Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Dune (2021)

DUNE (2021)

Director: Denis Villeneuve  Runtime: 2 hr 35 min  Rated: PG-13

Studio: Legendary Pictures  Based on: Frank Herbert’s novel ‘Dune’

Screenwriter: Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Timohée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Dune is a science fiction saga layered with all the typical trappings of humanity. Rife with greed and civil unrest as a set of noble houses control planets for resources, wealth, and power. Often to the detriment of the locals. 

Not too far into the film, and I’m having a flashback to 2015’s Jupiter Ascending, which was marginally more exciting than this film. 

In Dune, the house of Atreides is given stewardship of planet Arrakis by the overlord of all the houses-the Emperor. House Atreides, people of a water planet, go to Arrakis, a desert world, to mine spice. It’s the only thing of value to the houses because though spice is a drug; they also use it to navigate space. Okay. Spice is only on Arrakis, with two other things: the locals, known as the Freemen, and massive sandworms. 

The Freemen walk in a certain way to not cause unnatural vibrations in the sand that would otherwise attract the worms. They also wear special garb to help them endure the intense heat of the surface. Freemen characters are Chani (Zendaya), Stilgar (Bardem), and Dr. Kynes (Duncan-Brewster). Dr. Kynes has the most screen time out of these three, and the trailers for this movie imply the other two have more significant roles than they do. So if you see Dune just because they are in it, you’ll have to wait for most of the film and will be vastly disappointed. 

Javier Bardem’s Stilgar in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

The previous stewards of Arrakis, House Harkonnen, mined the spice for 80 years and left abruptly. Houses Harkonnen and Atreides are sworn enemies but obey the Emperor’s decree of change. Still with me?

Paul Atreides (Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Isaac), next in line to rule his homeworld. Paul follows his father and mother, Lady Jessica (Ferguson), to Arrakis to learn how to lead more. Dune is billed as a sci-fi hero’s journey of a young boy born for a destiny he can’t grasp. A journey to provide safety for his people and family, all while not giving into fear. 

Frank Herbert originally published Dune in 1965. 

‘Dune’ Spice harvester Image: Legendary Pictures via

To get to my following observation, let me highlight some key phrases and notions about Dune. 1. An Emperor (really) 2. Mine spice (Kessel) 3. Planet of sand (Tatooine) 4. Massive worms (Sarlacc pit, or Jabba) 5. Walking a certain way (Sand people) 6. Wear special garb (Sand people) 7. Hero’s journey (Luke) 8. A Young boy(Luke/Anakin) 9. Destiny (Luke/Anakin) 10. Not giving in to fear (Jedi) 11. High council (Jedi)12. Superpowers (the Force) 13. Imperium (Empire). I could go on. Before seeing this version of Dune, I knew nothing about it. I had never read the books or seen the previous movies, so I walked into the theater with no pre-knowledge or conceptions. However, after only a few minutes into the film, I was beyond irritated. 

This irritation was because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much George Lucas poached from Frank Herbert. Not drew on as inspiration, full-on stole. George Lucas released the first of his Star Wars films, A New Hope, twelve years after Dune was published. Yes, the troupes of a young hero’s journey, saving one’s family, and the notion of destiny are all well used throughout cinema and literary works; but this is something else. 

Sandworm of Arrakis in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

My urge to slap George Lucas aside, Villeneuve’s Dune isn’t worth the hype. It’s dull, cold, and wastes its runtime with lackluster performances. This film should have had gravitas and more substance, considering the vast source material available. I saw the trailer like millions of others, but I was unimpressed. The movie, like the trailer, left me with no investment in the plot or the characters. Dune’s filmmaker expects the audience to care and follow along with this story, though there’s no satisfaction at the end. 

Why is there no satisfaction or excitement to find out what happens next? Imagine the following: you wake to strangers in your home, there’s shooting, fire, and death. Therefore you flee for your life through dangerous parts of town to seek shelter and help from people you barely know. All while not disturbing the gigantic sandworms and daydreaming about a girl. These people agree to help you- end film. Without actual spoilers, I just summed up Dune

Zendaya in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Villeneuve cuts Dune off after two-and-a-half hours with no actual climax/resolution. Walking through worm-infested dunes isn’t a proper climax. It’s a bloody boring letdown. As an avid reader and fan of films, I know that movies rarely do their sourcebooks justice. Even though I haven’t read Dune, I don’t believe the first novel ended the way the film did. Please correct me if I’m wrong because Dune is one of the top 100 books of all time. 

How does such a popular novel make it to the silver screen with lackluster cast performance, pace, and lack of details? The most energy any character provides is Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho, discounting Brolin and Bautista’s roles as gruff, angry soldiers. That’s not a stretch for them, so I hardly call it acting. 

Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Stellan Skarsgård’s depiction of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen was said to be terrifying. I’m a big fan of Mr. Skarsgård’s work, and terrifying isn’t the word I would use to describe him in this film. Authoritative, vengeful, physically imposing (he’s a tall man in real life) who flies, which I find to be a weird ability, but not terrifying. Again I haven’t read the books; maybe he’s amazingly terrific as his literary counterpart description. 

The Lady Jessica is credited as Atreides but is referred to as the Dukes’ concubine in the film. If she’s his concubine, she’s not his wife. Either way, she is the mother of the Dukes’ son, Paul. The Lady Jessica is part of the Bene Gesserit, a political shadow group of sorceress with a breeding program. Again, I have that Star Wars connection in my mind. Breeding, cloning. Female sorceress’s, the Nightsisters of Dathomir. By and large, Ferguson’s emotional range is that of a brick wall. 

