Dune: The Pros and Cons
“Dune,” released last month, was unquestionably one of the most anticipated movies of 2021. With an 83% critic score (and a 90% audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie seems to be a runaway success. And it was enjoyable — but far from perfect. Based on an incredibly long book, the three-hour movie, which is only part one of two, is still forced to consolidate, for which “Dune” aficionados decry the film. For two StudLife staffers who have never read the book, its faithfulness (or lack thereof) doesn’t even make the list of the movie’s pros and cons.
The music. Hans Zimmer’s score may jump out at you from an otherwise quiet film, but that score is incredible. Zimmer somehow makes bagpipes work in a movie set in space, and that isn’t even the wildest part of the movie’s sound. It’s an eerie, atmospheric masterpiece — even if it will leave your ears ringing afterward.
The brutalist aesthetic of “Dune” may not be visually welcoming, but it sets both the scene and tone of the film clearly. Stark spaceships that look like steel and concrete buildings flying over empty desert landscapes is, in fact, my idea of a good time.
The sand worms. Need I say more?
If political drama is your cup of tea, “Dune” pulls off theirs spectacularly. Details mean spoilers, so I’ll only give an overview. Somehow, the film makes you care about House Atreides (this is also a con — colonialism). House Harkonnen is viscerally unsettling in a way that I still can’t shake. And the Emperor’s machinations are subtle enough to be devastating when they’re explicitly stated.
Admittedly, it’s somewhat fun watching Timothee Chalamet get shoved around in space. He’s just a little guy. Punchable, but a little guy.
If Timothee Chalamet standing in place for questionably long periods of time isn’t up your alley, maybe Timothee Chalamet standing in place for questionably long periods of time amidst an incredibly outdated settler-colonialist plot arc will be. “Dune” is unquestionably and uncompromisingly imperialistic, to a rather uncomfortable degree. While this white savior/imperial figure is purportedly deconstructed in the book, that deconstruction doesn’t figure at all in the movie, leaving an audience with a sour taste in their mouth.
Zendaya — who is prominently featured in all promotional materials, marketing, and trailers as love interest Chani — gets maybe 15 minutes of screen time. And that’s generous. She’s set up to become a much bigger deal in the second film, but with the amount of time Paul spends having visions of Chani in this first film of the trilogy, having to pay another $10 ticket fee several years down the road to see her do anything at all is a huge letdown.
This is, single handedly, the movie that will popularize subtitles in public theaters. This sounds like a pro (and would be a huge win), but the point’s cause is the con — “Dune” is insanely loud. Almost deafeningly so. This is entirely a fault in the sound design, with Chalamet’s whining practically impossible to decipher underneath the constant explosion noises.
The design of House Harkonnen is troubling — yes, it’s horrifying seeing Stellan Skarsgard floating through the air without moving a muscle. But it also relies heavily on tropes of villains being defined by physical deformity. Are we not past villainizing the concept of disability in 2021?
As a whole, “Dune” is a movie. You can watch, or not. One thing is sure — you’ll get hearing damage.