ReviewsTelevision & Film

Film Review: Go Play In The Sand With DUNE PART TWO

Dune: Part Two (2024)
Screenplay by Denis Villaneuve and Jon Spaihts
Based on the novel by Frank Herbert
Produced by Denis Villaneuve, Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Tanya Lapointe, and Patrick McCormick
Directed by Denis Villaneuve
Rated PG-13, 2hr 46m

Dune. What do I say? I’m not normally one to write movie reviews but in this case Mr. Boss felt I might be better at it since I’ve read the book more recently than he has. If I think about it, a Dune book review could be a movie review…. What’s that say about Dennis Villeneuve’s movies? They’re a fairly faithful adaptation of Frank Herbert’s book.

And that’s not something you find very often.

Dune Part Two picks up where Part One left off, continuing the story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) going with Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and his tribe, learning and living in their new life with the Fremen. They see the rift created in the natives of Arakkis: those who believe the Kwisatz Haderach will free them and those who think they are just stories, created from generations of Bene Gesserit stories. While Jessica believes in her son and quietly pushes the belief that he is the Messiah Muad’Dib, Paul does not want to acknowledge that he could be the one. He has visions showing he is, but the vision are not complete, just fragments, and not pleasant. Stilgar who is a devout believer, points out that Muad’Dib is too humble to admit it he is Muad’Dib.

We finally meet Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), who was the mastermind behind the destruction of House Atreides. The first movie set up the rest of this story, the aftermath of the Harkonnens regaining control of Arakkis and the response from the Fremen and the House of Atreides, including the rise of Muad’Dib. It’s not pretty and the gloves come off. The Harkonnens underestimate (and under count) the Fremen, thus slowly igniting an internal implosion of House Harkonnen between the Baron and his two nephews. Finally we see Dave Bautista’s Glossu “Beast” Rabban get some screen and story time (unlike in Part One where he was wasted) but we also finally get to see Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. But more on him later.

And for a book that was released 59 years ago, I won’t give away any spoilers. I mean movie, no spoilers…though the movie is a well done spoiler.

I’m gonna start with the movie’s look. Greg Fraser’s cinematography is gorgeous. One of the things I loved about Part One was how beautiful the film was. I compared the desert to the ocean; the waves, the vastness, even the foam and mist that from the movement of the spice over the dunes. When you see the sandworms come up out of the sand, it’s no different than watching whales breech. The wide landscape shots are breathtaking and intoxicating.

At the same time, we consider the look of Gedi Prime. Since my mental imagery of this world is from the last couple books, Villeneuve’s visual is quite different and stunning.  The reverse negative of the arena fight scene for Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen’s (Austin Butler) birthday matches the horrific life the Baron (Stellan Skarsgård) lives in while oddly making it beautiful.

Since the movie sticks closely to the book, it’s good to see the actors have a better chance to really dive into their characters. At first I wasn’t completely sold on Zendaya as Chani, but after her performance in this movie, I’m OK with it. I’m still a fan of Chalamet and Ferguson. I think Josh Brolin is better casting for Gurney Halleck than Patrick Stewart in the David Lynch version of Dune. Patrick Stewart is soft enough for Gurney’s singing and humor, but he’s not quite built like a soldier. He doesn’t show the wear and tear of war like Brolin does. But even with Brolin’s hardness, he’s able to also portray the love and dedication Gurney has for the Atreides (including his silent acceptance of Chani) and some vulnerability (not much) that helps lead to the Fremen’s acceptance of him into their fold.

Again, Stellan Skarsgård delivers a great performance as the Baron. I like that we’re able to see more of the Baron’s morbid physique, unable to move himself. I do like Florence Pugh, but I don’t think I‘d have cast her in the role of the emperor’s daughter. Herbert described Irulan as “a tall blonde woman, green-eyed, a face of patrician beauty, classic in its hauteur, untouched by tears, completely undefeated…Princess Royal, Bene Gesserit-trained” (pg 474). She does a good enough job but shows too much emotion and does not hold herself as well as Lady Jessica in the ways of the Bene Gesserit. I also don’t know who should have played her.

Christopher Walken is Christopher Walken. I think he did a fine job. The one actor in character that really stood out was Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. He captured the psychopathic creep of the character. Books allow you inside a character’s head and I wish we could hear his internal dialog because not only is he sick, he’s smart. Very smart. In the book, he can hold his own schemeing against the Baron. Their interactions to out wit are disgustingly fun.

I point out again that the movie is faithful to the book but at the end I did feel something was missing. I was second guessing myself knowing that Villaneuve is planning on a third movie possibly combining Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. I figured that whatever I felt was missing was probably in the next book (I read them back to back to back). When looking for the description of Irulan, I reread the end and found I was right.

I don’t want to give away spoilers but will say this. First, a character is missing. Kinda. They weren’t portrayed as the book intended but done well enough I felt Villaneuve’s method was OK. Second and third go hand and hand. There was a certain conversation I was waiting to hear that never happened. Ane I’m OK with this because not everything will make it into the final cut. However, even if Villaneuve tried putting it in, it never could have happened with the way movie ended, which in my opinion was a cop out.  They alluded to the relationship between Paul and Chani and that he would love her till the end, but neither film gives us the full history of their time together and why this was important for him to say and for her to know. Yes, we see at the end  how heavy the political game is about to get, but what does this mean for these two? This is why that conversation between Jessica and Chani is important. And if they want to have anything to do with Children of Dune, Villaneuve has some fast explaining to do in the next movie. David Lynch’s ending may have skipped some things but he also only had two hours for the book. Villaneuve’s ending and omittances….well, it’s just not right.

I know there has been the online chatter that this is Chani’s story. I got nervous when Villaneuve said this because it’s not. This book is very much about Paul’s journey. Villaneuve did a great job on the adaptation in Part One, why feed into the “it has to be about the woman” culture? Well, Part Two is not Chani’s story. It IS about Paul and it IS his story. She’s very much apart of it, but it’s not about her. I’m not sure why Villaneuve said what he said unless he meant Chani has a bigger role in Part Two than she did in Part One and he didn’t fully develop his thought before speaking. But rest assured, it’s not her story.

Other than that, I do recommend seeing it. I also recommend you re-watch Part One since this movie picks up where the other left off. I feel fairly satisfied and happy that any of my fears on how Villaneuve would handle the second half, especially with the internal dialog missing, were put to rest.

So go, play in the sand.

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