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Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’: The grandest epic you need to see in theaters!

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Spoilers hide in the sands of Arrakis!

 Based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 original epic science-fiction novel ‘Dune’ , Part 1 of Villeneuve’s Dune introduces the Imperium of a far-off future, when the official trade-off of the governorship of the fief of planet Arrakis, the only source of mélange or spice in the known universe, is betrayed and embroils the noble Houses and the Empire into all-out war!

Much and more has been made about Herbert’s original novel, including a most beloved Lynch film, 2 love-it-or-hate-it Syfy television shows, a whole library of prequels, sequels, and interleaved books, plus computer games, board games, and even songs. Herbert’s original world-building involves massive moral and ethical dilemmas, treatises on love and the human condition, human evolution without the crutch of AI technology, addictions in many forms some even necessary, the overuse of supposedly abundant natural resources, gender dynamics, prescience, and its perils, and a whole host of other galaxy-sized concepts to explore. But we’re trying to stick with the single original novel that began it all, Herbert’s game-changer novel ‘Dune’, which is still so detailed and sprawling that it necessitates not one but multiple films to do it justice!

With that in mind, onward we sprint, make sure it’s without rhythm! We begin with introducing the ruling family of House Atreides of the water planet Caladan – honorable father Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), his bound concubine and disgraced Bene Gesserit mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), and finally Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the heir of House Atreides yes, but with a far bigger hidden fate destined to him! In rapid succession, we meet other key members of House Atreides – swordmaster Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), warrior-troubadour Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Master of Assassins and House Mentat Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson), and the Imperial Suk Doctor Wellington Yueh (Chen Chang).

I personally am a giant ridiculous ‘Dune’ fan, having read all the books, seen all the visual entertainment attempts, even played both the computer and board games. Thusly, I will be sprinkling the review with useless bits of ‘Dune’ trivia that wasn’t in this new film! For example … Dr. Wellington Yueh is a Doctor of the Imperial Suk school, with Imperial conditioning that was supposed to absolutely guarantee discretion and loyalty from any given Suk doctor, that’s what the diamond tattoo signifies. And it was the love of his Bene Gesserit wife Wanna, simple, stupid, and unadorned love, that caused Yueh to commit the ultimate act of betrayal that sparks the conflagration that embroils the whole Imperium!

Hurrying on, we meet our main villains of House Harkonnen – Beast Rabban (Dave Bautista), the Baron’s brutal nephew and the head of Harkonnen crackdown forces, Piter de Vries (David Dastmalchian) the twisted Mentat of House Harkonnen, and Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) himself, corpulent, gluttonous and murderous against their millennia-long enemies House Atreides.

So, the Emperor of the Known Universe has purportedly stripped the fief of planet Arrakis, the only known source of the spice in the entire universe, from the Harkonnens and commanded stewardship of the planet go to their mortal enemies House Atreides. This means the Atreides and their people, long having ruled the ocean-laden planet of Caladan, have to pick up everything and go to live on the desert planet Arrakis, with its giant sandworms, mysterious desert folk known as the Fremen, and leftover Harkonnen sabotage potential everywhere. The movie goes on to explain that the spice helps the Guild Navigators fly their ships and without it the Imperium would collapse, which is all technically true but plenty of other ‘Dune’ related folk use it. The spice prolongs life to all and sundry, leaving most people in the Imperium forever addicted to its anti-aging properties, and most especially the Emperor and his immediate circle. The spice can let you see the future with prescience, that’s how the Guild Navigators use it (more or less), while the Bene Gesserit, Mentats, and other Great Schools of the ‘Dune-iverse’ use spice in various, sometimes highly inventive, ways. The Fremen, the people of the sands of Arrakis, who live their lives inundated and surrounded by the spice, have their eyes turn the blue-within-blue of total spice addiction, called the Eyes of Ibad.

