I’ve noticed a pattern: every Fall there’s a heavily self-important art house sci-fi/space movie that basks so deeply into how deep and philosophical it is, asking questions about the purpose of humanity when even the director himself cannot answer them. Although the movie is objectively bad (or at least not great), there’s still a following who worships the movie and thinks it’s absolute artistic perfection, and will breathe fire at anyone who says otherwise. It started in 2013 with Gravity, then the next year was Interstellar, then The Martian, then Arrival, then Blade Runner 2049, then First Man, then Ad Astra, then Tenet, and now it’s Dune. Sorry, I’ll just tell it like it is: Denis Villeneuve’s newest movie, which has already been getting unanimous universal acclaim, is actually a terrible movie.
As per classic fashion for these types of movies, it doesn’t understand the meaning of “show don’t tell,” because the characters simply talk about their backstory, but never express how they feel about each other through actions, talking as if there are no stakes. You could never connect with any of them because you can barely even see any of them; every scene is too dark to make out the actors’ faces properly, especially in a big battle scene that makes it impossible to see what’s going on. They hardly ever even make eye contact with each other! The main villain is likewise introduced by being concealed in these very shadows that hide his scars, making him not only a cliché story trope, but ultimately uninspired.
Not to mention there’s no consistency in the way they talk—they speak English, yet their writing is in a different made-up language, and the actors in turn have no grasp on how to sound human no matter what language they’re speaking. The biggest offender of that is Timothée Chalamet, who comes off as perfectly monotone in both his stilted speech and stilted walk, which leaves you on a sour note toward the end as he’s given the burden of carrying a pathetic one-on-one combat scene I doubt he trained hard enough for. By this point, you’ve stopped caring because of how boring and uninteresting all the characters are, so naturally you would have no desire to ever see a part two.
The big idea here is a key quote: “Dreams are messages from the deep,” which it posts onto the screen before even the studio credits’ logos open the picture. Yet Chalamet’s character is so passive that you never believe for a second that he is in internal conflict against what his dreams are telling him what to do. He just follows orders no questions asked, leaving no room for personal growth. There seems to have been a setup early on for his arc when someone says that the sandstorms are powerful enough to cut through metal, but nothing about the storms’ power ever comes up again at any point to challenge him.
Then there’s Zendaya, who has very little screentime, but stands out with how clueless she acts, you could tell she hated working in those rough desert conditions and would rather just go home. She’s one of those people here with blue eyes from the spice she lives around, yet with the way she glances, her eyes could be green, brown, pink, periwinkle, or any color really. She was given no direction on how to accommodate to the lousy special effect added in post. She’s not the only minor actor who drags the film down more with how bad her acting is, Dave Bautista, in his stupid pale makeup, does that too with his ham-inspired overacting.
These attractive actors are really only there to be models for the Arab-inspired costumes designed by Jacqueline West (The Revenant, The Social Network). Now, in complete honesty, her work here is indeed stunning when the dresses blow in the breeze, harkening back to other classic epics such as Lawrence of Arabia while still being its own thing. West wisely utilizes the multiple hues of dust in the costumes, with careful use of grays and blacks to suggest the color of charcoal.
But this film is still overall ugly to look at, right down to an awful CGI rodent that takes you out of the experience. Even the costumes aren’t taking the acting into consideration, as the imperial court for the most part has their faces covered; one in particular wears a veil over her face the entire movie, and it severely hurts the quality of her performance. The film’s harsh on the ears too, with an obnoxious score that sounds too much like Gladiator with the chanting choir, and with an opening scene that rattles your seat with the surround sound.
Yet it’s not all done without any effort, for there are cool sound effects, mainly in the big action scenes, so this film is a 100% lock for the Oscars’ Best Sound category. As far as further awards praise, you can count on it getting in for Original Score, Costume Design, and Production Design. It also could get in for Best Makeup, and depending on the film’s financial success, could get in for Best Picture. I’d be perfectly happy to see this get in for the design categories, as occasionally there’s a really cool set piece that has a nice mix of creativity and mindfulness of the world’s culture. The planes used to fly through the desert aren’t like usual planes, they have wings that flap like dragonflies to guarantee better leverage in the dust-heavy air than traditional turbine engines.
Tough in my case, I more than anything else was just waiting for the worm to show up, not just because it’s the signature spectacle piece of the picture, but because it’s the ultimate obstacle for the hero to face his fears. Now, it does take a chilling debut when the sandworm first appears, it looks just like the Sarlacc pit with the hundreds of hair-like teeth tearing through the sand to engulf an entire ship. You don’t even see any part of it past the teeth until near the end of the movie. Even then, you never actually see the sandworm. The problem though is that Dune waits too long for that to happen with no valuable content in between.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!