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Dune (2021)

     Recently released to theaters, the most recent adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel is set to become one of this year's biggest movies. I am no avid movie-watcher, but I have heard good things about the book, so I decided to make time for a visit to the cinema. I will be discussing major plot points, so only keep reading if you have watched the movie, or don't intend to do so. As a disclaimer: I have not read the book, but I will at some point, and I might update this review once I get around to it.
     I watched the trailer[1] right before, and the impression I got was one of a fairly standard science fiction story. Heavy elements of prophecy, politics and inter-galactic warfare. In my opinion, the execution of the story and the usage of these elements felt somehow a little more competent than usual. It might be subconscious bias, since I know the book is considered a classic, but it generally felt like the tropes were included with a purpose in mind.
     The beginning of the movie suffers from an unfortunate case of info dump. The situation improves over the course of the movie, but I noticed quite a few moments late in the movie where the dialogue felt almost obnoxiously explicit. It is a hard thing to get it right with so many characters, factions and concepts with deliberately foreign names, but for some reasons the director felt the need to repeat fairly basic information several times. One especially jarring moment is when Paul, after fleeing the burning palace, receives a letter along with his father's ring. He breaks into tears, and it is very clear to the viewer that he realizes his father has died. The moment is executed beautifully and very touching, up until the point that he feels the need to exclaim "My father has died!" for no particular reason, other than to inform the inattentive guy playing with his phone in the back row.
     The production aspect of the movie was just as competent as you might expect from a modern block-buster. The only part that did not live up to my expectations, and simultaneously the only part I held any special expectations of at all, was the soundtrack[2]. Hans Zimmer has a reputation for killer soundtracks, but I honestly can't remember a single track from the movie. It was competent, but not exactly memorable. The only thing stuck in my mind are the blaring sound of bagpipes.
     The political commentary of the movie might seem a bit basic and ham-fisted by today's standards. Ruthless, fat, white imperialists ravaging a desert world, inhabited by a technologically inferior, nomadic, brown-skinned race talking a language suspiciously similar to Arabic, for it's precious natural resources used for travelling... Wherever might I have heard that story before[3]? But of course Frank Herbert's original novel was written in the 60's when most of these things were far from obvious. If taken at face value the commentary would be somewhat useless, so I feel like it is necessary to consider the movie as more of an ironic meta-commentary on the predictability and avoidability of the situation.
     All in all, Dune is a decent movie adapting complicated source material. It somewhat cripples itself by spelling out things that are best enjoyed subtle, and making itself a bit too accessible. If I have to give a score, I'd say around seven and a half. I am looking forward to reading the source material, and since I have already watched the first one, the eventual sequel as well.

Annotations

[1] Watch the Dune trailer on Youtube.
[2] Listen to the Dune soundtrack on Youtube.
[3] Wikipedia is often unreliable, but if you seriously aren't familiar enough with US foreign policy in the Middle East to know what I'm talking about, you have bigger problems.

Posted: 2021-08-22
Edited: 2021-08-22