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Dune (2021)
It begins.
Filmmaker(s): Denis Villeneuve

Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet's exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence-a commodity capable of unlocking humanity's greatest potential-only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

Dune (2021)

Knives, Teeth, Motion

I am perhaps not a good demographic for this. I saw ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ when it was new, the same as Herbert. I’m a bit younger, but I went through the same study of religious traditions before Buddhisms of the new age arrived. I read ‘Silent Spring’ about when he did, and was exposed to Sufism and the dervishes of Rumi.

And I was deep in the science fiction of the time. So when his worlds were created, I was with him, reading it in serial form. Yes, I recall the sneering that this wasn’t hard science, because it relied on magic, and the faster-than-light travel wasn’t explained by some advance. I lived in these books.

When the Lord of the Rings was brought to the screen, I was ho hum. When Star Wars struck us, I was impressed, but that discovery saga is out of Bulwer-Lytton, an uncomplicated ‘journey’ narrative.

So when the master of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Runner 2’ was engaged, I thought I’d be able to immerse in world richness the way you only can in big films in a big theatre. Knowing that Villeneuve would continue with his creative partner (and love) was a plus.

The central idea in the earlier books and its narrative technique was the future’s hold over the present is not absolute, but structured, nuanced. Villeneuve and Lapointe had deftly handled this very device in their last two films, so masterfully they earned a place in my ‘fours’.

I just now realise how this maps to my career, which deals with similar possibility navigation.

While there is story about Paul, it is within the more dominant situation of four power blocks. One is ordinary: emperor with army who adjudicates trade in a feudal system. Another are the great houses, the fiefdoms with territory and populace. These are simply extended from what we have.

The two new ones are a society of witches with significant power to set futures. Some of this is enabled by melange — the vision parts — but there is genuine independent magic in these souls, linked to female ownership of who comes next. They manipulate that at deep levels internally and that gives them concurrent power over vast elements of society. They also advise the powerful.

There are also the navigators who have a similar, independent magic, but over time and space. This control over futures is similar, but over abstractions rather than urges. Herbert surprisingly allows them, the Spacing Guild, to absorb and control banking, an amazing understanding of how abstraction works. Unlike the intrinsic magic of the Bene Gesserit, their magic is synthetic, fuelled by melange.

However, the Guild and Bene Gesserit conspired to homogenise religion across the empire, and therefore shape science.

The first arc of the saga has the Guild siding with Paul against the Emperor to the surprise of the Bene Gesserit.

These four are the actual environment, the primary situation. The sand planet is the stage only. In amongst these four are mentats, nurtured savants serving as human computers. Paul is trained by the best one of the era, in parallel with his combat and witchcraft training. Here, the mentat and doctor are merged, such that this training evaporates. Paul’s fully rounded education is lost.

Villeneuve doesn’t quite stomp all over this construction-of-competitors in this first film. It’s job, after all is just to set up some characters, give colour, and sketch forces.

But we see some choices that favour spectacle over focus, and simple conflict instead of the amazing multidimensional quilt of competition and influence Herbert created.

One choice is the special effects shop. No WETA and camera tricks. No ILM and gadget agency. They went with DNEG, which is basically Indians using Unity. They are known for bending to the vision of the art team on time and budget, which is good. But they bring no inherent magic.

Another is the composer. Zimmer is environmental. Williams’ lyricism would be worse. That ongoboingo honker would be laughable. Zimmer’s talent works when we survey vastness, and where tension is needed. But some composers are capable of anticipated motifs that when they reappear more fully seem to be prescient. My guess is that Villeneuve needed the aural space filled and would have been afraid of adding musical risk to his others.

Ferguson is the best. In the books, she is not the wife, but ‘a concubine’ in love but also in perpetual stress over her situation. Since the setup for the next film is all about life partners and children, we count on Chani to have the allure of the fremen, an allure sufficient to bend the universe, create a child ‘out of order’ and disrupt business. It isn’t just sexual appeal, but a cinematic presentation of the force of coupling, creating a path a man can take outside of what has been determined. This is almost always because passion turns lucky.

Zendaya assuredly is capable of presenting this. But we have her here as basically a hiking buddy, handy.

This is an enjoyable engagement by itself, independent of the source material and is worth watching. It isn’t until the next film that I feel disappointed.

Posted in 2024

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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