Thoughts and reactions while wondering the Gom Jabbar scene was triggering to the anti-vaccine crowd…
So I watched Dune.
Despite the most peer-pressure I’ve felt since high school, that viewing took place in the comfort of my own home, via an internet streaming device connected to my television set. I understand this violates the catholic doctrine that has swept the world of film criticism, where anything less than 100% adherence to seeing the movie on the biggest theatrical screen available requires immediate confession and will result in generations to come being required to buy AMC Indulgences™.
Somehow I was able to still enjoy the movie and appreciate the work of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Greig Fraser. This is obviously because, based on the opinions of various essayists and sharers of hot takes, I do not truly love film, nor do I support filmmakers.
Still, there are a handful of thoughts I’d like to share, though of course you are free to give my opinions the weight you consider appropriate given the shameful admissions above.
on the presentation…
I’m the first one to agree that theatrical viewing is great, but we need to do away with the notion that there’s some sort of hallowed experience that needs to be preserved. Even putting issues of the quality of the theater – including the parking lot, lobby and everything else connected with it – aside, arguments that seeing a movie theatrically is “immersive” fall apart quickly. That’s especially true with any movie over 1:45. After that point I’m no longer immersed in whatever I’m watching and can only concentrate after I miss 10 minutes of the movie and come back to my seat.
Tell me how that’s a more pure viewing experience than being able to pause the film and come back to it without missing a single scene.
Also, I’m going to assume every critic and columnist insisting people can only fully appreciate the movie on a massive screen will not be buying or viewing any home video release, including its current streaming on HBO Max. Wouldn’t want to sully yourself, after all.
Which leads me to:
on the box-office…
Dune’s $40 million domestic opening weekend total may seem somewhat on the small side, especially since both Halloween Kills and No Time To Die recently hit or exceeded $50 million and Venom: Let There Be Carnage hit $90.
Conventional wisdom has suggested that, if Dune hadn’t been on HBO Max in addition to theaters, it might have scored closer to $80 million or so. But that $40 million is significantly better than Villeneuve’s last two big budget sci-fi movies, and given the…imposing…nature of the source material in this instance, it could have been a lot lower.
While it’s impossible to prove a hypothetical alternative, I’m inclined to believe the constant “go see it in theaters!” message from the filmmakers, critics and the campaign itself motivated a lot of people to go do just that. In a non-HBO Max timeline my hunch is the weekend total would still be under $50 million, and the long-term value of the hybrid release to Warner Bros. is probably greater than the difference.
on the visual design…
One thing Villeneuve, with the help of his production designers and other trades experts, seems to do better than many other current filmmakers is create a sense of proportion between massive sets (both practical and virtual) and the performers being asked to move in and around them.
Throughout Dune, especially in the first 1:30, characters are walking around massive 50-foot tall inscribed solid walls. Somehow the director and his team are able to successfully convey the size of these while also showing the characters as fully inhabiting them instead of being dwarfed by them.
on the performances…
That’s in part because the performances of the actors are not trying to fill the room. Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson and Timothée Chalamet all seem to be acting in a small, storefront black-box theater instead of on the set of an epic sci-fi motion picture. The focus from all of them and others is on the moment and the emotions contained therein, not on trying to act next to a huge dragonfly-esque flying craft.
There’s not really a weak link in the chain in terms of cast. The three mentioned above are all great, Chamalet conveying a lot about Paul Atreides simply by staring at the sculpture of his grandfather fighting a bull, Isaac being stoically honorable behind his thick beard and Ferguson clearly demonstrating love for her son Paul despite repeatedly setting him up for various tortures and tests.
Also completely enjoyable are Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling and others. Rampling in particular manages to be more menacing behind her black veil than most mustache-twirling villains in other movies.
on the score…
The praise being given to composer Hans Zimmer for his score is absolutely deserved. But you really have to stand up and applaud how the music fits into the overall sound design from Mark Mangini and Theo Green, who are responsible for creating everything from huge mining vehicles to the smallest sound of two grains of sand bouncing off each other.
I mean it’s no Toto, but in this economy, what is?
on the comparisons to David Lynch’s 1984 film…
The two can’t really be compared, at least not objectively. They’re both trying to do completely different things and convey completely different themes and messages.
Villeneuve’s movie is more straightforward, seeing the whole story about honor and destiny, whereas Lynch’s is more about the machinations of the characters that lead them to take the actions they do and break the trusts they do. That’s most seen by considering what scenes Lynch included but Villeneuve did not and vice versa.
The visuals are just as stunning in both versions but in different ways, most clearly exemplified by the different approaches to portraying Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), not just because certain…unsavory…aspects of the character have been excised in the new version but in the general design of the gluttonous leader of the clan opposing House Atreides.