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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Nov 21, 2021



WE WERE in college when Frank Herbert’s novel, “Dune”, hit it big. We’re not really a fan of fantasy sci-fi literature, but we tried to read it and the first thing we notice is that it has a very long glossary list of terms invented by Herbert to build up his own world in his book. 

We are introduced to the planets Arrakis and Caladan, the House Harkonnen, the Fremen fighters, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, Padisham Emperor Shaddam Corrino, etc. etc. You have to familiarize yourself with them for you to be able to understand what’s happening. 

It became a hit series of books with a loyal following, but we quickly realized we didn’t have the patience for this and gave it up.

We remember the novels we liked at around that time were “The Comedians” by Graham Greene, “Midnight Cowboy” by James Leo Herlihy and the potboiler “Airport” by Arthur Hailey that all became big movies, with “Midnight Cowboy” even winning Oscars for best pic and best director. 

But George Lucas admits that it is Herbert’s “Dune” that gave him the inspiration for him to do his own world-building “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” in “Star Wars”, which really became a very lucrative blockbuster 12-movie franchise with hit spin offs even on television.

“Dune” was first filmed in 1984 by David Lynch, who gained fame for his first movie, “Eraserhead, introducing Kyle MacLachlan as the lead character, Paul Atreides.  But “Dune” was vehemently vilified by both critics and fans of the novel for the changes he made. 

There was also a 3-part TV series made in 2000, titled “Frank Herbert’s Dune”, starring Alec Newman as Paul. It did well, so it even had a sequel, “Children of Dune”, in 2003 with Newman reprising his role. 

Now comes a new big screen version directed by Denis Villeneuve, who has directed such sci-films as “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049”. 

It has a star-studded cast led by Oscar winner Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, among others. 

It’s now showing in local theaters and is the first of a projected 2-part film adaptation of Herbert’s book. So the first thing you’d notice is that the film is really so “bitin” and has no ending. You have to wait for Part 2 to complete it and it’s expected to come in 2023.

Set in the very distant future of the year 10121, the story is narrated by Chani (Zendaya), a native girl.  But the lead character is Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the son of Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) who is born with messianic powers. 

His dad is Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) of the House Atreides who was given the stewardship of the planet Arrakis, not knowing it’s actually a mere ploy to eradicate his house as he is a threat to the current emperor, Shaddam, who remains unseen. 

Arrakis is a desert planet known for its spice, a magical element that can prolong life and also be used for interstellar travel, so everyone wants to control it. So now, more or less, you have an idea about what the main conflict is all about and we’ll leave it at that. 

Right off, we have to commend Direk Denis for the scope and ambition of his vision in making his own film adaptation of a well loved source material. It’s apparent that he wants to make it a combination of commercial elements as well as the arthouse qualities of his more serious works like “Prisoners” and “Sicario”.

It sometimes feels like it wants to hypnotize you with its visuals to get under your skin. But honestly, while watching it, our mind keeps on wandering, a sure sign that we’re getting bored as it’s running out of tricks to hook our attention, mainly due to the lack of emotional connection with the characters. 

The pacing is understandably slow because they’re building their own world with its own dense, sprawling narrative.  It could have been an epic, but it just has so many tedious spaces and and so much inertia in its two hour and a half running time that not even Hans Zimmer’s bombastic musical score can redeem it. 

This version may wow the loyal fans of the novel, but we doubt if new viewers will be enamored with it and get hooked on its spice-fuelled visions. Honestly, it’s not much fun or entertaining to watch, despite its dazzling visuals that really aim to impress, specially the spectacular giant desert worms that swallow everything in its sandy path.

One thing we can’t understand is it’s set in the very far future, so you’d think things would be very modern, but everything here from the costumes to the weapons look so medieval, influenced by Middle Eastern culture. Throwback look ba ito or something?

Chalamet is Hollywood’s fair-haired boy today and honestly, we cannot understand it as he's a puny looking hero.  He has zero chemistry with Zendaya, the girl he sees in his visions. We liked him in “Call Me By Your Name” as he certainly fits his androgynous role. 

But he failed to impress us in “Little Women” and “Beautiful Boy”. The actors who portrayed Paul Atreides in the previous versions of “Dune” both didn’t have successful careers and if such things comes in three’s… well, we just hope Chalamet would break the cycle.

The standouts in the movie are Rebecca Ferguson who’s amazing as his mom, Stellan Skarsgard as the hideous looking Baron Harkonnen who can levitate, and Jason Momoa easily steals all his scenes in a Han Solo kind of role as swashbuckling swordsman Duncan Idaho. Most of the other performers give anemic performances or just fall flat. 

Most franchise films usually have their own climax for each of the individual movies, like “Harry Potter”, “The Matrix” or “Lord of the Rings”. This one doesn’t have any and it looks like it’s just setting up the sequel. 

But to be honest, we’re not at all that excited to see Dune 2 or any future installments.