Dune Part Two (2024) poster

Dune Part Two (2024)

Rating:


USA. 2024.

Crew

Director – Denis Villeneuve, Screenplay – Jon Spaihts & Denis Villeneuve, Based on the Novel Dune by Frank Herbert, Producers – Cale Boyter, Tanya Lapointe, Patrick McCormick. Mary Parent & Denis Villeneuve, Photography – Greig Fraser, Music – Hans Zimmer, Visual Effects Supervisor – Paul Lambert, Visual Effects – DNeg (Supervisors – Michael Grobe, Stephen James & Rhys Salcombe), Redefine, Rodeo FX (Supervisor – Arnaud Brisebois), Rotomaker, Select VFX, Territory Studio, Track VFX & Wylie Co. (Supervisor – Patrick Heinen), Special Effects Supervisor – Gerd Nefzer, Prosthetics Design – Love Larson & Eva Von Bahr, Production Design – Patrice Vermette. Production Company – Legendary Pictures.

Cast

Timothee Chalamet (Paul Atreides), Zendaya (Chani), Rebecca Ferguson (Jessica), Javier Bardem (Stilgar), Austin Butler (Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen), Josh Brolin (Gurney Halleck), Florence Pugh (Princess Irulan), Christopher Walken (Emperor Shaddam IV), Stellan Skarsgärd (Baron Vladimir Harkonnen), Dave Bautista (Beast Rabban), Lea Seydoux (Lady Margot Fenring), Charlotte Rampling (Reverend Mother Mohiam), Souheila Yacoub (Shishkali), Alison Halstead (Maker Keeper), Roger Yuan (Lanville)


Plot

Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica are reluctantly accepted amongst the Fremen. Paul forms an attachment to Stilgar’s daughter Chani. She champions Paul while others doubt his ability to survive in the desert according to the Fremen ways. At the same time as Paul sets out to prove himself, Jessica is persuaded to replace the aging Fremen Reverend Mother. Jessica pushes the view that Paul is the chosen Kwisatz Haderach who has been prophesied to lead the Fremen. Paul organises the Fremen into fighting back against the Harkonnen by sabotaging the spice mining operations. Baron Harkonnen responds by placing his psychopathic nephew Feyd-Rautha in charge of Arrakis where he begins the slaughter of Fremen in retaliation. With the spice opening up his visions, Paul tries to find a pathway into the future that does not end in wholesale bloodshed.


Frank Herbert’s novel Dune (1965) is one of the great classics of the science fiction genre. Herbert went on to write five book sequels before his death in 1986. Since then, Herbert’s son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson have built a massive series of prequels and sequels that run to multiple series – at current count some fifteen books. The first film adaptation was David Lynch’s problem-ridden but by no means uninteresting Dune (1984). There was then the tv mini-series Dune (2000), which is actually the most faithful to the telling of the story of all versions to date. This led to a follow-up mini-series Children of Dune (2003), which combines Frank Herbert’s first two book sequels. Also of interest is Jodorowky’s Dune (2013), a documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s planned but aborted adaptation of the book in the 1970s.

Denis Villeneuve is a Canadian director who had a string of hits in the science-fiction genre (see below for Denis Villeneuve’s other films) before announcing that he wanted to take on delivering an ambitious two-part adaptation of the book. Dune Part One (2021) was released during the Covid-19 pandemic, which ended up with a brief theatrical screening before the film was dumped to streaming on HBO Max. Villeneuve returns to complete Dune Part Two here and has announced plans to film the next of Herbert’s books Dune Messiah (1969), as well as a tv series spun out around the Bene Gesserit sisterhood.

Dune Part One ended with Paul and Jessica’s flight into the desert and their discovery by the Fremen. Dune Part Two seamlessly follows on from that. It is clear why Villeneuve made that the dividing line as both films each addresses different aspects of the story – Part One introduced Arrakis and the intergalactic political backdrop, while Part Two concerns itself with Fremen culture and the growing messianic movement. Villeneuve throws us right into the midst of the new world in the opening scene where the Harkonnen troops come searching the wreckage and the Fremen erupt out of the sand and slaughter them in rapid course before their water is removed and the bodies left for the desert to deal with.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Muad'dib in Dune Part Two (2024)
Timothee Chalamet as Paul Muad’dib