This means that the forms must be obeyed and pageantry demonstrated, even as Duke Leto admonishes Gurney to smile and the scarred warrior replies he is smiling. The Herald of the Change (Benjamin Clementine), along with representatives of the Guild Navigators, the Imperium and the Emperors own Bene Gesserit Truthsayer, Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling), transfer stewardship of Arrakis to House Atreides, but no one seems to think the Emperors new commanded gift is anything but a poisoned apple – even the Herald of the Change. And after the ceremony is completed, now is the perfect time for Reverend Mother Mohiam to come test Lady Jessica’s forbidden son.

The whole scene where Mohiam tests Paul with the box of pain and the gom jabbar is a pretty clear demonstration of the fabled witch-like powers of the Bene Gesserit women, but there’s a few details missing, which I’ll gleefully add here – you’re welcome. Through the millennia-long practice of prana-bindu techniques, bloodline study and collaboration, and the somewhat successful shepherding of humanity, the Bene Gesserit have reached mythical proportions in the modern Imperium. All Bene Gesserit are women, one of the many reasons Mohiam isn’t thrilled with Jessica teaching her son Paul their Ways, and their commanding Voice is an openly held powerful secret. The Bene Gesserit have their own stories and legends and goals, the main one of which is the Kwisatz Haderach, their own Shortening of the Way, the male Bene Gesserit who can bridge space and time, the goal of their multiple-millennia-long bloodline breeding scheme. And of course, headstrong Lady Jessica, installed as Duke Leto’s bound concubine and commanded by the Bene Gesserit to bear only Atreides daughters to be used matrimonial pawns in Imperial and political bloodline schemes, gave her beloved Duke a son, Paul.

And then there’s Paul himself, poor thing. Mohiam admonishes him he has more than one legacy in his fate, he has prophetic dreams about the sands and people of Arrakis, specifically one singularly important Fremen woman, Chani (Zendaya), plus let’s not forget the crushing expectations of House Atreides, the eternal enmity of not only House Harkonnen but potentially the Imperium to deal with too, and Paul is barely of an age to shave. His closest comrade inside House Atreides is the friendship and loyalty he enjoys in Duncan Idaho, though all the men, and women for that matter, not only of House Atreides but Caladan itself, love their Duke and his heir. But when the combined absolutely crushing force of not only Harkonnen kill squads but the Emperor’s own Sardaukar comes to take back Arrakis and destroy House Atreides in the process, Paul and Jessica find themselves fugitives thrust into the sands of the planet called by its natives, Dune.

Herbert’s legacy of sci-fi world-building and Villeneuve’s grand epic vision of filmmaking are both the movie’s greatest blessing and biggest curse, it seems. Herbert’s book embraces so many thought-provoking concepts and moves at times at breakneck speeds without any explanation or backstory, with so many pivotal characters to introduce, the 2021 film adaptation has to distill down to three key points and leaves no more room for anything else. One, the introduction of as many key characters as possible, with an incredible cast and grand majestic writing to back them up, while important to move the story along, has a small tendency to ring a bit hollow when we’re introduced to a character we know is a villain we’re supposed to despise (or hero, etc.) but the film can’t linger on them long enough to explain why. Two, sweeping grand epic shots of as many locations as possible, to try and give a scale for the sheer size of these various other planets and holdings of these characters. Arrakis, or Dune, in particular, gets sweeping shots of the desert moving like beautiful water, disgorging gigantic magnificent sandworms and spice blows, and the city of Arrakeen, where House Atreides takes up a new residence. And three, the technology in use in the far-off future of year 10,000+, mostly centered around spice harvesters on Dune, the hand-combat personal shields most people wear, and most especially the vehicles that look like giant dragonflies, called ornithopters.

As yet another personal note I’d like to add that the costumes made for the film are incredible, costume designers Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan came up with their own take on the Fremen stillsuits and made them as book-accurate as possible, plus their touches on the costumes of each and every separate planet-dweller, such as the hawk-shaped pins on Atreides uniform collars (the hawk is the House Atreides crest), and the oil-slick industrial kaftan the Baron wears with his suspension spine, are just absolutely incredible and the costumiers deserve all kinds of praise and awards and lauds.

Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ is shot on a grand epic scale because that was the kind of vision Herbert had when he wrote it, so long ago. And while this means we can own ‘Dune’ 2021 when it finally comes out on 4K Ultra HD or whatever, and even appreciate it on HBOMAX on your 50-some-odd-inch tv, you are doing yourself a disservice as a sci-fi fan if you don’t go and see Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ in the theater. It’s a visual treat for the eyes, for all the senses really, and that’s the utter magic of V’s filmmaking. The film is meant to be seen on that giant silver screen, to see the giant sandworm sniff the tiny world-breaker-in-the-making Paul as he stands frozen in the sand, finally understanding his fate could very well swallow him whole, just like Shai-hulud.

Brave the spice blows of Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ in theaters now!

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Dune Part Two: The Lisan Al Gaib comes for you!

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Welcome back to our struggle for control of the known universe already in progress, the continuation of the journey of Paul Atreides from exile to Emperor, Dune Part Two

So when we last left our intrepid if dubious heroes, House Atreides had been betrayed and virtually destroyed, by a combination of House Harkonnens surprise attacks and the added treachery of Emperor Shaddam and his Sardaukar. Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the last surviving heir (so far) of House Atreides and his mother Jessica, have taken refuge on the desert planet of Arrakis amongst the indigenous Fremen, and as far as most are aware, the other remnants of House Atreides are dead as well. And here is where we catch up with everyone, as the struggle for Atreides emergence and dominance begins in earnest! 

The Emperor’s daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) is known for her many skills, but her copious note-taking and writings on the large events shaping her world come to the forefront as she takes counsel with her father amidst games of chance on their homeworld. Her life is one of luxury and privilege but alas, Irulan is a trained Bene Gesserit and is well aware that in all likelihood, she will be used as a pawn in the marriage games empires have to go through. Bet she never imagined it could be to a House everyone swore had been utterly destroyed. 

Meanwhile, on Arrakis, Paul is trying to integrate himself into the Fremen way of life, which is admittedly far different from the life he led back on the Atreides homeworld of Caladan. (If nothing else, Caladan has vast oceans.) The Fremen are fiercely independent, gloriously strong fighters, survivors who dare to ride and revere the giant sandworms that inhabit their planet that they call Shai-Hulud, and rightfully distrustful of outsiders. After all, the previous stewardship of Arrakis belonged to House Harkonnen, known for their cruelty and glee at hunting Fremen and torturing their victims, sometimes for weeks at a time. But Paul won his and Jessicas way into the Fremen by fair combat against Jamis, and if nothing else, the Fremen are firm in their beliefs of the old ways. 

Or rather, the elder Fremen are, most particularly the famed Fedaykin fighter and Naib (leader) of Sietch Tabr Stilgar (Javier Bardem) is adamant in his unshakable belief that Paul is the foretold Lisan Al Gaib, the Voice from the Outer World, that will lead the Fremen to peace and paradise. Stilgar’s steadfast belief in Paul’s potential only grows, and he manages with just that to convince a great many of the other Fremen elders. The younger generation of Fremen however, of which Paul’s beloved Chani (Zendaya) is a part, generally scoff at the legends of otherworldly prophets and Arrakis as a fabled green, wet heaven. In the beginning, Paul himself swears he doesn’t want to be the Messiah, only a Fremen fighter amongst the rest of them, hundreds of years of the Missionaria Protectiva, the Bene Gesserit practice of spreading useful religious propaganda as seeds on various planets, is working double-time against him. It doesn’t help that Paul’s mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is expounding on that myth as much as she possibly can. 

