Raisedonvideo's Blog

Review: Dune

Posted in Movie Review by raisedonvideo on October 23, 2021

Adapting a classic novel—especially a science fiction or fantasy novel—is a tricky proposition. Those who dare to undertake such a task double their chances of failure: They run the risk of alienating the fans of the book if they cut too many corners or take too many liberties with the source material, and they also need to make it understandable and entertaining for those who haven’t read the book. Legendary director David Lynch already found this out the hard way when he adapted Frank Herbert’s Dune back in 1984. Neither his famously troubled production, nor the version that was made for TV years later made fans of the book particularly happy, nor did they really find much of a following with new fans.

Director Denis Villenueve (who also co-produced and co-wrote the script) has been developing this version since 2015. Given his handling of futuristic, sci-fi hits The Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, he’s a logical choice for the job. Both of his previous efforts balanced visions of what the future could actually look like with trippy left turns into the psychedelic and philosophical musings about the past, present, and future of humanity. However, he adds to his risk with his plan to divide Dune into two movies. Quentin Tarantino opened the doors to this cinematic storytelling approach by dividing Kill Bill into two movies. Since then, books such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Mockingjay, It, and even Breaking Dawn have followed suit, with mixed results.

It’s easy to admire Villenueve’s willingness to take so many risks. It’s also easy to be of two minds about the final result.

Set way into the future in the year 10191, the story focuses on House Atreides. Maybe it’s a little nitpicky to say, but do ducal and noble families really revert to calling themselves “houses” as they might have centuries ago? In response, one might answer that with the wealth gap growing as it is and countries becoming ruled by official and unofficial oligarchies, it’s not out of the question. Yes, but even the duke’s partner in this is an actual concubine named Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) instead of his wife. Isn’t that a bit much? The jury’s still out on that one. Being the honorable gentleman he is, at least Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) expresses regret for not having married her.

Anyway, the powerful and noble House Atreides has been called by the emperor to the desert planet Arrakis to oversee the mining of a valuable spice. They will take over for a group called the Harkonnens, who are led by the pale, morbidly obese Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard). Jessica, who is a member of the Gene Gesserit, which makes her a bit of a witch—or a weirding woman, as she is called by some—senses a trap and a power play by the emperor because House Atreides has become too powerful. Paul (Timothee Chalamet), who has been trained by his mother in some of her ways and has visions of his own, also senses this. Duke Leto plans to overcome any potential obstacles by forging an alliance with the natives known as the Fremen. This might prove to be a difficult task since the Fremen are leery of outsiders and are rightfully suspicious of their self-serving motives to take spice from the planet.

Another vision he has leads Paul to ask to go with the advance team to Arrakis with Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa). Paul and Duncan have an obvious rapport with one another, and Momoa is a welcome presence because he provides the film with most of its moments of much-needed levity. Paul seems at ease letting his guard down around him, while he comes across as being stiff and formal around his parents and other authority figures. Paul’s request is denied by both Duncan, who is concerned for Paul’s safety, and Duke Leto, who wants Paul at his side as his son. Paul has to content himself with learning about Arrakis from videos in the weeks leading up to their departure.

His visions about Duncan’s potential future and about a Fremen woman (Zendaya) do not go unnoticed by his mother. Soon, the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling, who is stately and commanding despite limited screen time) of the Gene Gesserit comes calling to question Paul about his visions and test his abilities. Jessica is distraught by the test, but she lets it happen. When it is over, before she leaves the planet, the Reverend Mother scolds Jessica for training Paul and for not having a girl.

When House Atreides arrives on Arrakis, they are met with curiosity and trepidation by the Fremen. Duncan has managed to make inroads with them and brings their leader, Stilgar (Javier Bardem) before the Duke for a meeting. The Duke tries to assure him of their good intentions, but also lets him know that he has a job to do there and needs the freedom to do it. Lady Jessica hires a Fremen housekeeper, who presents her with a gift of a knife made from one of the teeth of a sandworm.

The Duke and Paul get to see a massive sandworm (they can grow up to hundreds of meters long) up close when they go out to observe the mining process. They end up having to rescue miners from a ship that can’t be moved out of the way in time before the worm comes. The ground vibrates ominously as they approach.

