Dune

REVIEW: Dune (2021)

After his family, the House of Atreides, is called to take ownership of the planet Arrakis, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) becomes entangled in the war for the most valuable resource in the galaxy.

I read Dune by Frank Herbert a few years ago and saw the 1984 film version earlier this year so I did have some background knowledge going into this latest adaptation which is a good thing as Dune as a story is still incredibly dense with political intrigue and various people and families being important.

Dune is indeed absolutely stunning to look at. There’s no denying that director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Greig Fraser have put together a fantastic looking film that really emphasises the scope of this story and makes all space craft look huge and tangible. The size of ships and rooms in cities may mean there’s a lot of space but the way things are shot and how the tension builds between some characters means that there’s often a claustrophobic feel to things too. Everything is so vast but as there’s so many things out there looking to harm Paul and those he cares about – huge sand worms and other Houses included – that it feels like there’s a threat from every corner.

The huge score from Hans Zimmer also contributes to this. It often compliments the shots on screen but some of the musical choices (I’m talking about the bagpipes) does feel a bit out of place. Though House of Atreides and Arrakis each have a distinct theme which is always nice to hear and it’s always nice to hear echoes of music throughout a film.

Dune has a huge and talented cast and some (Zendaya and Javier Bardem) are not in it much at all but they all do give great performances. Chalamet does a fine job being pretty much the centre of the whole thing but the two standouts were Rebecca Ferguson as Paul’s mother Lady Jessica and Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, one of Duke Leto’s (Oscar Isaac) right-hand men. Ferguson captures the many sides of Jessica brilliantly. She’s composed and skilled while also barely containing her terror in one key scene. Before even Paul or you as the viewer know what he’s about to face you are on edge thanks to her performance. On the other end of the scale, you have Jason Momoa. While Ferguson is restrained, Momoa is exuberant in all situations, even battles. Every time Jason Momoa comes on screen it’s like the film got a shot of adrenalin. He is charismatic and charming and Momoa seems like he’s just having a great time being a space warrior who also manages to befriend everyone. Duncan Idaho is like a mentor to Paul and their dynamic is great and he’s such an affable character that it’s hard not to enjoy his presence whenever he’s on screen.

Most of the problems I have with Dune the film are the ones I had in Dune the book. It’s a dense story with a lot of political machinations and moving parts, and a lot of the characters aren’t afforded much depth. Chalamet does a fine job at Paul but the problem lies with the kind of character Paul is, he’s a prophesised saviour-type of character and so while there’s moments where you can see he’s smart or skilled, you never really get to see who he is as a person. It’s difficult to connect with a lot of the characters because there’s so much to take in about each of them, and with many of them it’s their sense of duty or legacy that comes across more than any kind of appealing personality.

Another problem with Dune is that it’s technically part one of the story. This would be less worrying if two things had happened. One, that the second film was confirmed to be happening – at the moment it seems to be dependent on how much money this one makes etc. And two, if this film actually felt like it had a beginning, middle and an end. This film just stops and in some ways a lot seems to have happened, and in others it doesn’t seems to have achieved anything at all. If anything, it feels like it stops hallway through the second act, so there has been a lot of setup but not a lot of resolution. Even films like The Lord of the Rings that are three distinct parts of one overall story each have three clear acts. With Dune you can’t help but feel a bit dissatisfied.

There is no denying the impressive filmmaking that produced Dune. The special effects often look invisible making you believe in these worlds and the technology and people that live in them, and the whole atmosphere of the film is very distinct. The cast are great too but it’s the story structure and the story itself that doesn’t quite stand up to how the film is presented. Maybe if/when we get a Dune Part Two it’ll make this film go up in my estimations. For now, it looks great, but much like the novel I cared little for the story or most of the characters. 3/5.

REVIEW: Dune (1984)

After his family is attacked and betrayed on the planet Arrakis, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), leads desert warriors against the galactic emperor and his father’s nemesis Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) to get revenge and to free their desert world from the emperor’s rule.

With the newest adaptation of the novel set to be released towards the end of this year (hopefully), I thought it’d be a good idea to see what David Lynch’s adaptation was like since I’d generally heard bad things about it. I read Dune a couple of years ago and as I was reading it I thought it’s a difficult story to retell in film as there’s so much politics, world building and character backstories to fit in in order to make the story make sense and to be compelling.