And why would she do that? Survival yes, but also, Jessica is a thoroughly trained Bene Gesserit and knows of plans within plans within plans. Jessica also has many secrets of her own, and one very important one happens to be that she’s pregnant with Paul’s sister. The Bene Gesserit bodily control may be something out of legend, but even Jessica, possibly Reverend Mother Mohiam’s best and most fractious student, will have trouble with the trial the Fremen are insisting she go through to become truly one of them. The Reverend Mother equivalent of Sietch Tabr, known as their Sayyadina, is old and dying, and the Fremen have to have a Reverend Mother. Jessica tells Paul this much and explains that each culture is different in their trial to become a Reverend Mother, so she honestly doesn’t know what to expect. The reality happens to be worse than she could’ve imagined – Jessica must drink the Water of Life, a deadly poison that comes from Shai-Hulud (sort of), and come out the other side of it. And Jessica manages to do it, barely, with almost all of the consequences going to the poor fetus in her womb, the girl that will grow to become Alia Atreides, an insane legend in her own right. But for now, the unnamed fetus is awake and aware and full of the memories of generations of Bene Gesserit women that came before her – before she was even born

Paul participates in razzia raids amongst the Fremen as they work to take out the spice mining operations of the Harkonnens, immerses himself in the vastly different desert culture of his chosen people, and perhaps most importantly, his romance with his beloved Chani only grows stronger. After declaring his desire to join the fierce fighter elites amongst the Fremen known as Fedaykin, Paul is told by Stilgar that he must summon and ride one of the giant sandworms, the embodiment of Shai-Hulud where the Fremen get their terrible tooth Crysknives from. And after much sendup, in a glorious scene of blinding sand and huge monstrous killer worm-riding, Paul is triumphant and riding atop the sacred creature, his Maker hooks set properly to control the great beast, waving at great distance to his fellow Fremen as Chani looks on in bemusement. 

But that’s all external, and inside Paul is beginning to become divided on what he wants to do. As Jessica pushes the Protectiva hard amongst the women and priestesses of the Fremen, she is also pushing her son to become much larger than he ever wanted to be, if nothing else a conqueror can take revenge for the destruction of House Atreides and the death of her beloved Duke Leto. Paul may have earned his place amongst the Fremen and been given new names – Usul, meaning the strength of the base of the pillar, as his private name within the Sietch; and Muad’Dib, from the small mouse survivor of the desert, well versed in desert ways, called ‘Instructor-of-Boys’ in Fremen legend, as his open-use name – but now everyone wants Paul to be something greater, and potentially more destructive, than what he currently is. It only gets worse when Paul begins to suffer prophetic dreams, and visions when he’s awake, prodding him further to his destiny as an epic conqueror of worlds. Nothing can be done for it, Paul convinces himself that he must take the Water of Life himself, to awaken the sleeping prophet inside himself, and allow him to hopefully See a path through the future. 

The problem with that plan, is that Bene Gesserit are almost exclusively all women, and only they are supposed to know how to transmute poisons internally, along with all sorts of other “witchcraft”. But Jessica has been training Paul in forbidden Bene Gesserit ways all his life, and as much as Paul might rail and even quail against it, there is no denying his incoming destiny, crushing any resistance he may have with all the force of a giant sandworm hunting a spice blow. And even when Paul has finally given in and taken the cursed substance almost mockingly called the Water of Life, it falls to another strong and prophetic in her right female in his life, his beloved Chani, to save him from himself. But even Chani can’t stop Paul’s destructive destiny as the conqueror of the known worlds, guilty of slaying millions upon millions of people in his quest for vengeance, thinly disguised as peace. 

Over on the Harkonnen homeworld of Geidi Prime, “Beast” Rabban (Dave Bautista) is disgusted and enraged at the continuing Fremen raids against the Harkonnens on Arrakis, and terrified of what his uncle the notoriously cruel Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), will do to him in response. The Baron’s nephew Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), heir apparent or na-Baron to House Harkonnen, demonstrates his blood-inborn savagery in a slaughter of the remnants of House Atreides gladiator-style, as his birthday celebration. Pleased with the spectacle, the Baron commands Feyd-Rautha to take control of the fight against this Fremen rebel known as Muad’dib, as Rabban is proving himself more and more useless. And any tool or toy that the Baron finds broken or unusable, is destroyed before being discarded. 