Desert sands over the sandworms aren’t the only things that vibrate in Dune. Vibrating becomes an audiovisual motif throughout the movie. Instead of planes or helicopters, people are transported by air in ornithopters. They look like giant, mechanical dragonflies. Their wings vibrate like a hummingbird’s when they fly. Jessica teaches Paul to make his voice vibrate at a specific pitch and frequency in order to control other people’s behavior. Protective shields around people and ships also vibrate and change colors to either blue or red when they are hit.

Paul uses such a shield when he spars with Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) using blades. Halleck trains him hard and reasons with him that it is necessary because he will face potential dangers on Arrakis. Getting nitpicky again, the choice to use blades in close combat instead of guns or blasters seems a bit strange. As we later see, ships do carry bombs, lasers are used to cut through doors, and small flying robots called hunter-seekers are elaborate assassination devices that are available, yet people are fighting with blades more than 8,000 years in the future. Hmmm…

Hans Zimmer’s score also threatens to take the viewer out of the movie at times. Even without looking at the credits, you know it’s his work because of the long, loud horn blasts that punctuate dramatic moments instead of actual melodies. It sounds a lot like his work for Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, as well as Inception. Even when he shifts to using human voices in his score, the cries of agony and despair sound a lot like his work in The Power of One and The Lion King

Thankfully, the costume design, art direction, and nearly seamless special effects work in the movie’s favor. Here is where Villenueve’s care and attention to detail are evident. It is also evident in the cinematography. Dune features some truly breathtaking visuals and some exciting set pieces that are expertly edited.

Visually and otherwise, Dune reminds the viewer of the first Star Wars movie (even though, in contrast, it is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). The ornithopters look a bit like X-Wing fighters, especially from behind. In addition, Paul has his own “Use the Force, Luke” moment while flying one in a sandstorm. Also, both are science-fiction stories, much of which take place on desert planets. Both feature young protagonists who are beginning their heroic journeys and learning to master their weapons and their mystical powers, as well. Finally, both are set in intergalactic empires full of intrigue and power struggles. The difference is that Dune is more serious and less light-hearted, but its universe-building seems more intentional and planned better. 

In the latter regards, it also reminds the viewer of another literary classic, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Rather than dumbing down the material to make it easier to understand, Villenueve—like Peter Jackson—invites viewers to experience the material, nudging them to keep up with the story and accept it on its terms. In both cases, viewers can feel that the artists in front of and behind the camera believe in what they’re doing and take it seriously. That could be said of many projects, one might argue, but it is different in the science-fiction and fantasy genres.

Also in both films, we are not given the full story. Dune ends on a cliffhanger with the story unfinished, just as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring did. Although Warner Bros. hasn’t officially greenlighted the sequel yet, it seems like a foregone conclusion and a mere formality at this point because it has already brought in beaucoup bucks internationally and looks to do the same in the U.S.

Let us hope so because, despite its running time of more than two and half hours, you want to keep watching. Regardless of its minor missteps (come on, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings had theirs, too), Dune has a lot more going for it than against it. The impression that it leaves viewers with is the desire to remain immersed in the universe it has so meticulously created. At the very least, Villenueve and company have earned the benefit of the doubt to finish the story.

Verdict: A

Retrospective: 1979

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 20, 2021

I’ve managed to work my way back to the 70s. As I went further and further back into the 80s, however, I noticed that there were an increasing number of notable films I hadn’t seen. I wondered if I should even continue making these lists, given the fact that the number of films I had seen were outnumbered by the ones I hadn’t. I also wondered a couple of other things: Were there simply fewer notable movies released back then because fewer movies were released overall? Or had I not seen enough notable ones to form an informed opinion about them because I was too young when they came out?

Anyhow, I’ve decided to keep going and do a deep dive into the 70s because it is considered by many to be the greatest decade in the history of filmmaking, even if it does reveal that I have a lot of movies I have yet to see.

