Well, I’ve not long come back from watching Dune at the cinema- yes my first trip to the cinema since watching 1917 back in January 2020, a pandemic ago that seems so long ago now (hard to believe that in another world, I would have seen Dune a year ago already, and we’d be hearing reports of Part Two gearing up by now).
So what did I think? I really liked it, very much so. But I didn’t love it. Maybe my affair with Villeneuve’s Dune will be one of those gradual courtships, a friendship that deepens into full-blown love, but this certainly wasn’t an experience like watching his BR2049 back in 2017. Watching that film was like falling head over heels in love instantly, a passion that hasn’t diminished any since. I adore that film. Dune was different. It was amazing and impressive and it seemed to do most everything right, but there was something that just kept me at arms length from it.
Maybe its familiarity with the book, objectively noting creative decisions whilst watching the film, and maybe it was familiarity with David Lynch’s 1984 film, objectively noting moments with the same dialogue or doing the same scene in a different way or omitting something Lynch did, or doing something Lynch didn’t (or technologically couldn’t). Sometimes it was difficult to seperate it as a new adaptation of the book rather than a remake of the Lynch film, some of it was so close. Oddly, I could feel myself really enjoying the film more when it was showing stuff not in the Lynch film, like Paul and Jessica’s escape from the abandoned terraforming station, that sequence galvanised my attention or freed me from all the mental comparisons in the back of my head. It was a complex, oddly unique experience watching this film, its carrying all sorts of baggage that isn’t fair or deserved. At least BR2049 was just in the shadow of a thirty-five year old movie (albeit it managed to also be a sequel to Blade Runner‘s source novel -arguably more faithfully than the 1982 film was).
So what did I think? Is it ridiculous of me to suggest – no, seriously- that it wasn’t long enough? That maybe criticism of Villeneuve’s slow burn of BR2049 resulted in him too mindful of audience patience and resulted in him consciously keeping Dune moving at a steady pace that perhaps lost some character beats? I can imagine readers at this point rolling their eyes in horror. Yes, maybe I’m being ridiculous to suggest I’d have preferred three hours of Dune over the two hours and thirty-five minutes we got. Would the extra twenty-five minutes have added anything? Maybe not. But I would have enjoyed more of Thufir Hawat and perhaps explanation of why we have Mentats and not iPads or AI supercomputers, or why we have shields and knives and not guns and blasters etc., some of the subtlety of world-building that makes the Dune novel so enticing and wonderful. Maybe I’m missing the Emperor and all those machinations that are clearly being left for Part Two. Lynch’s film struggled with exposition dumps in its first twenty minutes but in hindsight, the 1984 film’s opening scene with the Navigator interrogating the Emperor was a brilliant move and something I missed here.
Really, that’s my only real fault with the film; that it wasn’t long enough (maybe I’m just greedy). The cast are largely excellent, bringing all the characters to life, and the imagery is just, well, pretty phenomenal, the yardstick for what any future sci-fi epic will be measured against for decades, surely. I’m not entirely convinced Zimmer was the right choice for composer, the film sounded like so many others whereas Johann Johannsson would have made it sound like nothing else we’d ever heard, but Fate has resulted in that being stolen from us (but surely there’s an alternative to Zimmer in this world?). The visual effects were as extraordinary as might be expected: given the time and budget these film wizards can conjure anything onscreen, it seems. Dune is absolutely a really impressive film and everything I’d hoped for. Its a film largely -painfully- without an ending but that’s just part of the deal of getting a part one and a part two and Dune finally -hopefully- being considered as one, five-hour long epic in a few years time. I wouldn’t put it past the producers to give us an extended cut before Part Two lands in cinemas in, what will it be, 2024? If only Villeneuve could have shot the two back-to-back in the manner Peter Jackson shot his Lord of the Rings.
Well of course all this is the elephant in the back of the room – will we get a Part Two? Critical response seems largely positive, fans of the book seem to like it, and audiences seem to be going to the cinema to watch it, so it looks promising. But who knows? I’m not at all certain that as a single entity, Part One really works. It lacks closure. Intellectually I think they closed the film at the best place they could, given Villeneuve wasn’t going to repeat Lynch’s folly of trying to encompass the entirety of Dune in a single film, but emotionally when the credits rolled it felt rather anti-climatic. Even though I knew it was coming, it still hurt the film. The Part One moniker is really important, because this Dune is only half a film, really, half the experience, and the best stuff is really yet to come. Maybe that’s the root of my coolness toward the film- its not the whole film.
I dearly hope we get to see it, because if Villeneuve gets to make Part Two and he nails it, well folks we’ve possibly got the definitive sci-fi epic we all dreamed of when reading Herbert’s novel. If we’ve still got physical disc formats and 4K UHD when Part Two joins Part One on my shelf, all the better, because boy, that double-bill will be a frequent and hugely enjoyable pleasure that I can only imagine right now. Yeah, I can dream about it, but as Duncan says in the film, “Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake” and boy, I want to be awake watching a five-hour Dune someday.