As the legend of Muad’dib grows off Arrakis and circulates among the Imperial worlds, the Emperor grinds his teeth in frustration and the Bene Gesserit, led by Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) as the Emperor’s Truthsayer, begin pushing forward their plots and machinations. Lady Margot Fenring (Lea Seydoux), a criminally underused character in this respect, demonstrates her willingness to be a pawn in Bene Gesserit machinations, but never forget, strong Bene Gesserit women have been breaking their own rules for generations. Just look at what Jessica did. 

As the raids and rebellion on Arrakis continue, both the Emperor and the Baron become more and more desperate, sending in mercenaries and smugglers in the hopes they might have more luck. And aboard one of those smuggler’s vessels happens to be an old hand at being a smuggler himself, the warrior troubadour with the scarred face given him by “Beast” Rabban himself, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). Reunited with his beloved Duke’s only son, Gurney finds himself swept up in the legend of Muad’dib in the making along with everyone else, though at least from Gurney’s point of view, Paul is using the messianic angle to take revenge for House Atreides. 

Finally, in an act of what could be considered the ultimate in arrogance, Emperor Shaddam Corrino himself comes to Arrakis, along with Princess Irulan and many others of his Court, the Baron, and Feyd-Rautha in tow as well, to crush this upstart Muad’dib and his Fremen warriors. Sadly for all that the powerhouse actor Christopher Walken plays him, Emperor Shaddam Corrino is shown as a doddering old man, cowed in the face of Muad’dib’s overwhelming vitality and growing-ever-stronger legend. And there is where we will end the review, for the final confrontation between all key players in the Known Universe is full of spoilers and derivations from the original opus of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune

For those of you who stuck around long enough to get to the end, after all, Dune Part Two is almost three hours long itself, if you are fans of the original novel and the zany Lynchian masterpiece that was the first Dune film, you may be disappointed or even angered at the changes made to the story for the climactic end scenes. Director Villenuve has an eye for making grand epic scenes like Paul’s sandworm ride but can be a bit scattered when it comes to piecing the story together with all the key players needing to be involved in a way that can be understood by any layman. Dune in any form is a rich, vast universe of storytelling, and even an almost three-hour-long sequel simply can’t cover every last bit that’s in the novels. But if nothing else, the film is an overwhelming feast for the eyes and should bring a whole new legion of fans to the many worlds contained within Dune

If you want to dive further into the Dune-iverse, do yourself a favor and read the Dune prequel books written by Herbert Jr. and Kevin J. Anderson. Until then, dive into the sands of Arrakis along with Shai-Hulud and scream vengeance to the skies with Paul Muad’dib Atreides in Dune Part Two, in theaters now! 

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The 8 Episode Series Tries To Encompass A Lot Leaving Fans In A Cliffhanger.

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The 2010 “Avatar: The Last Airbender” movie by M. Night Shyamalan faced criticism for its deviations from the beloved animated series. The film struggled with pacing, casting, and a lackluster script, disappointing fans who cherished the source material. In contrast, the 2024 Netflix series has generated positive buzz for its commitment to diverse casting, adherence to the original storyline, and improved character development. The series seems poised to capture the essence of the animated show, offering a fresh and faithful adaptation that resonates with both new and existing fans.

Even though the Netflix series comes closer to the core ideals of the animated series, I feel it lacks heart. Many scenes barely scratch the surface of the relationships between the characters and the push-and-pull relationship between Aang and Zuko. I will admit the CG versions of Momo and Appa are just so gosh darn cute.

The 8 episode series tries to encompass a lot leaving fans in a cliffhanger. It’s worth a watch and I am hanging on for the next season to be announced.

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