Dune

Dune ★★★

One of the myriad ways Hollywood's industrial production methods produce subpar cinema is by creating and marketing films as the creative output of a single artist: the director.

This has led to critics celebrating visually creative but directorially inert filmmakers as “auteurs.” Under a different system, these artists could make much better movies by maintaining creative control of the look, premise and design while someone else directs the actors, paces the film and places the camera. This list for me includes Tim Burton, Gore Verbinski, George Lucas and, perhaps more controversially, fantasist Guillermo del Toro and sci-fi darling Denis Villeneuve.

Villeneuve's Dune is the most anticipated major sci-fi release since The Rise of Skywalker. But the hype seems to reflect the craving for a major fantasy movie event rather than real widespread love of Frank Herbert’s book series from which Dune is adapted. The books are dense with made-up proper nouns and obtuse space politics, and infamously difficult to adapt to film and television.

Villeneuve is perfect for the austere, aestheticized and often inhuman world of Dune, and watching it, one senses he spent a lot more time sitting with production designers drawing spaceships than he did thinking about what the actors were doing. Dune 2021 is not a good movie – it’s pretty racist and, despite a very talented cast, has almost zero emotional stakes.

The film’s weaknesses disappointed many, but I went in expecting little from Villeneuve. As soon as the words "Part One" appeared beneath "Dune" on the title card, I knew I wasn't gonna get a movie at all, but was instead in for an evening of NBL (nothing but lore).

But if you can lower those expectations and strap in – and if you were to use narcotic assistance to do so, who am I to judge? – the movie will wash over your eyes and through your brain with ease. Much of the visual design is very cool and Greig Fraser's cinematography is gorgeous, and as a result I didn't stress its 2 1/2-hour runtime.

The only problem with such experiences is that, just as the exfoliating sandstorms of the desert planet Arrakis wash over magical chosen one Space Duke Paul, films like this will tend to exfoliate the mind.


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