A film review by Cliff Homewood

Willy Wonka does Star Wars

94% on Rotten Tomatoes, 9 on IMDb. I’m on my own. The film doesn’t need reviewing. People will judge by the first instalment.

Dune Part 1, although slow to start, was good when it got going but does Director Denis Villeneuve have a sense of humour?  These films certainly need it.  Some form of humanity.  There’s no warmth, no smiles, no sense of fun to make the films enjoyable.  The explosions have more character than the people. So subdued, the love story is just a look. As much as I enjoyed the first and looked forward to the faster paced second (based on the book). I was so wrong. Slow and dull, like his previous film, Blade Runner 2049, with a title referring to its perceived length.

Denis Villeneuve has enthusiastic followers though. One explained: dialogue’s not important, it’s all about the mood and the intelligence.  I suppose I will spend the next ten years hearing how great this is. Even our follower found this a slog, not being keen on the politics.

Admittedly I didn’t get The Blair Witch Project’s ending as I was bored by the voxpops at the beginning of that film.  If you are going to frontload your film with exposition, make it interesting. Villeneuve recently stated, ‘I hate dialogue.  Dialogue is for theatre and television. I don’t remember movies because of a good line, I remember movies because of a strong image.  I’m not interested in dialogue at all.  Pure image and sound, that is the power of cinema, but it is something not obvious when you watch the movies today.’ Yet he created Arrival, probably the best SF movie this century and which was all about communication. Dialogue is as important as image. Dialogue develops characters, let’s you know how they tick, makes you care, I would call the power of emotion the power of cinema, not image and sound. Cinema can make you laugh, make you cry, create elation, make you feel. It’s not an art installation. Images and sound are base ingredients you can build on, imagery that means something, highlighted by dialogue and context. You don’t just read books for ideas, that’s part of it, but there’s a whole cacophony of elements making a more enjoyable experience. A whole. Great films use everything. Star Wars is regarded as having bad dialogue but great imagery, yet its lines are memorable, ‘Use the Force, Luke’, ‘That’s no moon!’ or ‘I am your Father’. Tarantino’s films have strong imagery and soundtracks but are remembered as much for their dialogue. The definitive example of this may be the original Planet of the Apes where the unforgettable final image is given context by Charlton Heston’s despairing outcry. Intelligence, complex ideas, portrayed through dialogue. Dune isn’t great at conveying emotion. Villeneuve admits, ‘I have a capacity to be a bit autistic, to cut myself off from everything and to concentrate on the work to be done.’ Villeneuve’s ethos is the opposite of mine. We all have different tastes; this film might be yours. It wasn’t mine.

Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, stated that the banquet is the essential scene for any adaptation. I was surprised it was not in Part One as an Author Approved essential establishing scene. It admittedly includes a lot of interior monologues to adapt. The film never fully showed what was going on. Dialogue as political machination without the groundwork. I felt like an outsider to a clique. Spice is hardly mentioned in the film, it’s all water of life. The Bene Gesserit state there can be spice girls but not spice boys. It’s drier than the Sahara with less life. With a palette so dull it’s almost black and white. Filled with ominous doom-laden music, Dune should have been full of sense of wonder and adventure. Paul Atreides has visions of a better film. Someone show Timothy Shamalet an acting coach, his emotion is so muted that there’s hardly any. He lacks the charisma needed. It made me miss Sting. There’s an old actor’s trick of blank face. If you display no expression, people see what they want to see. Shamalet appears to be an expert at it. The problem is, that as characters aren’t fleshed out, you start to see other things, ah, there’s the entrance to Jabba’s Palace, there’s Dave Bautista doing his best Kingpin impression. Oh, he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. Avatar rides Dune like a sandworm. The sandworm scene is a breathtaking highlight, but the gladiatorial battle was a disappointment, being not riveting, just there.

How can you fumble an uprising?  Shot full of emotion, a triumphant revolting against the odds, think Spartacus; Eye of the Tiger; Rising up to the challenge of our rivals. A giddy ride. Unfortunately what I thought the film would be about feels tacked on at the end. At one point we see the populace being carpet bombed, there’s not one reaction shot of the carnage on the ground, of people getting hurt.  It may be a cliché, but it needs them to make you care what’s going on otherwise you have the disconnect, ‘that’s a pretty shot’.  Which alas is the point.

Dune Part 2 has its moments but not much happens for a few hours, or the action isn’t as exciting as it should be, I was expecting kinetic, I got reflective.  So that’s partly on me.  Then the story is rushed at the end, which felt more of a setup for a sequel.  David Lynch’s Dune was at least fun, but both films fumble cohesion, clarity slips through both pairs of hands like dust.  Admittedly the beginning may have explained it all but as it lacked emotional resonance, I switched off.