Let’s (not) spice things up.

I’m sure some folks are going to disagree with this review, which basically states this version of Dune plays more like a Star Wars film than the original Dune novel. Now, I know that Dune inspired Star Wars, but we are not talking about the book. We’re talking about the new movie only.

We follow Paul (Timothee Chalamet), who is destined to be a messiah to the indigenous Fremen on Arrakis. You see, another warring planet that I am too lazy to look up has had their control of Arrakis taken away, so Paul’s dad gets to be in charge and now Paul’s destiny can take shape.

There’s a ton of pseudo-religious/scientific mumbo jumbo that makes sense in the greater context of the narrative, but with the film’s decision to tell and not show we are beaten over the head with exposition. Basically, it is two warring colonial powers being used as pawns by the larger force who must eventually take a side.

What’s on the planet? Spice. The spice is used to fuel airships and other such stuff (including used as a drug) and… look, it’s oil. With how much of the novel was influenced by MENA it shouldn’t be a surprise that we have these colonial themes. However, we’re supposed to like one of the group of colonizers because they’re more attractive?

So, Jesus, I mean Luke Skywalker, I mean Paul is trained by Idaho Potato (Jason Mamoa) and has stilted conversations with his family when he’s not not dying of the heat chatting about a date tree on a planet that is supposedly dangerous. The whole thing is a bit silly, right?

Don’t worry though, the endless clobbering of exposition (which is the more enjoyable chunk of the movie) is interrupted numerous times by Zendaya perfume commercials. I kept waiting to hear “Oasis” whispered before a bottle of pale liquid would be shown on the screen. Paul’s visions are important, but they’re also not. They are because it shows he isn’t normal. They’re not because here they’re used more as red herrings or plot hints than anything else.

I guess I should put a spoiler warning here.

Obviously, the super wealthy empire doesn’t want to lose their resources, and the greater emperor in charge of them all agrees. So, sending Paul and family to Arrakis is one giant trap to get them all killed, which seems a bit overengineered to me. Anyway, as with all movies of this sort, being a parent or mentor to the messiah/jedi/whatever is dangerous business. Most of these characters have to die so Paul learns something. He also gets the chance to “go native,” which is an annoying trait no matter whar.

We are “treated” to a CGI fest of epic explosions mixed with Hans Zimmer’s overbearing and hammering soundtrack that will try to beat you into an emotional response. Seriously, they should have stripped out 100% of the music and the movie would be better for it. I think Nolan broke Zimmer with Dunkirk.

The film does look great. The ships are cool, and the costuming is certainly interesting. The cinematography is likewise brilliant. Let’s remember that this is the same director who made the unbelievably incredible Blade Runner 2049 that asked hard questions, explored real issues, and looked great as well.

Here, it seems like the script has been cut and organized in a way to maximize audience attendance rather than audience engagement. It may as well be a Marvel film with its dreary and forced exposition, let alone the complete unwillingness to engage with anything of substance.

I can’t believe the director of Sicario, Arrival, and Prisoners made something so safe and mainstream. I guess those box office dollars are too seductive, or the production companies have such little faith in audiences that everything has to be simplified.

The tragedy here is that we have an incredibly talented cast and crew who are limited by what I am sure is outside interference. Chalamet is excellent and can go from rage to misery to numbness in seconds. There isn’t a dud performance (though Josh Brolin isn’t given much to do). Everyone plays their parts well in a movie that wants so badly to be an epic. It is too bad they opted for the cookie cutter approach to storytelling instead of embracing boldness.

It is odd that a movie about something called Spice is so bland.

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