Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Universal Pictures
Make no mistake: if sci-fi epic Dune is a big bowl of cinematic porridge, it's the Gucci of porridge, and a filling one at that. It looks sensational and exudes quality. But too much of its two-and-a-half-hour running-time is boring and bland, leaving one curiously unsatisfied by the end.
I know I'm a lone voice here. So starved are critics of blockbuster entertainment that's intelligent and adult, most are positively salivating.
I was too, until five minutes in, upon which the infamously impenetrable plot about interplanetary warfare overwhelmed me.
Based on Frank Herbet's beloved source novel, the mythology is worth diving into afterward, if you have the patience. But if you're going in blind, my top advice is: don't even try to understand it. Just enjoy the striking visuals, and trust the ultimately timeworn coming-of-age/saving-the-universe story will clarify itself eventually.
On that critical acclaim, there's no denying lead actor Timothée Chalamet is solid throughout. But be warned - this is a stern and serious turn, devoid of the cute, playful humour he demonstrated in Call Me By Your Name and Little Women.
In fact, as Paul Atreides, the ducal heir of House Atreides, I'd actually argue he's been miscast. Chalamet's got youthful cheek and charm in spades, but as some sort of messiah figure as conflict breaks out on a scorched planet over the most precious resource in existence? I for one remain unconvinced Paul is up to the job.
Still, Chalamet is a likable presence - as is his unruly hair, which cynical old me suspects is only there to generate social media chatter. I mean, it certainly makes no narrative sense: it's constantly falling in his eyes during otherwise operatically choreographed fight scenes.
The extraordinary Zendeya (watch Euphoria immediately) is also a draw. But despite being all over the film's marketing and press, she's hardly in the film. Her screentime barely amounts to a cameo, probably intended to tease the already-confirmed sequel. I for one was massively disappointed.
Rebecca Ferguson lends the real actorly muscle, radiating opulence and authority as Paul's mother, Lady Jessica. Another highlight is Stellan Skarsgård as the most horrifying and putrid villain since Jabba the Hutt.
Huge names round out a huge cast, but again, most are frustratingly underused. Charlotte Rampling should have been amped up as the stern and scary Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, the Emperor's Truthsayer. (See, even what we're meant to call them is confusing!)
Jason Momoa gets a decent look in as kindly warrior Duncan, one of the few characters that regularly smiles... but, as such, belongs to another film.
The most exasperating absence for this reviewer was that of the sandworm: a gigantic life-form native to the planet Arrakis. We only get a good look at it once or twice. When we do, it's astonishing; the stuff of transportative cinematic dreams. Could creatures like this really exist somewhere out there? But, again, the teasing feels engineered to ensure we tune in for the next overindulgent installment, which I dare say will bloat to far more than 150 minutes.
The sandworms, at once life-like and otherworldly, probably are enough to draw me in for part two. And to be fair to it, Dune itself is the rare example of a film I didn't enjoy that I'll no doubt watch again... all the while noting how Mad Max: Fury Road depicted similarly arid landscapes with far more creativity.
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