Dune Part One: There will be inevitable comparisons between this latest version of the Frank Herbert classic sci-fi novel published in 1965 to the David Lynch film from 1984. From this reviewer’s perspective, this Denis Villeneuve version is far superior, although that really isn’t saying much nor is it a high bar to hurdle. I read the book many years ago, but I have to admit that it isn’t all that fresh with me. For the uninitiated and unfamiliar with the story, I think that Villeneuve has taken his time to explain the plot well. Note that in the opening credits it is noted that this is Part One. At 2:35 running time, this movie takes it time and keeps the audience aware of what is happening. It is a complex story about a planet in the universe that is the only source for “spice”. Spice is mined and important since it is crucial for interstellar travel, so it is very valuable. There are native people, the Fremin on the planet, but the Emperor has chosen to ignore them and placed families in charge of the spice production. The Emperor has replaced the incumbent family of Harkonnen’s with the Atreides family. There is much political jousting taking place with intrigue and suspicion among the players. The Fremen are unknown in numbers and fight against the occupying force, whatever that may be. In many ways there are themes from movies like Avatar. Within the Atreides family, there is father, played by Oscar Isaac who we discussed is everywhere these days, along with his son Paul, played by Timothee Chalamet. Paul’s mother Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson, isn’t married to the Duke and she was part of a female order, the Bene Gesserit, but she decided to have a child with him and left to be on his planet. The head of the Order shows up for a meeting with Jessica and her teenage son. We learn that the Bene Gesserit have been looking to genetically create a Matrix-like One, who can become a galactic leader. Paul is put to a test, as he has learned through his Mother some unique talents like speaking in a Voice, or communicating through alternate means (like sign language).
I won’t delve further into the plot because it is complex and not really necessary for a discussion. Many of Denis Villeneuve’s films are about the visual experience than the plot anyway. Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 show him to be the next Ridley Scott when it comes to ships, and visualizing new unseen worlds. The costume design is first rate and he has well selected actors who are able to show much while saying very little. He borrows images from other directors too, like Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now when we are seeing the overweight Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz. There are other camera angles and images that are borrowed too. I think these are an homage to the other great films, and they do not distract from the story. The time passes by quickly and despite having a bladder that was ready to explode, I wasn’t shifting in my seat. He had my full attention.
In comparing with the 1984 version, the Harkonnen’s are still a very unsightly bunch, but they aren’t over the top covered with boils and disgustingness. They find other ways to make you feel uneasy about them. Stellen Skarsgard looks almost unrecognizable in his role as their leader, flying around after eating and being intimidating. There is still a test for Paul which is similar with both films, and a similar introduction to the native planet’s worm population that can make mining the spice a very challenging job. They can get to be over 450 metres long and they move like whales through the sand. There are plenty of dream sequences, and I feel like there are more in this newer version. Because this is part one, there isn’t as much ground covered. This is a good thing, as we are allowed to keep up. Science fiction and fantasy films often like using similar and complicated names for the participants. Tolkien was infamous for them, and I welcome having a Paul and Jessica as primary protagonist names in this story. I have seen this once, and I fully expect to see it again. I feel as though that there is more to capture in a second viewing, much like Arrival for me, and Blade Runner 2049. That is a skill, and I greatly appreciate it. Villeneuve has said that he hasn’t committed to a Part Two until he sees that this version is a success. Releasing it during Covid-19 makes that measurement a more difficult task. I know that there has been no principal photography scheduled, and given the stars involved, it could be a challenge finding time for them. But I am hopeful that they carry on with this version to show more from the spice planet.
Foundation: Apple has released a mini series for the Isaac Asimov story from the early 1940s. This is more classic science fiction being put on display. I have watched 6 episodes. I will provide a more fullsome discussion about the series when I have completed it, but I have enjoyed it so far. It deals yet again with another Empire, and it’s royal three kings who are clones of one another at three different ages. They rule the galaxy for centuries, but their confidence has been shaken by a mathematician, played well by Jared Harris as Hari Seldon. Seldon is not a prophet, yet gets treated as one as he proves that the existing Empire has a finite lifecycle. He predicts the downfall. Then the intrigues continues. In many ways it is battling to keep knowledge, a library of sorts, alive to allow a species to grow and evolve. We as humans are around for a short while, but knowledge can carry on. I am hopeful that this doesn’t turn into Star Wars, because it isn’t. For those who pay attention, George Lucas borrowed many themes from both Dune and Foundation. I will continue to watch and see where this all leads.