Dune: Part Two is fine

Dune 2 is a blockbuster. I really, really want to judge it as art, but it's not really art. Maybe Frank Herbert's grand vision of his otherworldly epics were, but Dune and Dune 2 are adaptations made for Hollywood, designed to triple their $200 million dollar budgets and have disastrous promotional tie-ins. They want to franchise and create spin-off TV series and action figures and whatnot. That's fine. It's not really my thing, though. I tend to like movies about… I dunno, the home life of Nazis or art house flicks made with a $200 budget. But Dune 2 really wants to be art. It wants to take its source material literally and blossom into a fully-fledged epic. But it has focus groups and stockholders in the way.

The story is compelling, if a little confusing and, like I said, not really "my thing". For me, the trouble with high fantasy comes from the lack of chill human moments. No one asks what's for lunch or if their partner would prefer to hang out on the town or go home. They have to exist in pure exposition and declare Love as a grand concept, inextricably linked to beauty and honor. Flirting in exposition is so dang stilted. "Yes, I, too, remember the sunsets of my homeland; they were so particularly beautiful" As much as that wouldn't fly on Tinder, it's fine by its own merits, but not really my thing.

I read Dune a ways back and don't remember much, but I understand and appreciate Herbert's impact on science fiction and the ambition of his story pretty well. I even had a good time watching this Bollywood-length action film in theaters, somewhat strange politics and all. So my thoughts here are on the merits of what Dune 2 really wants to be and if it does it effectively.

Dune 2 really wants to be epic. So it is, by force. The film is relentless in both showing and telling the audience just how Epic everything everyone does is. This is because it is foretold. Perhaps this is a stylistic choice in keeping with the source material, a book following a prophet going through the prophecy and its cycles and failures in a completely foreign universe is bound to be pretty grandiose. But nearly every scene has a conflict, a moment of action, then gasping, worried or smug reactions from the audience, some kind of overcoming of struggle (killing an unusually sober slave, not dying, drinking worm juice, not dying again) an inevitable resolution and then a repeat cycle. And perhaps this is because it was ordained previously. The Bible has more breathers. None of this pacing is helped by the music, which Inception-style BWAAAAAs at any possible moment. A toothy worm the size of… of… something unfathomably large is naturally terrifying and awe-inspiring on its own. There's really no need for a BWAAAAA there. Let alone every 4-8 minutes of the movie. Also, the BWAAAAAs are incredibly loud. Today's sound mixers have spent the entirety of their working lives in headphones and should really get a second opinion from their coworkers without tinnitus before hitting the send button.

If everything everyone is doing is epic, then nothing is. A lightly over salted french fry might taste good the first few bites, but eat the whole bag's worth and your tongue goes numb.

Dune (2) does a great disservice to the natural grandeur of the desert. This is a landscape that is inherently serene and ripe with paradox. It's seemingly barren, suffering from permanent drought from afar, and yet, teeming with life from up close. The vastness of the Sahara, the Gobi, the Mojave, any and all great bodies of dirt and sand and shrub and rock and wind, invites pause and contemplation of either a personal or universal nature, and nothing else in between at all ever, okay?

A previous attempted adaptation of Dune took unearthly desert sensations into account. Moebius, in his designs for Jodorowsky's interpretation of the epic and in his personal work, allows for space in set design and composition. I don't think it's just the clean linework, either. It's also his sense of scale, the disproportion between human figures and the rock. The drawings encourage the feeling of alien-ness, of planetary grandeur. Somehow, it's subtle.

Hans Zimmer's score doesn't allow pause in one of the only silent terrains on this (and other) good earth(s). Maybe it's the fault of the scale of the story, how difficult it is to adapt an epic into a few hours of film. But the music pushes us through the movie at a harried pace.

The desert isn't really claustrophobic unless your bivy sack collapses around you. Save for a few inventive compositions, Dune 2 nearly is. Actually, if it weren't for the music and continued cyclical conflict resolution, creation, resolution, creation it might've read as less stuffy. Maybe it's the camera lens. Is that possible?

But again, I've gotten ahead of myself. It's an effective blockbuster, just not to my taste. I enjoyed watching it. I really liked scary Elvis in his Butoh dancer garb in the gladiator scene. The action, even though there's too much of it, is well-done. This is a theaters-only flick, not well-suited to streaming. But bring ear plugs.

Preview: David Lynch's Dune to return to movie theaters in February