Dune tries to fill in the gaps of the viewers knowledge by having a narration setting up what Spice is – the much sought-after substance that is in time travel technology – and the prophesy. That’s shortly followed by a computer talking about the main planets and who rules each one. This sort of setup makes sense. It’s how there’s so much voice over of various characters thoughts throughout the film that gets grating. It fails to show and instead has all the characters telling (or thinking) their thoughts about what’s going on and what things mean. Some of the thoughts could’ve been said out loud, whether as a rhetorical question or explanation to themselves, or even as a question to people around them.

The cast of Dune is a real eclectic mix. A lot of people’s performances seem either wooden or too over the top. In some ways that almost suits the film as it’s so odd that it’s like it’s not sure what it’s trying to be anyway. Patrick Stewart is Gurney Halleck, Paul’s weapons and combat teacher, and I wasn’t expecting to see him in this film – especially carrying a pug into battle. The inclusion of dogs in this fantasy science-fiction adventure was a weird thing anyway. Sting plays Feyd Rautha, a ruthless enemy of Paul’s, and while he looks pretty cool in the costume and his electrified hair, he really can’t act. Kyle MacLachlan does a good job as Paul, balancing the vulnerability of the character with how resourceful he is. He is older (and looks it) than Paul in the book as there he was a teenager but whether it’s the floppy hair or his performance, he does come across more youthful than he is.

The set design and costumes were all interesting, the set design especially was quite unique, and while a lot of the special effects don’t hold up (I’m not sure if they would’ve been considered good in the 80s) the practical effects like a large alien creature in a moving tank were still impressive. The score, which is by Toto of all people, is actually one of the highlights of the film. There’s haunting tracks and more tense music, even when the action on screen isn’t that exciting, the music does a good job making you think it is.

Overall while it might have interesting elements to it, Dune isn’t a particularly interesting or compelling film. The plot moves so slowly and because there’s so many characters it’s hard to keep track of who’s who or for them to have decent character development. The action sequences are pretty generic, a load of explosions and people shooting from a distance. There’s not really any hand-to-hand combat and when there is, characters have these blocky CG shields that make the fight almost impossible to see.

Dune really is an interesting mess of a film. I feel like anyone adapting this story is fighting an uphill battle as there’s so much needed to make the story understandable, and to make the story exciting as the book itself was a bit dry in my opinion. A lot of the sci-fi elements of Dune do look cool, but that doesn’t make the film an entertaining watch. 2/5.

Thoughts on… Audiobooks

Before this year I had never listen to an audiobook for before. Well, that’s kind of a lie. I remember listening to cassette tapes of the Animal Ark books by Lucy Daniels when I was a child. I word listen to them on a walkman and I had a cassette player by my bed and I would sometimes listen to them at night before falling asleep instead of reading a book.

Back from the age of say 7 years old to nearly 20 years later I haven’t really listened to audiobook but that was until this year. At the end of 2017 I started a new job where I could walk to work every day, instead of getting the train as I had previously. When I was commuting to work by train I would read on the train, but now I didn’t have that time I wasn’t reading as much. So that’s when I started looking into audiobooks, so I could listen to something as I walked to and from work and also maybe when I was walking around town on my lunch break. Obviously, I’d heard of Audible but when I looked into that it’s kind of expensive and I rarely read physical books more than once so I doubt I’ll ever listen to an audiobook more than once so when I joined local library I discovered they have audiobooks you can borrow from the library.

I downloaded a couple of apps one is called Borrow Box and another is called RBdigital and these are the two I use the most. Obviously different libraries have different catalogues, so some have more choice than others but since January I’ve listened to two audiobooks a month on average depending how long the audiobook is.