  1. Apocalypse Now
  2. Being There
  3. Alien
  4. Escape from Alcatraz
  5. Life of Brian
  6. Breaking Away
  7. Jesus
  8. Kramer vs. Kramer
  9. Rocky II
  10. Camera Buff
  11. Time After Time
  12. Mad Max
  13. All That Jazz*
  14. Return of the Secaucus Seven*
  15. The Rose*
  16. Norma Rae*
  17. Over the Edge*
  18. The Warriors*
  19. Manhattan*
  20. The Amityville Horror*
  21. The China Syndrome*
  22. …And Justice for All*
  23. Hair*
  24. Star Trek: The Motion Picture*

*I have yet to see these noteworthy films.

Update: I moved Mad Max up the list after watching it. While it is a notable film, like Friday the 13th, it simply isn’t a very good film.

The Best Films of the Decade: 1980-1989

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 19, 2021

  1. Wings of Desire
  2. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  4. Blade Runner
  5. Dangerous Liaisons
  6. Blue Velvet
  7. Ran
  8. Terms of Endearment
  9. Glory
  10. The Elephant Man
  11. Cinema Paradiso
  12. Raging Bull
  13. Full Metal Jacket
  14. Out of Africa
  15. Aliens
  16. A Christmas Story
  17. E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  18. Do the Right Thing
  19. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  20. The Thin Blue Line
  21. This Is Spinal Tap
  22. Raising Arizona
  23. Salaam Bombay!
  24. Bull Durham
  25. Paris, Texas
  26. Tootsie
  27. Amadeus
  28. Drugstore Cowboy
  29. My Left Foot
  30. The King of Comedy
  31. The Color of Money
  32. Witness
  33. Back to the Future
  34. Ordinary People
  35. The Princess Bride
  36. Stand by Me
  37. Broadcast News

These noteworthy films are on the watchlist.

  1. Fanny and Alexander
  2. Das Boot
  3. Kagemusha
  4. The Killing Fields
  5. Chariots of Fire
  6. A Room with a View
  7. Hannah and Her Sisters
  8. Reds
  9. Gandhi
  10. Melvin and Howard
  11. Dead Ringers
  12. The Thing
  13. Murphy’s Romance

The Best Films of the Decade: 1990-1999

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 17, 2021

  1. Pulp Fiction
  2. The Shawshank Redemption
  3. The Silence of the Lambs
  4. L. A. Confidential
  5. GoodFellas
  6. The Truman Show
  7. Toy Story
  8. Unforgiven
  9. Hamlet
  10. The Matrix

Retrospective: 1980

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 17, 2021

Yet another decade done. I’ve noticed that the further I go back, the fewer notable movies I have seen because of my age. Friday the 13th and Xanadu seem like stretches, but the former is a classic that kick-started a franchise and the latter is a guilty pleasure with a great soundtrack.

  1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
  2. The Elephant Man
  3. Raging Bull
  4. Ordinary People
  5. The Shining
  6. Coal Miner’s Daughter
  7. The Great Santini
  8. Caddyshack
  9. Nine to Five
  10. Private Benjamin
  11. Airplane!
  12. My Bodyguard
  13. Friday the 13th
  14. Xanadu
  15. Kagemusha*
  16. Melvin and Howard*
  17. Tess*
  18. Altered States*
  19. Gloria*
  20. The Stunt Man*
  21. Resurrection*
  22. The Gods Must Be Crazy*
  23. Brubaker*
  24. Permanent Vacation*

*I did not see these noteworthy films.

Retrospective: 1981

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 15, 2021

1981 was 40 years ago. Therefore, this is another “anniversary” post.

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  2. The Road Warrior
  3. Quest for Fire
  4. Arthur
  5. Superman II
  6. Taps
  7. Stripes
  8. The Fox and the Hound
  9. An American Werewolf in London
  10. Halloween II
  11. Escape from New York
  12. Chariots of Fire*
  13. Reds*
  14. On Golden Pond*
  15. Atlantic City*
  16. Mephisto*
  17. My Dinner with Andre*
  18. Gallipoli*
  19. The French Lieutenant’s Woman*
  20. Pennies from Heaven*
  21. The Postman Always Rings Twice*
  22. Absence of Malice*
  23. Heaven’s Gate*
  24. Ragtime*
  25. Sharky’s Machine*

*I’m not especially proud of this list, as there are many notable films on it that I didn’t see. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a legit #1, but I obviously have some catching up to do. However, as I previously noted, I was quite young when these movies came out.

