Josh Brolin and Timothée Chalamet in Dune: Part One / Warner Bros.
Dense and bleak in tone, yet visionally arresting and stunningly captivating, director Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” is a compelling start to what hopefully will be a satisfying epic.
I write hopefully because when the movie closes — despite the film’s 2-hour and 35-minute running time — it merely feels like an introduction to Frank Herbert’s science-fiction classic rather than a complete story.
The experience was like cutting into a perfectly prepared ribeye, taking one scrumptious bite, only to have your server whisk it away and tell you there’s a two-year wait for your next one.
That’s cruel and unusual punishment.
With that said, Villeneuve did leave me wanting more, and I suppose that’s the purpose of any serialized piece of fiction. It also speaks well of the Oscar-nominee’s work because the movie did not feel long.
The film’s pace was not rapid nor rushed. Villeneuve’s story-telling captured me quickly and propelled me through the layered introduction to Herbert’s world of spice and intrigue and left me frustrated and wanting more.
Hopefully the film will capture a big enough box office for the second film to go forward. The movie not only opened in theaters Thursday evening but also will run on HBO Max through Nov. 21. We’ll just have to wait for the box office reports Sunday and Monday to find out if the picture is a financial hit or a flop.
Rebecca Ferguson in Dune: Part One / Warner Bros.
The film’s cast is outstanding with Timothee Chalamet as Paul and Rebecca Ferguson as his mother Lady Jessica. Oscar Isaac (Duke Leto, Paul’s father) and Josh Brolin (Gurney) lend strong support in impactful but smallish roles, while Zendaya gets some screen time as Chani, who will become Paul’s love interest in the second film, but her role is mostly just foreshadowing in this movie.
Jason Momoa plays Duncan, a swordsman who is a mentor and friend to our hero Paul. All of them are at least solid in their roles as are Stellan Skarsgard as the grotesque Baron Vladimir, Javier Bardem as Stilgar the leader of Chani’s tribe, and David Dastmalchian as a member of Vladimir’s court. Even Dave Bautista manages to be more than just menacing as Vladimir’s nephew Glossu, but the true stars of the film are the fantastic special effects, the evocative camerawork of cinematographer Greig Fraser, and the foreboding score of Hans Zimmer. They truly sweep you away and make you feel a part of this fanciful world.
Those technical aspects do the heavy lifting in the movie, allowing Chalamet and Ferguson to underplay their roles to an effective degree. When emotion is shown by either. It packs a much harder punch than if Villeneuve had allowed them to chew up the scenery.
Duke Leto is the steward of the mining planet of Arrakis or Dune, which is the only source of the most valuable substance in the universe, melange or spice. The drug extends life, promotes super-human mental abilities, and makes faster-than-light travel not only possible but practical.
Rebecca Ferguson and Timothée Chalamet in Dune: Part One / Warner Bros.
However, the fix is in, and a bitter betrayal leads to Leto’s death forcing Paul and his mother to go on the run. They eventually join up with Chani and Stilar’s Freman tribe, which is indigenous to the planet. Paul defeats a Freman warrior in a battle ritual that allows he and Lady Jessica to join the tribe.
If the plot sounds a bit like the story of Moses from the book of Exodus in the Bible, you get the drift of where the story is headed in the sequel.
I found the movie engrossing, which was a surprise to me after struggling to get through Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” and not particularly caring for David Lynch’s version of “Dune” back in 1984.
My guess is the film will take home several Oscars in the technical categories, but by only telling half a story, it will be shut out of the major categories.
It’s hard to judge half a story, but “Dune” did leave me wanting more. I will be eagerly awaiting its sequel.
(PG-13) 2 hrs. 35 min.
New in Local Theaters
• Dune (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 2 hrs. 35 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight
• Ron’s Gone Wrong (watch trailer) / (PG) 1 hr. 46 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight
• The Harder they Fall (watch trailer) / (R) 2 hr. 10 min. / Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle
Classic Corner – Stormy Weather
Lena Horne in Stormy Weather / Twentieth Century Fox
Those who follow this column regularly have probably already guessed that Turner Classic Movies is my default TV channel. If I’m channel surfing it’s usually my first stop and often my final destination. More often than not there something interesting if not good playing.
That’s certainly the case Friday at 11 p.m. when the 1943 musical “Stormy Weather” airs.
Now, the movie is more than a bit controversial because of its insensitive portrayal of African-American culture. Some aspects of the movie are indeed offensive. There’s no dancing around the subject.
However, the musical is also a supreme showcase of talent featuring an African-American cast that’s as talented as any ever captured on film, and its from a day when African-American performers rarely garnered leading roles in mainstream Hollywood movies.
Cab Calloway, Bill Robinson, and Dooley Wilson in Stormy Weather / Twentieth Century Fox
The film features the wonderful Lena Horne as Selina Rogers and the charismatic Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in a story based loosely on Robinson’s career with a romance between him and Horne thrown in to spice things up.
Bill and Selina split up to chase stardom but promise to remember each other when they hit the top. However, the plot is somewhat inconsequential.
The story is just a bit of connective tissue between the showcase of stupendous talent ranging from Horne’s sensual vocals on the classic tune that gave the film its title to Robinson’s incomparable dancing style that inspired the 1968 Jerry Jeff Walker tune “Mr. Bojangles,” that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Sammy Davis Jr. also had hits with.
Horne’s rendition of the the title song is a sultry and smooth number that’s an all-time classic. Her performance has lost none of its magic today.
Robinson was the quintessential dance man and the highest-paid African-American performer of the first half of the 20th century. His talent literally paved the way for scores of African-American entertainers whose work we have enjoyed ever since.
Band leader Cab Calloway and jazz pianist Fats Waller appear in the movie as themselves with Calloway conducting his hit “Jumpin’ Jive” with an astounding dance number by the Nicholas Brothers, and Waller sings his hit “Ain’t Misbehavin.”
Boasting nearly 20 musical numbers in just 77 minutes, the film packs an entertainment punch that few movies do. This is a movie that’s worth allocating some space on your DVR for or staying up late to watch.
The complex movie is also available on YouTube.