‘Dune: Part Two’ Is Phenomenal, Right Up There With The Greatest Sci-Fi Films Of All-Time

Let’s just start with Austin Butler. A few months ago a promotional image was released of his look as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, an appearance that looks nothing like Sting in David Lynch’s Dune from 1984. Sting is only mentioned because if you go to the Wikipedia page for Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen right now, you still see Sting’s smiling face. Say what you will about Lynch’s Dune (like honestly, go ahead, I won’t be able to hear you so I don’t care), but Sting* is what most people remember about that movie. But back to Butler, it’s a striking image, especially after getting so used to him looking (and sounding) like Elvis Presley. Even in this movie based on the second half of Frank Herbert’s book Dune, it takes awhile for Butler’s Feyd to show up. But once he does, good gosh he’s electric. Just a demonic beast – who likes to stab people for vengeance, sport and boredom – also completely re-frames Dave Bautista’s Glossu, the older brother of Feyd, as a sad character and, now, at least somewhat sympathetic. (A lot of credit goes to Bautista here, too, who knows how to wear a face that reads, “I’ve done some bad things but, look what I have to put up with here.”)

*I rewatched Lynch’s Dune somewhat recently** on the Arrow-released 4K set. I quite enjoyed it for what it is. (Also, my friend Max wrote a great and extremely thorough book about it.) The last time I saw it was when it was on HBO in, I’d assume, 1985. Back then I only watched it because of Sting. At the time I assumed Sting was the main character. He is not. Like in this adaptation, Feyd takes a long time to show up.

(**I just looked up what I apparently consider “somewhat recently.” According to Letterboxd I last watched David Lynch’s Dune in September of 2021, almost two and a half years ago. I truly have no concept of time anymore.)

Look, a lot of people loved 2021’s Dune. I remember being mixed: impressed with the gall of even trying to make an adaptation of a book that so many people have declared unfilmable, but also realizing I just sat through two and a half hours of character introduction and exposition. To be clear, beautiful-looking character introductions and exposition, but character introductions and exposition nonetheless. On Villeneuve’s press tour for his first Dune, here was the first half of a movie, with no ending, that despite it all was getting almost universal acclaim and would wind up with a Best Picture nomination, and instead of taking a victory lap, even he was like, Just wait for the next one. He was right. You’re going to see people throw around the word “masterpiece” about Dune: Part Two and I’m not going to sit here and tell you they are wrong. It very well might be. (I would say, ask me in a year.) But Dune: Part Two is certainly up there with some of the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen. And yeah, turns out Dune is certainly a filmable movie.

Dune: Part Two, unsurprisingly, picks up where Dune left off – Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), walking off with the Freman on the desert planet of Arrakis, a planet of great interest to many warring factions as the only producer of Spice, which is both a mind opening drug and fuel. (Imagine if a canister of Pennzoil could also produce the effects of LSD.) Leading the Freman is Stilgar, who is convinced Paul is a messiah who will lead the Freman to victory in vanquishing the Harkonnen, eventually commanded by Feyd, from Arrakis. A fellow Freman, Chani (Zendaya), thinks Paul becoming a messiah is bunk (Paul tends to agree) as the two fight alongside each other and a romance develops.

The effects in this movie are gorgeous. Sometimes I get down on CGI (like a lot of people do) but there’s lazy CGI just like there used to be lazy practical effects. I found a lot of what I was looking at to be stunning. Most significantly, Paul being sent on on the challenge of riding a sandworm. In theory, this should look cool. In 1984’s Dune, it did not look “cool.” There’s a fine line here. Turns out, this is a gorgeous, triumphant-looking scene. (Spoiler, the main character does not get eaten by a sandworm halfway through the movie while he tries to use it as a car.) The first movie looked great, but just like the character development and exposition from the first film that all pays off in this film, the effects do the same thing. We’ve been introduced to all these creatures and machines and aspects, now they all get to pay off. (Another terrific effect, maybe less about CGI here, is the time we spend on the House of House Harkonnen’s home world, Giedi Prime, which is all presented in a very sharp, stunning black and white.)

Getting too much more into the weeds of the plot of Dune seems like a fool’s errand. The people who know it, well they already know it. And the people who don’t, it doesn’t tend to lend itself into an easy summary of events. And, of course, the book containing so many parallels with our world’s dependency on fossil fuels, and who strives and suffers, as a result has been well documented. Also of note, which is kind of out there now, but Dune: Part Two doesn’t wrap itself up at the end. Villeneuve has tentative plans to make Dune: Messiah, though no script is finished and nothing has been green-lit. And Villeneuve wants to take a few years away from Dune anyway, so it will be awhile. Dune: Messiah takes place 12 years after the events of these movies, so he has some time.

Though, it will be interesting to see how Dune: Part Two performs. The first movie did well, with the disclaimer “all things considered.” Meaning people were still skittish about movie theaters and, maybe more importantly, Dune hit HBO Max on the same day it was released in theaters. There will be no “all things considered“ this time. So, for the foreseeable future, people are just going to have to be satisfied with having, finally, both parts of the definitive film adaptation of Dune. A movie, again, many people will call a masterpiece. And, again, they might just be right.

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