Retrospective: 1982

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 14, 2021
  1. Blade Runner
  2. E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  3. Tootsie
  4. The King of Comedy
  5. Die Weisse Rose
  6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  7. Poltergeist
  8. Cannery Row
  9. Night Shift
  10. Creepshow
  11. An Officer and a Gentleman
  12. Tron
  13. First Blood
  14. Rocky III
  15. Tex
  16. Annie
  17. Das Boot*
  18. Sophie’s Choice*
  19. The Thing*
  20. Koyaanisqatsi*
  21. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan*
  22. Diner*
  23. Gandhi*
  24. Missing*
  25. My Favorite Year*
  26. The Verdict*
  27. Victor Victoria*
  28. Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean*

*I have yet to see these noteworthy films.

Retrospective: 1983

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 13, 2021
  1. Terms of Endearment
  2. A Christmas Story
  3. The Right Stuff
  4. Tender Mercies
  5. The Big Chill
  6. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
  7. Danton
  8. Max Dugan Returns
  9. Star 80
  10. WarGames
  11. The Outsiders
  12. Flashdance
  13. Mr. Mom
  14. The Dead Zone
  15. The Lords of Discipline
  16. Trading Places
  17. Risky Business
  18. Fanny and Alexander*
  19. Silkwood*
  20. The Dresser*
  21. Local Hero*
  22. Reuben, Reuben*
  23. Cross Creek*
  24. Yentl*
  25. The Year of Living Dangerously*
  26. To Be or Not To Be*
  27. Rumble Fish*
  28. Bad Boys*
  29. Educating Rita*
  30. Uncommon Valor*

*I’m starting to show my age here a bit. I was seven years old for most of 1983 and didn’t see many noteworthy films.

Retrospective: 1984

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 12, 2021
  1. This Is Spinal Tap
  2. Paris, Texas
  3. Amadeus
  4. Romancing the Stone
  5. The Natural
  6. Starman
  7. The Terminator
  8. The Karate Kid
  9. Beverly Hills Cop
  10. Footloose
  11. The Pope of Greenwich Village
  12. Dreamscape
  13. The Company of Wolves
  14. 2010: The Year We Make Contact
  15. Ghostbusters
  16. All of Me
  17. Dune
  18. Stranger Than Paradise
  19. A Nightmare on Elm Street
  20. Top Secret!
  21. Against All Odds
  22. Splash
  23. The Killing Fields*
  24. A Passage to India*
  25. Places in the Heart*
  26. A Soldier’s Story*
  27. Country*
  28. The River*
  29. The Cotton Club*
  30. Once Upon a Time in America*

*I have yet to see these noteworthy films.

Retrospective: 1985

Posted in Movie List by raisedonvideo on October 8, 2021

Having done the lists for the years of 1986-2019, as a famous song from Back to the Future (one of the top movies on this list) says, time to go back in time, back to the year 1985…

Almost all other years have a clear #1 choice. Not this one. It took a lot of reflection to choose one over the other in the top two.

  1. Ran
  2. Out of Africa
  3. Witness
  4. Back to the Future
  5. Blood Simple
  6. La Historia Oficial
  7. Jagged Edge+
  8. Agnes of God+
  9. The Color Purple
  10. The Breakfast Club
  11. Prizzi’s Honor
  12. The Sure Thing
  13. Real Genius
  14. The Purple Rose of Cairo+
  15. Brazil
  16. After Hours
  17. The Goonies
  18. Twice in a Lifetime
  19. Mask
  20. Clue
  21. Ladyhawke
  22. Runaway Train
  23. Sweet Dreams
  24. The Emerald Forest
  25. Marie
  26. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
  27. Pale Rider
  28. Cocoon
  29. Vision Quest
  30. Enemy Mine
  31. D. A. R. Y. L.
  32. Explorers
  33. Silver Bullet
  34. Murphy’s Romance+
  35. Kiss of the Spider Woman+

+This indicates a film I did not see in its entirety; I saw it only partially.