Dune: Part One
Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”
Let's get the bad out of the way first: I cannot recall ever seeing a mainstream film this repellent to the eye. The cinematography is aggressively hostile to the viewer, as if the movie should be painful to look at. There have been two major photographic trends in the digital era in Hollywood, a darkening of every scene now that higher-resolution photography allows us to see more detail in low light, and a washing-out of color until every image is just different tones of the same bland color (the result of a color-processing technique in post-production). Dune takes both trends to an extreme, as if it's trying to win some kind of industry competition. Every scene is just endless, endless, endless shades of gray and beige; other than the frequent blue eyes, I think I can count on my fingers the number of shots containing red, green, or blue in a 2.5-hour movie. And most of the movie takes place in the dark for no apparent in-universe explanation; these people have invented anti-gravity technology but not indoor lighting. Plus, when the characters do finally get into the light, the photography there is often blurred and overexposed to the point of incomprehensibility. This movie just plain hurts to look at after a while; I remember exiting the theater feeling like I'd been bludgeoned.
Not everybody feels that way; my wife Kelly loved the look of the movie, and many critics did too, so all I can do is report my own reaction. It's a shame that the photography is so unpleasant, because the production design is quite interesting, inventing a planet and a culture (three cultures, really) that look genuinely alien and unique. I've never seen anything quite like this before. The filmmakers put a tremendous amount of effort and money into designing vast rooms and palaces and deserts, and then hiding them all in blurs and shadows so that you can't see them well.
I have quibbles with the story -- the ecological and geopolitical messages are good, but what's the moral of the foreground story? Paul doesn't make a single decision until it's nearly over; the whole movie simply happens to him -- but this is reportedly such a faithful translation of the novel that I'll hold it against Frank Herbert and not the filmmakers. (I haven't read the novel, but I well remember the 80s movie and 90s video game.) I loved many of the film's choices, from the visceral intensity of the knife duel, to the gradual evolution of Timothée Chalamet's performance, to the vastness of the worms and vehicles and palaces (seeing this in the theater was the right choice). This could have been a truly great movie if it hadn't shot itself in the foot by going way, way too hard on trying to create a harsh visual style.
Matthew Preston: Like Kelly, I was good with the look/cinematography of the movie. Maybe because it was different. Or maybe because it was made to be like a dream. The spice (and his abilities) cause some trippy side effects on Paul, that I thought were well portrayed. I totally understand why you (or anyone) would be turned off by it all though! − December 2, 2021 more by Matthew
Evie Totty: “It was ok.”
I was torn between this and 'ruled' - but in the end, I had to admit that the only reason to watch again was to be able to see the closed captioning (the theater I go to uses a Google glass-like solution that has only worked for me 1/3 of the time, so I've given up on that front).
I found the cinematography beautiful - as expected from Villeneuve (I probably spelled that wrong).
But overall, the movie was boring - but that was because of the source material and its too-faithful adaptation to it. A lot of what happened could have been told in less time IMO.
Just when the movie started getting good, it was over. But I ran it on HBOMax in the background a few times to get the 'eye count' up to help ensure a Part Two - apparently that wasn't guaranteed, which is a shame because now we have to wait on the script to be written in addition to the production of the actual movie.
And given the source material, a LOT of post-production CGI will be required.
In discussions online with other viewers, I came to realize the gamble of casting Chalamet as the lead: none of them had seen him before and complained that he didn't 'look the part'. I, on the other hand, have seen him in many films, including Oscar-nominated performances, notably his excellent turn as the lead in 'Call Me By Your Name', so I had no problem with his casting and was looking forward to his portrayal.
As a matter of fact, all the performances were amazing, especially Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica Atreides. (When I had learned of Oscar Isaac's casting of Duke Leto, I was actually sad because I knew his fate ahead of time, and had expected a cameo-type of inclusion, not what we ended up getting.)
It's been decades since I read Dune, but the events in this movie were but a short part of the novel in my memory, lending to the boringness of it. The best characters outside of Paul haven't even been introduced yet. And the best scenes are also yet to come. (Don't get me wrong. the Baron is nasty, but just you wait.)
It was so boring, I actually nodded off a couple of times (it was a late viewing). As beautiful as it was - it was just too much. I loved this film with the expectations of what is to come. And I fear one film will not do it justice given the pace of this one.
Matthew Preston: Evie - Good on you reading the book. Everyone I've ever asked that read it has said the same thing: that it's a terribly boring read, but does have some really good parts. Final recommendations were always to just read a synopsis of the story and not waste my time with the entire thing. − December 2, 2021 more by Matthew
Evie Totty: @Matthew: I actually read the first three of the series, but they are ridiculously cerebral - and that's a lot coming from me, a voracious reader. You can't just cruise through them. I DID enjoy the first book for sure (messiah story and all). − December 2, 2021 more by Evie
Scott Hardie: Totally agreed on the casting! Chalamet was really good in the part. And Ferguson is in so much of the movie that she's practically the co-lead, and yet she's not getting nearly as much attention for it.
I'm sure that a more entertaining movie could be made out of this source material by cutting a lot of scenes. I personally didn't mind the length; it magnified the movie's problems (see my chief complaint above) but it wasn't frustrating in and of itself. I liked the film taking the time to explore this world that a lot of talented people had gone to a lot of trouble to invent. − December 6, 2021 more by Scott
Matthew Preston: “It was ok.”
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