as most people know, it might be the other way around) but instead because the world constructed here is so grand and foreign that it has to be compared to something in the cinematic landscape to be explained at all. Even so, as I'm writing this I have to remind myself that my goal isn't really to explain the movie I'm describing, but rather to talk about how it makes me feel.

- The most surprising thing about Dune for me and my wife was that it's fun. It goes hard. It slaps. It's wildly cinematic. Denis Villeneuve is a contemplative and comprehensive director, but this movie proves once again that he's also a cool director with a flair for the spectacle and spirit of the medium. There are so many moments in this movie that just bowl you over with their sheer coolness. The Gom Jabbar scene. The design and sounds of the Ornithopters. The score during the montage where everyone is leaving for Arrakis. The way the Sardukkar troopers have these unsettlingly quiet jetpacks that let them glide down without making a sound. Paul's horrific visions of the future. Oscar Isaac in every single scene. Everything else about the music. The insane spice harvester rescue sequence. DUNCAN IDAHO MAKING A FINAL STAND. BURNING PALM TREES. THE SPACE BAGPIPES CUE WHEN GURNEY AND THE TROOPS CHARGE INTO BATTLE. WEIRD THROAT-SINGING SARDUKKAR DJ! GUY RIDING A SAND WORM! DESERT POWER, BABY!

- My biggest fear about Dune - and part of the reason that I, like many others, assumed it would flop - was that the world would be too dense and full of complex terminology, and the characters would mostly be unlikeable and cold in a dystopia with little warmth or light to cling to. Almost everything I just said turned out, in some sense, to be true; the lore of Dune is unmistakably dense, the characters are all very flawed, and the world is dark and uncomfortable. But I should've known Denis Villenueve better than to think that's all there would be to it. Amid the dimly-lit, often nightmarish world of this movie, Villeneuve still manages to maintain a genuine heart to these characters and their relationships, with room for levity and smiles and frequent hugs. It's not that Villeneuve took a dark story and lightened it up with quips; it's that despite the space dystopia, all of the people in the movie still feel distinctly and understandably human. A lesser director might have cut the scene where Paul and his father Leto discuss their family legacy among the graves on Caladan, but Villeneuve recognizes that these little intimate and familial moments serve as grounding for the audience to care about people in the midst of such an otherwise grandiose endeavor. In terms of someone who radiates sheer likability and fatherly warmth, Oscar Isaac was an unmistakably brilliant choice, too. It's that familial connection that gives Dune much of the heart that it has; the father/son and mother/son relationships, as well as the older-brotherish relationship with Duncan and the almost uncle-like relationship with Gurney Halleck serve to endear the audience to the "family affair." Paul is a complex antihero on his way to becoming something else entirely, but at the start of this story, he's extremely sympathetic as a young boy struggling to find his own identity as a man in the midst of a world that has dictated his destiny since the day he was born. My relationship with my own dad has always been a warm one, but especially in these past few years, the question of where the line is in identity between him and me has only grown as I've stepped into adulthood and started to realize how we're the same and how we're different. It's a universal coming-of-age struggle, and Dune uses it to great effect.

- When I first saw the movie, some of my minor gripes were with the fact that the story felt incomplete and the film dragged as it inched through the final 30 minutes. I'd still say the film drags a bit as it reaches the end - the desert trudging had me starting to drift off the first time I saw it at midnight - but my appreciation for those final 30 minutes has only grown with the rewatches. The way Paul's visions begin to subvert themselves and free will clouds the predictions of the future makes even the more comparatively low-stakes conflict feeling thrilling as the prophetic revelations begin to coalesce into what actually happens. In terms of the incomplete story, I've also felt far more at peace with the fact that this is the Fellowship of a three-part journey; the ending here is when Obi Wan dies on the Death Star, or when Gandalf says "fly you fools" and we realize act one is complete. Even so, the way Denis uses Paul's visions to frame this particular story still allows it to find some sense of completion by the time Chani says "this is just the beginning" and we realize we've only seen a glimpse of what's coming. It's an ending that leaves the audience both excited and full of dread, unsure what future awaits us but anxious for the journey to unfold. I loved it.

- As an epilogue to this review: whoever said Dune is impossible to meme turned out to be dead wrong, right? My wife and I have been listening to the Zimmer soundtrack nonstop while cooking and cleaning for the past 2 weeks, doing the ridiculous "sand walk" in public, saying "thank Shai Halud" whenever it's warm outside, imitating the throat-singing Sardukkar DJ, and whispering "Kwisatz Haderach" at random times during the day just to get the other one to laugh. It's not that this stuff in the movie is dumb, it's that it's so much fun. Dune fever is taking over, lads. There's no going back.

Houston liked these reviews

All