I’m finding that audiobooks are a great way for me to read more books during a month or a year. And it’s a way for me to read books that have been on my shelves for a long time that I was perhaps intimidated by. For instance, I listen to the audiobook of The Three Musketeers over the summer, a book that I’ve had on my shelf for at least 15 years and I had yet to read it and I doubt I would have read the physical copy. Last month I listened to the audiobook of Dune by Frank Herbert and that was definitely a book that was so big and such a classic that I really don’t think I would’ve read it if it wasn’t for the audiobook. I listened to Bleak House on audio this year and I think that made it an easier book to understand because listening to the characters talk and the description made it less dense than the few times I’ve tried to read my paperback copy of Bleak House.

I find audiobooks are not only good way of reading intimidating books that I’ve had my possession but also to find new books I hadn’t heard of before. It has been audiobooks that I’ve listen to a lot for my Read the World Project and because I’ve borrowed them through the library, they haven’t cost me any money.

I think once upon a time I believed that audiobooks weren’t “real books” and if you listen to audiobooks you weren’t reading but I stand corrected. Whether you read a book that’s a physical copy or an e-book or you listen to an audiobook, you are still consuming the story and I think that’s the most important thing.

I am now an audiobook convert I think they’re brilliant and so handy and such a great way to get stories to people that might not have the time to sit down and dedicate time to reading a physical copy. I can listen to a least an hour each day of an audiobook on my walk to and from work. If I’m doing the cleaning or cooking, I’m usually listen to my audiobook then as well so I’m still paying attention and I’m still consuming the story, but I don’t have to dedicate all my time to the action of reading when I’m listening to an audiobook.

Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, where do you get your audiobooks from? I’m always looking for cheap and new ways to listen to audiobooks.

REVIEW: Dune by Frank Herbert

“Spice” is the most valuable yet rarest element in the universe, it’s a drug that can be used in many different ways, and it can only be found on the inhospitable desert planet of Arrakis. When the Emperor transfers stewardship of Arrakis from the House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Harkonnens plot to take back the planet, putting Duke Leto and his family in danger. Duke Leto’s fourteen year old son Paul and his mother Lady Jessica, escape into the desert there they meet the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, and fight to survive and take back what has been taken from them.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, Ilyana Kadushin. It was a pretty good audiobook though some of the characters voices weren’t always consistent through the story so it was sometimes a little jarring at times. I definitely don’t think I would’ve read the physical book (as it’s so large and intimidating) so listening to it on audio made it more accessible for me.

Dune is about so many things, politics, religion, family, technology, and all these things are so well-developed that you end up with a vivid world this space society takes place in. that’s not to say it can’t be a bit confusing or overwhelming at times, it definitely can, but it does pose some interesting multi-layered ideas about politics and religion and how they interact.

This interstellar society that’s formed of many important families who control individual planets, though you only really follow the Harkonnens and the Atreides, is fascinating in a way as it’s full of weird contradictions. They have technology like force fields, but they fight with swords and daggers. They have space travel but they also have a belief in magic. It’s an odd combination that makes Dune seem like a historical story sent in a science-fiction world – especially with all the political backstabbing and the royal titles.

The descriptions of the planet Arrakis, its people and its creatures (there’s humongous worms with many teeth that roam the sand dunes looking for food) makes this hostile planet Paul and his mother find themselves stranded on a truly unsettling and dangerous place.

Paul is a compelling character. He’s had a lot of training in various forms of combat and politics, plus his mother has taught him the ways of persuasion and other skills that seem like magic to many people. He’s smart and capable for a teenager, but he’s pushed to the limit when his life, and the lives of everyone he knows, is threatened. I really liked his relationship with his mother Jessica. Their relationship was constantly shifting, sometimes they were like mother and son, other times they were like equals, and then at other times Paul seemed the more mature and self-assured as he seemed to be able to see possible futures.

Throughout the book there’s little experts of books from within the universe this story is set. As the story progresses, I came to realise these exerts were theoretically written after the events that Paul and Jessica were involved in. As they were often a history of Arrakis and its people, they gave you a hint as to whether or not Paul would succeed in his aims and what would become of the characters you’re already following.

I’m pleased I’ve read Dune, though it did end somewhat suddenly. A couple of the main plots were completed but there’s still a lot more to explore with this intergalactic political system. I didn’t know before going into Dune that there’s a number of sequels. I don’t think I’ll be reading them though as while I liked the story as I was reading it, I didn’t love the characters and I’m not desperate to know what happens to them next. 3/5.