*MOVIE RECAP: DUNE — Part One

Embarrassingly enough, I went into this movie not having read the book. My knowledge of Frank Herbert’s Dune can be best summarized to a simple cliff notes overview of the story. And my other familiarity with the novel is that I used to sell hundreds of copies per year, back when I was a bookseller slash bookstore manager. It was a constant bestseller, so I always kept it in stock.

At the same time, I have to admit that I’m a bit biased when it comes to this movie. Full disclaimer, a few weeks before the official cast of Dune was announced, I got the chance to meet and exchange words with Timothee Chalamet briefly — Oscar Isaac made the introduction. Yes, THAT Oscar Isaac.

All told, I have been dealing with Mr. Isaac for a while now through my day job. He is a normal and down-to-earth dude — extremely likable and personable. Unlike some of those entitled Hollywood types, acting pretentious and asking to be treated special…ahem, Jeremy Strong…. I had an awkward conversation with Jeremy Strong on the phone once. But that is another story for a different time.

Anyhow, meeting Timothee Chalamet was a pretty awesome experience, and even though it was a brief encounter, it was a pretty memorable encounter; He shook my hand and said, “Hi, it is cool to meet you”….It made my day, week, month, and so on… and I haven’t shut up about it ever since.

So yes, it was my own personal “Hollywood moment.” One of many unique Hollywood moments — meeting celebrities is one of the cool perks of working in New York City.

Ok, about the movie. 

So this movie is officially named DUNE: Part One — because it is based on the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 Dune novel. And I assume that the next Dune movie will be based on the second half of the book — unless they decide to turn the entire first book into a trilogy, which I doubt.

I read in different pieces that Frank Herbert was heavily influenced by the 1926 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E Lawrence — which was the basis for the epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia directed by David Lean……One of my favorite films of all time.

In any case, the story of Dune takes place on a desert planet called Arrakis. The native people of this planet are called the Fremen — The Fremen are nomadic, Arab-looking tribes. They are ruled and oppressed by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) of the House Harkonnen; He is like a feudalistic planetary overlord of sorts.

The other power player here is the House of Atreides; Rule by Duke Leto Atreides (my boy, Oscar Isaac). Duke Leto’s young son Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), heir to House Atreides.

The Emperor and supreme ruler of the known universe assigns Duke Leto to replace House Harkonnen as overlords of Arrakis and all of the “spice” mining operations there. Spice is a precious asset; it is the equivalent to oil in terms of power for fuel — You need this Spice for interstellar travel.

And here is where the fuckery starts…

There is a conspiracy between the Emperor and House Harkonnen to wipe out House Atreides from existence. So not long after arriving in Arrakis, there is a surprise attack by the combined forces of the Emperor and House Harkonnen to kill off House Atreides.

Young Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), escape, and the journey between boy and mother begin.

What pleasantly surprised me the most here was the solid screenwriting — primarily in how the knots and bolts of the story are explained to the audience. Mainly the opening scenes and the introduction of the Houses and the whole space mining concept, plus how the movie’s beginning gave us a quick background to the never-ending conflict between the ruling overlords and the Fremen. All of that was written and directed brilliantly, and it was very engaging.

Not having read the book, I was impressed with this adaptation because they did not try to force-feed the entire first book into one movie. Instead, they opted to split the books into parts and thus remain faithful to the source material. Therefore, it doesn’t feel like it was dumb down for the audience like some other adaptations out there.

Brilliant screenwriting work from Denis Villeneuve and his writing partners, Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Passenger) and Eric Roth (Munich, The Good Shepherd, Forrest Gump, and The Insider).

Dune, the novel, is a complex and spectacular story that many consider unfilmable. But director Denis Villeneuve has created an exceptional experience here, adding a visual depth and dimension that I’m sure the book does not have — Villeneuve’s filmography is extraordinary with films like Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and The Arrival (2016), among others. So I’m not surprised by this achievement.

The scope and scale of this movie are epic and breathtaking. The combination of location shooting and special effects is outstanding. Bringing this world to life both digitally and physically is remarkable. The natural environment and the power of the desert felt real, which is something CGI or green screens cannot truly capture.

The atmospheric elements and the middle eastern imagery are well done. There is also a sense of spirituality and mysticism slowly being developed, which I’m sure will be further explored in upcoming films. On top of all that, Hans Zimmer’s score is superb.

The performances are excellent. Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, and David Dastmalchia are all fantastic. There is an air of Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now to Stellan Skarsgard’s character — No CGI, only prosthetics for Skarsgard — pretty cool.

