I Saw A Film!
Few films have I awaited, let alone with some excitement. It’s a shame later Herbert books will probably never see film versions, and as we buy our HBOMAX memberships just to watch this first half of Dune (Yes, it’s not the whole story, and breaks off at an inauspicious moment for my liking, but since they’re advertising with the face of Chani I suppose they needed to get to the introduction of that character).
Let me say firstly that I am a fan of the original David Lynch version of this story. Lynch brought an otherworldliness and fantasy aspect that is dramatically satisfying. Weirdness and new experiences are what I love in a film. I don’t want just the familiar over and over, I’m much more like an old Iggy Pop tune (Some Weird Sin) than I am anything in the mood of pop music. And since Dune is about a whole world away from us (far deep future, or not) we’re dealing with some familiar aspects of feuding peoples, ugly ones, pretty ones, and mysterious ones, and not much is hard to understand about these powerful houses struggling against one another. Herbert said he meant the story to represent the fight over oil, and that the Harkonnens were meant to resemble ancient Greeks (hardly) and the Atreides a possibly Spanish tribe (they come from a planet called Caladan, not far from Catalan) and this film, doesn’t miss on the bullfighting references (which I always thought were pretty amusing in the book).
One of my favorite cinematic sequences happens in the original film. The arrival of the Guild Navigator to the Emperor, played by Jose Ferrera. The scene, if you’ve forgotten, involves a group of terrifyingly abused monks leading a massive chamber full of spice gas, containing a huge contorted creature that speaks in round about ways about what he wants the Emperor to do. Their conversation is translated through rusty devices that produce mechanical voices. The Navigator has no use for the Reverend Mothers and demands the one present leave. The setting and the behavior trains the viewer immediately in the bizarre conditions and complex factions. It is masterfully presented and wickedly weird and fun. As the Navigator returns to his ship the monks have to clean up the floor behind him. This scene is completely left out of the new film and it’s a shame.
Having spent 35 years with the Lynch film I thought it would be difficult for me to accept new faces in the roles. But aside from one, the choices were magnificent. Bardem is an outstanding Stilgar and I’m looking forward to more of him in the rest of the story. I worried that I’ve seen too much of Josh Brolin for him to be a good Gurney Halleck, but I was wrong. Brolin inhabits the role well. And since there’re so many characters each needs to be memorable. This young actor playing Paul is awkward enough to be a teenager on the verge of manhood, and Starsgaard is an amazing Baron, both menacing and challenging. The original Baron ended up being more a clownish fright, but was also quite effective. The only complaint I had about the casting was that the woman they chose for the planetary ecologist, played originally by Max Von Sydow, is just too young!
Much of what I’ve seen so far is very nearly a shot by shot remake of the original film, some of the language has changed for our times. And speaking of the language they followed some of the details of the sign language and battle languages. I was disappointed that Paul’s visions were played so softly, the original film had them erupt from the screen, dominating us with their power. But this is a minor complaint. What the new film lacks in weirdness and surprise it makes up for in action sequences that are like Kurosawa samurai epics. One more complaint is that the dialog is almost all whispered! You have to turn this thing way up to catch much of what goes on between Paul and his mother.
I am also disappointed that the mentats were not more developed, they were a great part of the book and the original film, this film sadly neglects them. All in all this film lacks the gravity and deep fantasy experience of the book and the original. It does however play the struggle between the powerful houses out well. But OK that’s enough. It’s a fun film, well worth getting involved with for the 16 bucks HBO wants. Just be sure you cancel the subscription because there’s NOTHING else on HBO worth the price. Read the books, I can’t recommend that enough. They are great fun, and while the films reach to some impressive resemblances, they really can’t be duplicated.