PG-13 mostly for being just generally uncomfortable. It's kind of like H.R. Giger stuff. By itself, there's nothing actually wrong with it (okay, I know what it looks like...). But there's something rather unsettling about the world of Dune. And it is all supposed to be pretty uncomfortable. From the Still-Suits to the rather demonic looking Harkonnens. It just is...bleak and scary. But if I had to give a concrete reason for the movie being PG-13, it might be the violence. Dune has a lot of death that is very much in the vein of sci-fi war. There is blood on screen (as far as I remember) and there are genuinely scary moments. But honestly, there's not too much objectionable in it...
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
Shh! Let's keep a secret. Just you and me, okay? If everything goes to plan, this will be one of those rare Saturday blog entries. I have a list a mile long of stuff I have to do and stuff I want to do. While writing my blog definitely falls on the "Stuff I want to do", it is one of those priority "Want to do" things. I fell behind so far this week with writing that I don't want to forget what I watched and the emotional impact that it had on me. So while I was putzing down my giant list (Note: Need to write an actual list), I had the epiphany that no one is watching me right now and that I could at least start writing a blog entry on Dune.
I have a really weird relationship with Dune. For some reason, the David Lynch version was my childhood. I don't think that there are many people who can say that. But I remember that, as a kid, I just watched the movie over-and-over again on repeat. I know that it scared the living daylights out of me and that I rarely ever sat through the whole thing. I remember the big head that reminds me of the Face of Boe and the Patrick Stewart shield fight sequence. But little Tim would just ask his dad to put on this movie and my dad probably was a little weirded out from that. So keep all this in mind when I make the next English teacher confession: I don't really like the novel. See, Dune is a bit too sci-fi for me. I'm a sci-fi nut, but there's the sci-fi I like, which happens to be more like the space opera, and then there's the sci-fi of Dune. I'm the same way about fantasy. I like accessibility in my genre storytelling. The Dune novel, in my reading of it, was all about insane space politics. It involved the past billion years of back history before you even introduce Arakis or spice or anything like that. It's the reason that Dune was always thought to be unfilmable. It just has way too much to explain to do the film justice.
But Henson, my bud from work? He's all about Dune. Every day, Dune update. He had dreams about the movie coming out. When he saw who was going to be directing this movie and the cast involved, he lost his mind. I, too, caught the hype. Let's pretend that I knew nothing about this story and had no history with this film, I would be pretty psyched to see it. The trailers were rad. But Henson came to me, after having dreams about having seen the movie early, and said that it was a really good movie that he was a little let down by. That's pretty impressive for him to say. If I was to say that he was a fanboy for any franchise, it would be Dune for him. (Mind you, like me, he has a billion fandoms. Dune just happens to be his number one.) Most people would have a polarized reaction. It would either be perfect or it would be an abomination. So his reasonable reaction really impressed me.
But what about me? I can talk about all this background stuff, but I'm dancing around what I think of the movie? I think it is the best that anyone can do with the subject matter. I couldn't find a fault to the movie whatsoever. There have been some people complaining that Zendaya's name was all over this movie and almost 100% of her screen time was in the trailers. Okay, I blame the marketing department more for than than anything else. But Denis Villeneuve took what was one of the most dense sci-fi dramas I've ever read and made it really accessible without really sacrificing the tone. That's probably debatable among real Dune nerds. But I am that demographic who at least can comment on both the book and the movie without any kind of bias because nothing here is really all that precious.
What surprised me more than anything else is the Game of Thrones vibe that the movie gave off. Dune is this sprawling epic that just has a lot going on behind the scenes. I normally would take the Game of Thrones vibe and encourage Dune to be a TV show. But I kind of like the idea of the long-haul storytelling that we'll seem to be going. After all, the second chapter was just greenlit. I could find a TV show of this to be criminally boring. Instead, we have TV like storytelling in film form. And golly if I don't think that it really works. Sure, it involves a modicum of patience on the part of the audience. I think I said the same thing when I saw Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve loves the slow burn. He dares his audience to walk out because he's going to take the slow road to get to places. But for things like Dune, there's all of this really complex worldbuilding that we simply need to experience rather than get told about.
That's what kind of fell apart with Lynch's Dune. I know that the studio took the film away from Lynch. Again, my blasphemy is showing because I'm one of the only film nerds on the planet who can't stand David Lynch. But the studio had no faith in Lynch's vision, so they just dropped all this exposition in the film and then cut it into something that was able to attempt to make money. But Villeneuve took this huge risk and said that he was going to make a two-and-a-half hour movie of only the first half of the film without having a guarantee for the second half of the film. I don't know how I would be able to handle it with that kind of stress. After all, Villeneuve is quickly becoming the name to look to for prestige sci-fi like Christopher Nolan. He makes really pretty science fiction that gets nominated for Academy Awards. Imagine if Dune bombed and this sprawling epic only had a part one. I mean, the movie ends on this almost insulting anticlimax. This would be a movie about prophesy without any confirmation that any of it is accurate. There would only be rumors of a Kwitzak Satorak (I'm sorry that I don't have the patience to check the spelling on that.)
The thing that I have to applaud about Dune is that it made me really understand Dune. I know that I might be alone in that read. Knowing my history, a lot of Dune just never made sense to me, even after the reading of the novel and the intimate knowledge of the Lynch version. But watching Villeneuve's version, everything makes sense. My film class, who had all watched it opening night because of the handsomeness of Timothee Chalomet, had so many questions about what was going on (which may defeat my own argument), and I was able to explain everything clearly. Realize, Henson tried explaining so many elements to me before this movie and it all came together watching the film. I know that Henson's concerns involved the fact that a lot wasn't explained. But I argue that Villeneuve knows what to explain and what to leave to the imagination. Like, the cyborg-y guys are in the film without a word about them and why they exist. For guys like Henson, this is probably a real missed opportunity. For people like me who are trying to absorb this massive scope, I think it's genius. I don't need to know that stuff. That can be saved for the HBO Max show about the Bene Gesserett.
So I applaud the heck out of this movie. It was a darned good movie. While it wasn't my wife's favorite movie, she seemed to mostly enjoy it. She was shocked how much the movie grabbed her attention and that she was able to keep up with stuff. The only thing that Villeneuve asks is investment. That means being patient for very slow sequences. He's not being slow for the sake of slowness, but rather for the sake of processing. As Paul is going through the world of Arakis, he serves as our avatar, which is odd because he's this prophesized savior. But everything was simplified with characters that I liked, even if I didn't understand their nuanced roles. It's a very impressive achievement.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.