Chalamet, Ferguson, and Isaac in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Ferguson is a brick wall, and Timothée Chalamet is a wet mop. Why is there hype around this kid? Harry Potter had more emotional responses about his dead parents, whom he’d never met than Paul does about any of the stuff happening around him. And Paul is a lot older than an eleven-year-old. For that matter, Harry’s dead parents in memory form or in moving magical photos conveyed more emotion for their son than Lady Jessica. 

It’s not fair that all I can think about is Star Wars when watching this; Frank Herbert really should have sued George Lucas at some point. Star Wars has plenty of other things that separate it from Dune. Still, so many of the broad strokes are not original, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth about the franchise. Herbert crafted a sci-fi series in novel form, and had George Lucas never come along with Star Wars, who knows how popular the Dune series cinematically could have been long term. All it needed was a studio, cast, and director, along with an excellent screenplay to bring it all to life- a few decades too late. Instead, now, Dune is left seeming like recycled content. 

Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

The script and direction should be solid when watching a big-budget film with a solid cast based on a classic novel. The passage of too much time and George Lucas robbed Dune of its full potential. Try as Denis Villeneuve did to make a better version of the 1984 attempt of Dune; it still falls flat. The devil is in the details, and there were not enough of them for Dune to resonate as the larger-than-life story it’s branded to be. 

Hopefully, the next attempt at Dune on the big screen will better incorporate details about the Houses in general, the interpersonal connections, and the mystical components that were played up but meant nothing. The story isn’t compelling enough without energetic performances and more complete pictures of characters and story arcs. 

When plot mechanics are the backbone of a film with little emotional resonance (story), it shouldn’t be on anyone’s watchlist. That’s not a film worth anyone’s time.

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer (2013)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho   Runtime: 2 hr. 6 min   Rated:

Studio: Moho Films Screenwriter: Bong Joon-Ho, Kelly Masterson

Cast: Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Song Kang-ho, Ko Asung, Jamie Bell

Snowpiercer is a French comic brought to the big screen by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. The year is 2031, and the entire world’s remaining population lives aboard a train that never stops moving, or everyone on it will freeze to death. Just like the rest of the world did almost two decades prior. Humanity is an endangered species, and the train is the Hotel California. You could check-in, but you’re never going to leave.

This train generates energy by constantly moving, and since the great freeze means it can never stop. It does one lap around the globe each year. The train, this snowpiercer, was created by a man called Wilford, who divided the train into three parts. The elite at the front, poorest at the end, and the workers in the middle who service the train. The inhabitants at the back endure much. They live off of gelatin-like “protein bars” and nothing else. They have their children taken, live in squalor, and are executed periodically to reduce the population. These individuals are never allowed beyond the train’s tail. So, surprise, they sometimes revolt. In Snowpiercer, they try again, with a new plan, to make it to the front and control the engine. After all, those that control the engine control the world, such as it is. 

I watched this film begrudgingly. I stopped it mid-film three times and took days in between to finish it. There needs to be more attention to detail for a plot like this to work on screen. Expand upon what’s not in the original material, or ignore it and make it better. He’d hardly be the first moviemaker to do so. This film has a trailer that holds up this movie to be far more exciting than it is. A film shouldn’t create so many questions and not answer them. 

‘Snowpiercer’ staring Chris Evans and Jamie Bell. Image: Moho Films via

The beginning of the film drops the audience into a story in progress. While it’s not difficult to catch on to the plight and goals of the characters, it is a little confusing. Utilizing this tactic is problematic because the viewer isn’t invested yet in the characters. Bong Joon-ho’s choice to cast Chris Evans as Curtis and Octavia Spencer as Tanya aren’t enough. Both are phenomenal actors, but their addition to this cast was to grab more Western viewers, not because actual acting was required. 

Initially, the director didn’t want to cast Chris Evans because he was too fit. Malnourished from living in poverty, it would be hard for anyone to believe he was from the tail car. All the people there are frail. So, instead, he’s covered in clothing to hide his bulk. On that logic, I’d like to point out that he cast Octavia Spencer! No disrespect to her, but she’s a heavy-set woman. It’s the reverse logic of not wanting a physically fit person cast. After almost two decades on a train in squalor-like conditions, she’d be thinner. She’s the only plus-sized person I saw in that section. So back to my point about more Western eyeballs. 

Child labor in ‘Snowpiercer’ Image: Moho Films via the

The logic of this film makes zero sense. The train isn’t that big when you think about it or see shots of it. How is livestock raised or food for so many people aboard a train? How do you maintain the train? Where do the spare parts go, how do you make more? At what point do you run out of clothes, supplies in general, on a ride you can’t stop? How many people have to die every year to sustain everyone else? 

Now, cultures other than mine find eating insects acceptable, okay. What’s not okay is how it’s depicted in this film. Besides being excessively disgusting, where did they all come from? The squalor from the tail and the production/growth of food alone isn’t enough to generate that many insects frequently enough to be used as they are in this film. Remember, they are all dead outside the train. 

Protein bars for every meal in ‘Snowpiercer’ Image: CJ Entertainment via

If I, or you, were boarding this life-saving train on day one, one of the many questions I would want to be answered is, what about the tracks? This train rides around on one gigantic loop around the Earth; what keeps the tracks from freezing so much the train doesn’t derail after months or years? Everyone dies if too much snow blocks a section and stops the train. These are no small questions, and someone could have dreamed up an answer and brought it up with relative ease, but no. Instead, the audience is dropped into a story where the plot is to take the engine car or die trying. In a gritty, difficult to watch (camera work), violent hail Mary to overthrow an authoritarian dictator and his lackeys. 

As dystopian, apocalyptic-like, fate of humanity films go, Snowpiercer is a dull, thinly plotted, implausible train wreck despite the otherwise talented ensemble. It’s not worth the hype many gave it nor a place on anyone’s watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady