This is a remake of a film Old Mrs Jack dragged me to for various pretty-boys-are-in-it reasons in the 1980s. Old Jack hated the original with a hate unknown to humankind.
The story was impenetrable, the effects risible, and the acting obscure. Yeah. Obscure. Think about how weird it had to be for that word to fit.
So. Enter Nurse Stabby Fingers and her coterie of pretty-boy loving support staff – and a mission. They’d caught wind of this blog and openly threatened to sue unless we had an outing to the bravely reopened cinema. COVID cleansing has made the carpets cleaner, they said; the pit for wheelchairs is less like a back alley vacated by startled cats, they said; they’ll pay for the hot dogs… I was in. So. Old Jack went to see Dune (2021).
Was it a bag of awful, awful shite, you wonder?
Well. Dune is a big thing with a little story. I’m still not sure of the detail, but it seems an empire in space comprises power families. And a controlling Barony. So far so Scottish Play.
One family that loves water is ordered to take over a planet made of sand (and a dash of magic spice that turns your eyes a glowy blue). Their task is to make money. Although their actual job is to die. Interested?
Much setting up of the grandiose place, the buildings, the sand, the weirdness of the family and the locals, leads to a night of murder… What about now?
Look, this is a risky old film given how awful the original was. It’s based on a set of mighty tomes that only the brave and the lonely have read. Old Jack here weighed one of them once, decided against, put it down forever. So, remaking the thing is an impossibly reckless move, costing gazillions, that deserves more respect than I’ve shown so far. So…
There are complexities.
The pretty-boy is Timothée Chalamet, comprised of forelocks and glowers. He is the heir apparent of the water-family now fated to a sandy grave (he is Paul Atreides…). He also has visions of a hot girl with spiced-blue eyes…destiny! And the locals think he may be their messiah (they can tell by how he buttons up his boots, or something). The Baron (Stellan Skarsgård) is a slug-like git who has manipulated the family to their death for political reasons I’m too old to remember. Courtiers betray, magic happens, visions combine, and Oscar Isaac is killed. He’s Chalamet’s Dad and really should have seen it coming. His is the presence of the old that you may be craving (at 40…). Beardy, frowny, wise and foolish, he bears not so much the loneliness of command as the command of loneliness. He smells of doom.
Chaos ensues and Chalamet and his witchy Mum (Rebecca Ferguson combining dazed with magicky with stunning) head off into desert adventures… chasing the visions of the hot girl. (Chani, played by Zendaya, who is pleasingly grouchy in the end, despite the camera, and the pretty-boy’s affection for her face… Am I supposed to pretend this isn’t happening these days?)
Ok, it’s a good film. I said it. The above, compared to the original, is a coherent story that I understood for Dune’s nearly three hour running time. The special effects are properly astonishing. There are desert worm things bigger than big, with terrific design rendered to overpower your head. The remnants of the Atreideseses creep across the desert trying not to attract them. The sound design and the music are a wow (huzzah – Hans Zimmer). Battle bagpipes come into play for the Night of the Obvious Murders and are glorious. And the performances…
Not sure what to say about them, really. We’re not dealing with accessible characters, here. They’re all trying to be grand in a grand environment set against mighty themes and the kind of science fiction in desperate need of a police box and some jokes. Still, Skarsgård is slitheringly creepy, Isaac is solid and stolid, Ferguson is permanently on edge (and gives the film a layer of humanity it is starved of by the second minute), and Chalamet honours his archetype with a deft grace Nurse Stabby Fingers leered over distressingly openly.
The biggest problem is the scale. Director Denis Villeneuve makes it more than work, but this story shouldn’t be issued in dollops like this. It’s like being slapped in the face by cake mix.The story needs to be a mighty series, cooked into fairy cakes, released in annual chunks, for a decade. Dune 2021 feels like Peter Jackson did a three hour prologue of Frodo nipping to the loo before Gandalf turns up.
Also, unless your TV is bigger than your garden, wait for a cinema re-release.
Dune is spectacle for the big screen. Old Mrs Jack would have loved it.