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Dune II: I don’t understand movies anymore

I waited a few days to process the film to decrease whatever bias I may have had for the picture. As difficult as it may seem, there are fragments of that remaining in this review. So proceed with caution, and see the film if you like, regardless of my criticism.

On March 1, 2024, Director Denis Villeneuve and Warner Bros. Studios released the concluding sequel to the 2021 release of the movie Dune. The first movie was years in the making, with fans of the books patiently anticipating its release. A stacked cast of the likes of Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, and Josh Brolin brought a rather eventful and stunning first film. The CGI was quite mesmerizing as the captivating world of Arrakis was projected onto the big screen. Most certainly a drastic change from the 1984 classic starring Kyle MacLauchlan in his first role and Sting from the Police. The film is hokey by today’s standards, but nonetheless, it is an amazing movie for those who are fans of science fiction and books. Yet, the three-year wait for the 2021 sequel made all those feelings of anticipation and love for the book dissipate.

If it is not already obvious, I like the book. I dragged my boyfriend out to the theater with me, under the promise that he would get perhaps the best piece of marketing for a film ever: the popcorn bucket.

Dune II (2024) popcorn bucket Tabithia Dean

I have probable cause to believe that the popcorn bucket brought the mass wave of people to go see the film because, without it, I don’t think the film would have reached as large of an audience or gotten people talking about it.  The 2-hour and 46-minute movie was worth the free ticket students get at the Black Bear Cinemas in Orono, ME, on Wednesday, but I would not have spent the regular $12-15 ticket price.

The first half of the movie was decent, so to speak. The fine line of creative liberties was being plucked like a wash basin bass. The second half of the book is quite short. There is a time jump of three years, which would make the movie an hour and 30 minutes rather than nearly three hours. The second half of the movie felt like three years and could have ended on four separate occasions. It followed more of the book than the first half did, but the movie’s actual ending was stupid. For one, Lady Jessica never gave birth to Alia, Chani was never pregnant with Paul’s son Leto, and a good portion of the film never happened in the books. I did not hate all of it. The fight scene between Feyd-Ratha and Paul was pretty cool, except for the open-mouth heavy breathing. That was hilarious and downplayed the entire scene. Other than the well-choreographed fight scenes and the sandworms, I wasn’t really impressed. Hans Zimmer always manages to create the perfect eerie sci-fi music to capture a moment.

I would not have been upset with the creative liberties if there were not so many, but I guess the director wanted more Zendaya and turned Lady Jessica into a frightening, evil villain character. I also think it was an interesting choice to introduce Feyd-Ratha, one of the leading villains, HALFWAY through the second movie in an unsettling black-and-white scene, once again with creative liberties and having a fun time pressing the limits of the book. I think the movie relied too much on its cast to attract audiences. It felt like the who’s who of the millennial film industry. All the actors and actresses who are popular and big right now were in this movie. The aforementioned Chamalet and Zendaya, Florence Pugh, Léa Seydoux, Austin Butler, and the cherry on top is a cameo appearance by Anya Taylor Joy that made me yell in the theater to create a new type of the  “Rat Pack” the “That Pack” (because they’re all that).

One of the thoughts that flashed through my head was, “Are modern films supposed to be watched on drugs?” because it sure felt like I was on them watching this movie. Maybe it’s because attention spans have been cut in half. The constant explosions hiding actors in the dust and then popping up out of nowhere, barely seeing what is going on, mind-boggling CGI of airships flying and explosions hiding the ships in the dust and then popping up out of nowhere, and a few scenes where they kind of just ended without any explanation or follow up on them that could have been cut from the movie and made the 2 hours and 46-minute movie into at most 2 hours. For instance, there is a scene where Stilgar, played by Javier Bardem, tells Paul to cross the desert as a test, and he gets halfway. Then, the scene cuts to Chani teaching Paul how to use the windshields. So, did he finish the test? I couldn’t tell you. Most certainly, it was not necessary to have. Likewise, there was a CGI part towards the end of the movie that looked like the Death Star in Star Wars, although the CGI Star Wars looked better than that one scene.

I hate to say it, but I will. Christopher Walken was not the best choice for the role of the emperor. There had to have been someone else, for instance, to have Maclauchlan show up as a cameo as an homage to his first role, or even someone really big right now, such as Daniel Craig or Cillian Murphy. Honestly, the casting was so wishy-washy that I made a rundown of the actors and whether or not they were the best choice for the role:

  • Chalamet as Paul: Absolutely not. The actor needs to be typecast as a Victorian child, like his role in Little Women.
  • Zendaya as Chani: It’s Zendaya. She could play a monster, and she would be great.
  • Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica: I think she did quite well. She embodied all aspects of the character’s motherly yet distant stern teacher role but should not have been as scary as she was.
  • Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan: She was alright.
  • Josh Brolin as Gurney Halick: A good choice; not much else to say about it.
  • Javier Bardem as Stilgar: I loved him. He was a perfect choice, and he carried the movie.
  • Stellen Skarsgard as Baron Harkonnen: I loved him. He was the perfect choice and carried the movie.
  • Austin Butler as Feyd-Ratha: It was fine, but I could only see him as that kid from Zoey 101.
  • Dave Bautista as Rabban: There was one part where all I could think about was his line as Drax: “My reflexes are so fast that nothing would ever go over my head.” Other than that, he was great.
  • Léa Seydoux as Margot Fenning: She was kind of just tossed in the movie, not really needed. It made me think it was cast just because she’s popular right now.
  • Charlotte Rampling as Gaius Helen: The character pissed me off, which means as an actress, she did it right

The movie received criticism and backlash for representing imperialism, which, from that perspective, the white man controlling a major colored population in the desert and treating him like a messiah can cater to that controversy. I remember someone calling it Arab propaganda” even though we have been in conflict with them for years.  However, if you know the context of the book, “Lawrence of Arabia” influenced Frank Herbert, the 1916 event turned 1962 movie when the book was published in 1965, yes which is the white man messiah trope, but also other moments in history that were not just relying on Islamic influences or imperialism. He also incorporated all religions into his book and was one of the early environmental and ecology commentators. I like to think about how the movie would have gone over if Freman had been played by white actors and actresses, like in the 1984 movie. Would there have been as much controversy, or would there be more since they are white and there is no diversity in the movie? His book was ahead of its time, and you would think society nowadays would appreciate it, but the movie leaves that out.

It’s interesting to see the contrast between the three films, 1984, 2021, and 2024, and how each, the same franchise, received different opinions just because of how it is portrayed. Creative liberties may help influence a movie, but nowadays, it seems they may hinder or force the message they are trying to portray. However, film can be a powerful tool with the right group of people, effects, and a moderate amount of purpose. I think that Dune II did not find the correct measurements for the formula, and it was not as good as it could have been.

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