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  • Writer's pictureJamie

Dune: Part Two - Review

Denis Villeneuve has been on a run of sci-fi hits with Arrival and Blade Runner: 2049 before taking on the cinematically cursed book series Dune, attempting to adapt it to the big screen. Dune (2021) was a marvel of world building and visual spectacle. Dune: Part Two had every expectation to follow up this film by continuing an intergalactic saga with growing tension and bigger stakes. It’s impossible to say it doesn’t deliver on every single frame of the film with some of the best visual effects ever put to screen, precise and atmospheric sound design coupled with an impressively adapted plot that boasts rich characters and a compelling narrative. Even with all of this, I can’t find it in me to say that this film is perfect for me, it delivers an expansive and realised world, but one that feels disconnected and empty.

Something I love about Villeneuve’s Blade Runner is his ability to carry on the feeling from the first film, this sense of density and life coming from every window that you see, every doorway feels like it leads into a hallway and a house full of people living real lives. Dune doesn’t have that for me, the desert is baron (obviously) but even in expansive cities like Giedi Prime, where the Harkonnens rule has a false sense of life to it. I never felt like the extras were doing anything, with a few exceptions of them sitting around eating food in a big empty hall. The world is centralised around the main characters, like nobody in the universe has anything else to think about but the Paul Atreides drama going on around them. I think in parts this adds a lot to the film, seeing the Fremen have such intense obsession with the prophecy and blind faith in Paul is worrying, giving you a layer of apprehension towards his trust. It also makes them feel a bit one dimensional in the world. Although this is something I can’t really seem to shake when I think of this film, it's not a bad complaint when you look at the rest of it. 

We pick up the story pretty soon after the first film ends, starting with the introduction of Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) and the Emperor (Christopher Walken) as they both deal with the fall of the house Atreides. The Princess comments on her father’s changes since the Harkonnens attack and seeing him in a way she hasn’t before, unsure of what to do. Guided by Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) Princess Irulan and The Emperor strategise how to approach this conflict and avoid the threat of Holy War. Meanwhile, on Arrakis, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) are learning the ways of the Fremen, from people like Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and Chani (Zendaya). Both Stilgar and Chani have different approaches to this as Stilgar believes Paul is the messiah and that the prophecy is being fulfilled. He is encouraged by religious supporters in the Fremen community and his upbringing in the more religious south of Arrakis. Chani loves Paul but her people mean a lot to her, and she feels their freedom must come from them, and not an outsider like Paul or Lady Jessica.

Tensions are rising in Arrakis as the Harkonnens are fighting for total planetary control, with Rabban (Dave Bautista) at the helm of this fight. They attempt to harvest the all important “spice” and kill all the Fremen who are trying to stop this harvest. Things get a little shaky with the Harkonnens when Rabban begins to lose control of Arrakis, forcing Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) to relinquish Rabban’s control, instead giving it to Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler). Feyd-Rautha has a reputation for his “psychotic” and cut throat style approach to life and the Baron believes this is the only way he is going to regain control of Arrakis, taking it back from Paul and the Fremen.

The story has so many subplots and subthemes weaved throughout this fight for power that build the main characters so much and complicate relationships that felt so strong in the first instalment of this franchise. These changes cause so much confusion in the characters we had established before that you see their changes from minute to minute. So few blockbusters allow their characters to change like this, preferring to be cautious about alterations because it could lose marketability or change the perception of the actor. Dune feels so confident in it’s story that it doesn’t have to rely on the starpower to sell it. The films have become a cinematic event, showing up strong in the box office, breaking a streak of weaker performances post Covid (and Barbenheimer). This is contributed to by the cast, which I think we will look back on in wonder of how this many talented people got on the same project, but even without the cast, people are going to show up for Dune, because of its story and technical achievements. 

The film really does show off in how it looks, every shot is a well thought out and perfectly presented frame. Greig Fraser is no stranger to big budget, beautiful films, having shot Rouge One and The Batman before heading to the Dunes. His style is seen in every shot with the burning orange of the Arrakis sun or the lifeless black sun on Giedi Prime. We even get to see lush greenery and misty rain on the Emperor’s planet. I think this is undeniably one of the best looking films I have seen. Other than just the look, the film does scale like nothing else, having the freedom to zoom out unimaginably, showing how vast and grand this world is. From the never ending golden dunes to the battle arenas, housing thousands, nothing is overlooked or played down. This is balanced with such attention paid to the intimacy between characters, knowing that the story can’t survive on just wide shots of sandworms or sweeping showcases of battles, it needs to know when to slow down and encapsulate a conversation. This is done particularly well with conversations between Paul and Chani or Paul and Lady Jessica.

There’s so much emotion packed into these scenes, giving a lot of time to the development of these complicated dynamics. We see Paul learn about the world around him, and the people he cherishes most through these in depth conversations about love, and expectation through fate, his responsibility and the dangers of his powers. Without these character interactions, Dune could so easily fall into the trap of being a vapid spectacle and a VFX showcase. Villenueve’s clear admiration of the source material shows more in his small scenes than in the big ones, as he has a care and understanding for these characters, knowing exactly how he wants them to be seen.

It can’t all be credited to Denis though, as Hans Zimmer comes along and ruins music for other composers. His Dune: Part One soundtrack was so encapsulating of the world, through the futuristic and archaic mixes he guided us through the vast tale, this is only improved in Dune: Part Two. The original base of the score remains but unlike most franchises, it doesn’t lean on it to create an atmosphere for the continuation, Zimmer is so clued in on the story and each character that the music played feels like it was fate, or a Stilgar prophecy. There are new feelings brought up by the soundtrack, with delicate and emotional music floating around the world to raging battle sounds with base notes that rip through the speakers, rallying the troops for war. The songs feel bonded to the visuals, not loosely based on a scene or an explanation, but integral and impactful. 

So, despite the minor issue I had with Dune Two’s world building, it pales in comparison to the behemoth of a story and delicacy in the characters that this film offers. From visuals to sound, the film is unmatched in its technical presentation and care for the story it wants to tell. I am not only excited for this film as a film but as a cinematic event, a conversation starter and integral cultural phenomenon. Part Three of Dune is already in the works, with promise to complete a trilogy comparable to the original Star Wars trilogy. Let’s just hope we don’t get the prequels.



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