Additionally, Rebecca Ferguson is noteworthy here; Lady Jessica is at the epicenter of the story, and Ferguson conveys such a powerful presence in every scene that she is in.

But objectively, Timothee Chalamet is the heart and soul here; he is perfect for this role. At first, he seems flat, stoic, and almost emotionless. But as the story evolves, you see him maturing and embracing his messianic destiny. There is a sense of vulnerability from Chalamet’s performance that merits praise.

And sure, this is another white savior story; however, it gets a pass from me, mainly because the source material is over 55 years old. My other issue is that they did not make time early enough in the story to explain to the audience about the whole aspect of sword-fighting with shields and how those personal shield devices can protect you. I hope there will be a director’s cut available at some point addressing some of the technology, like the whole thing with the lack of computers and Artificial Intelligence in this world.

Lastly, I find it interesting how they went out of their way to exaggerate Zendaya’s contribution here. The advertising was misleading — she was all over the promotion materials, hyping up her performance. Yet, she was in the movie for roughly 10 minutes, but it is evident that she will play a significant role in the second part.

All in all, Dune: Part One is a major cinematic achievement. Here is an adaptation that Hollywood got right, and I have not been this excited about a sci/fi slash fantasy series since the original Lord of the Rings trilogy back in the early 2000s.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

DUNE: Part One (2021).

*Movie Recap: The King

The King is simply a beautifully made historical medieval drama that diverges from history. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry IV-V, Henriad plays, but with some slight twisting of the real story of Henry V just a wee bit. Directed by David Michod (Animal Kingdom, War Machine) and produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company. Joel Edgerton wrote the screenplay along with David Michod. It is important to note that Edgerton played Henry V on stage during his early years while in drama school, so I’m sure this was a very special project and dear to Joel’s heart.

Timothee Chalamet-Prince Hal in the King.

The story starts with a young Henry, Prince of Wales (Hal, to his friends), Played By Timothee Chalamet. Prince Hal is utterly uninterested in royal life and wasting away, living a life of debauchery, with no real purpose or responsibilities. Hal’s father, King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), is gravely ill and, at the same time battling dissension between the ranks of his noble allies. King Henry IV summons Hal to explain that the line of succession will skip him and go to the younger brother, Prince Thomas (Dean-Charles Thomas). Hal seems worried that his father’s squabbles will put the young Thomas in grave danger and tries to persuade Thomas into not fighting the King’s enemies. Thomas ignores Hal and proceeds to fight the King’s battles, which lead to his death. At this point, Hal has no choice but to reassume his role as the heir to the throne. At his death bed, King Henry IV tells Hal that he must be the next King. Hal seems ready to accept his destiny, and after his father’s death, Hal becomes King Henry V.

Robert Pattison-The Dauphin of France in The King.

The transformation of Hal into King Henry V is instant. His demeanor, body language, and even his bowl haircut elevate the young King’s royal appearance. Chalamet delivers a commanding performance throughout the entire movie. The King continues to move at a fast and steady pace, along with some well written and beautiful dialogue. Robert Pattison is excellent at playing the Dauphin of France as the main antagonist of this movie. The Dauphin’s character had a slimy, sinister feel, almost vampire-like, which Pattison captured well. Joel Edgerton, as the fictitious Sir John Falstaff, had some of the best dialogue in the movie, and he seemed very comfortable in this role. Sean Harris plays Sir William Gascoigne-Chief Justice of England for King Henry IV. I’ve been a fan of Sean’s work ever since I first got the chance to watch him in The Borgias. Harris has always shown to have a strong screen presence in just about all of his work, and once again, he is incredible here. Lily-Rose Depp is a scene-stealer towards the end of the movie; she plays French Princess Catherine, daughter of King Charles VI of France. Depp’s French and English dialogue is beautifully delivered as she confronts Henry into reflecting on the manipulation of his reign as King and who truly benefits from waging war with France.

The King is big-time filmmaking that deserved more time on the big screen. The special effects are well done; they feel natural. You know there are some scenes that cannot be real, but the usage of special effects is well-executed, and they blend well with the cinematography, especially in the battle of Agincourt.

Battle scenes shot from a human eye level, which allows the audience to follow the narrative through, and follow the characters as they fight their way through. The brutality of the battles, even the one on one sword fighting scenes felt natural, raw, and real. The movie, as a whole, never felt slow, and I was left wanting more.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The King (2019, Streaming on Netflix)

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