Villeneuve gives us a far greater sense of Fremen culture and their world than any other film to date. By contrast, the 1984 film trimmed the scenes that make up Dune Part Two back to only 45 minutes of its 135 minute running time, letting them occupying only about a third of the story. This time the look of the Fremen – in its costuming and the casting of many of the parts with a mix of Middle Eastern actors – is clearly modelled on an amalgam of Islamic desert cultures. Frank Herbert borrowed from the Middle East when it come to the writing of Dune, although this does leave us with some uneasy interpretations when you look at Dune Part Two in terms of contemporary world politics. It is a work where the Fremen (the not so subtly named ‘free-men’) would essentially be ISIS/Daish cast as the heroic freedom fighters, while the oil-exporting nations (as represented by the Harkonnen) are seen as brutish and suppressive and by the time of Feyd-Rautha’s ascendency as more akin to the current genocide conducted against the Palestinian people by Israel.

This section of the book also allows Villeneuve to indulge all of the battle scenes and epic visual effects shots. There are some great set-pieces with Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya joining the Fremen as they conduct sabotage in the cover of a giant octopus-like spice miner, and of course the climactic battle riding the worms into attack. Surprisingly, Villeneuve is sparing when it comes to the sandworm scenes, given how iconic a fixture of the book and other films these are. One unique thing he does is give us the point-of-view of someone riding a worm, beginning with the scene where Paul tames the worm.

While the first film was generally very faithful to the book, this section makes a number of significant changes. One of the disappointments of Dune Part One was that Stellan Skarsgärd was flying and fat as the Baron but lacked the grotesquerie of the character in the book and other film versions. Villeneuve appears to have taken that on board and finally gives us the Baron as an obesely overweight figure. One of the changes made is that Feyd-Rautha is developed into a far more significant figure than what he was in the book and other film versions – in fact, his presence in the film comes to even overshadow that of the Baron. (One of the odd artistic choices that Villeneuve makes is that most of the scenes set on Giedi Prime (the Harkonnen homeworld) take place in black-and-white, most notedly the scenes with Feyd-Rautha in the arena. There is a brief explanation mentioned about a black sun – although in astronomical terms this mean that the planets orbits a black hole).

Sandworms on the attack in Dune Part Two (2024)
The massed sandworm attack on Arrakeen

One of the other changes is the elimination of Count Fenring, a minor character of the book (so minor that he has been dropped from the previous film adaptations), who was a friend/advisor to Baron Harkonnen. He is replaced by Lady Margot Fenring, who was the count’s wife, but appears even less in the book – all she does is accompany her husband and leave a hidden message for Jessica on Arrakis. She does get a much larger role in some of the expanded universe books and it is from there that Villeneuve appears to have drawn her characterisation. Here we get a whole new plot where she is posited as a Bene Gesserit plant who seduces Feyd-Rautha with the intention of securing an alternate path to the imperial throne for them to control.

With the much deeper focus on the religion and politics of the Fremen, many of the characters undergo changes. Stilgar is shown as a fanatical follower, rather than the wisely, loyal advisor he has been in previous film versions. The other is Chani, which the film makes into someone who takes a stand that is avowedly not part of the messianic movement. The book ends with Paul accepting the hand of Princess Irulan as his wife with Chani settling into the role of concubine as Jessica was to Duke Leto. The last line of the book is Jessica saying: “We, Chai, we who carry the name of the concubine, history will call us wives.” In complete contradiction, the film ends with Paul extending his hand to Irulan and a very pissed-off Chani disappearing off into the desert on her own.

Neither Timothee Chalamet nor Zendaya have impressed me in other performances. Elsewhere, Timothee Chalemet exudes a sense of blithely if not smugly entitled superiority that I majorly hate. Zendaya has made the worst Mary-Jane ever in the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies. What can be said is that Denis Villeneuve makes the film work despite either of them. Paul is turned into a near-mythic figure that requires Chalemet to do little more than pose, while Zendaya comes across with far more presence when she is required to be humourless and angry. The film does place the two of them into action, although the one thing this does bring out is how slight of build either actor is – they look like children going into action, something that is particularly noticeable in the scenes with Chalemet up against Feyd-Rautha at the climax.

Denis Villeneuve first appeared with the French-language likes of August 32nd on Earth (1998), Maelstrom (2000) and Polytechnique (2009) then gained recognition with the international hit of Incendies (2010), which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Villeneuve found wider acclaim with his English-language debuts with the doppelganger film Enemy (2013) and the psycho-thriller Prisoners (2013), followed by Sicario (2015). Villeneuve then took up science-fiction subjects with Arrival (2016), which had him nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, followed by Blade Runner 2049 (2017).


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