Friday 15 April 2022

Spice Wars

My earliest memory of David Lynch’s Dune was seeing merchandise in a toy store bargain bin, which didn’t divert me from the Star Wars aisle. Ironically, Lynch turned down directorial duties on Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

A year later, mum hired Dune on rental VHS. Aside from Toto's soundtrack (an influence on Danny Elfman’s score for Batman), it was a grandiose bore and I soon returned to playing with my Star Wars action figures.

Does the latest silver screen adaptation of Dune deliver a grand space opera filled with galaxy-spanning thrills? Nick Smith, our resident US-based critic, hunts for giant sandworms.

Guest post by Nick Smith

I had high hopes for Dune, Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction film adapted from the novel by Frank Herbert. The book is rich with mythology and mysticism, creating a believably sandy world ripe for an epic movie.

The 2021 adaptation held much promise. It featured likeable actors such as Oscar Isaac (Star Wars), Javier Bardem (Skyfall) and Zendaya (Spider-Man), sandwalking to a score by Hans Zimmer. I was even more eager to see the film after it earned six Academy Awards in March, despite those wins being overshadowed by Will Smith’s fresh behaviour.

Sadly, this Dune is as dull as dirt. Its grey colour palette, bland supporting performances, slow pace and unresolved ending all make it a great sleep aid. Move over Nyquil and No-Doze, this celluloid mélange is a perfect cure for insomnia.

Villeneuve has described his film as, ‘Star Wars for adults.’ I’ll take the kid’s meal option over this wasted opportunity, which tries too hard to simplify Herbert’s detailed, eco-conscious cosmos and its power plays, which are not fully explained.

Star Wars’ desert planet of Tatooine owes a thing or two to Herbert’s prose. Instead of two moons, Luke Skywalker’s home turf has two suns. Both planets have nomadic natives, a drug called ‘spice’ and beasties bursting from under the sand. But not all worlds are created equal. Tatooine has fascinating spaceports, inhabitants and pastimes. Villeneuve portrays Arrakis as nothing more than a big ol’ dune.

It’s tough to care about a wealthy, privileged white kid in this age of diversity. Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalomet) becomes more relatable as his life gets harder. His relationship with his mom Jessica is delightful, though, with Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible) helping to develop an intense, touching mother-son bond that’s heartwarming and credible. The rest of the cast is packed with star names but only Stellan Skarsgard and Jason Momoa stand out, making the most of their two-dimensional characters.

Like Blade Runner 2049, Dune is beautiful to look at and over time its cache will doubtless increase as a moving piece of art. But movies aren’t just for looking at. The best films entertain us and stir our emotions as well. Flawed though they are, I’d much rather watch the ‘80s versions of these movies, with their tempo, style, creativity and entertainment value, than sit through Villeneuve’s dreary, overlong and ultimately pointless retreads. Unless I need help getting to sleep.

Have you seen Dune? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. I have seen Villneuve's Dune 5 times and it gets better with each viewing. It's a Masterpiece. I understand that not everybody will agree with this assessment. I think it depends on the expectation one brings to the movie. For me, it did everything as I expected and a lot more. For others, it might put them to sleep like the above reviewer. There are several scenes that will be used in film school for showcasing editing brilliance, the same will go for sound and music and more. I think it tells the story brilliantly and with good pacing. If you come at this from a Marvel-Disney action spectacle perspective, I can understand how it might put you to sleep in the same way the tropy super-hero flash-bang grenades of recent years make me switch off mid stream. So, as the old Romans would say, one cannot argue about taste, but my sentiments are more on the side of the pundits that awarded this gem a boat load of oscars. Why did Villeneuve not get the nod. Only the gods know.

    1. Watched Dune on Sky Cinema. A textured behemoth blockbuster surpassing David Lynch's bore wars.


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