Monday, September 21, 2009

Dune, the travesty

I would not call “Dune” the worst movie ever, but to me it was certainly the biggest let down ever.

I just (re) read “Dune”, and was halfway through “Messiah” when Andy let me borrow his “Dune” DVD. Its been years since I saw the movie, and thought that with the book fresh in my head, now would be a good time to watch the movie again.

So before I review the movie, let me just hit some highlights of the book, this will help you understand why I don’t like the movie.

In Frank Herberts “Dune” universe there is a feud between House Atreides and House Harkonnen. The Atreides represent “good” and “fair” and “beauty”, while the Harkonnens represent the opposite. A classic battle between the light and the dark.

In this universe, gender roles are not what we would expect in some ways. Yes, its true that bloodlines follow the father (patriarchal), and House heads have wives AND concubines, both with legal rights, but this is all a facade. In war and politics women are considered equals, they are not frail creatures that need men to protect them. In truth, the women are in control of the Universe, and the men don't know it. The Bene Gesserit (a female order) have been surreptitiously influencing the House bloodlines for hundreds of generations for their own hidden motives. The Bene Gesserits train young women to be members and make them stronger in the process. They teach them to be stronger both mentally and physically.

In the book, Jessica is a Bene Gesserit that has been wed to the Duke of House Atreides, Leto. Well, not “wed” as she is a concubine. Their love is so strong that she defies the Bene Gesserit leadership and gives birth to the Dukes son (the hero) instead of a daughter as she was ordered. Thats right, Bene Gesserits can do that.

So, on to the movie…

First, what I liked about the movie.

They made it. I love that there is a Dune movie, its a great story and it had great potential as a movie, and in fact as a franchise.

They cast Sting as Feyd-Rautha. My initial reaction was “ho hum”, but Sting did a great job of capturing the character.

What I don't like about the movie, in no particular order…

The Harkonnens represent the bad guys. Yes, I get it. Every time you show the Harkonnens the scene lighting is dark. The Harkonnen Duke is clearly insane, this all points to “he is bad”. Is it really necessary to make his face be covered in sores? Really? It was just over the top. I kept thinking of Jar Jar Binks, as in “stop clubbing me with the stereotype, I GET IT.”

The Atreides represent the good guys. They value human life over property. In one scene Duke Leto is more angered at the near loss of 12 workers than he is at the loss of a harvester; ok, he is a “good guy”. The Duke loves his son (Paul, the hero) and his son loves him, this is very clear in the book. But in the movie you wonder “Is Leto a pedophile?” Seriously. They portray him as a crazy eyed zealot. It FEELS like their intent was to show Leto as a strong, but fair leader, as he is in the book, (think Jean-Luc Picard) but they missed, miserably. In the movie he comes across as a pompous, hot headed, weirdo. When Leto and Paul talk they give each other awkward lovers smiles. Weird. I will chalk this up to “bad acting”.

And speaking of bad acting… The entire movie is just one huge pot of bad acting, lightly sprinkled with the occasional scene that doesn’t make you cringe.

In the book, Jessica (the Duke Leto’s true love) is a strong Bene Gesserit, do yourself a favor, DO NOT MESS WITH HER. She will hurt you. But in the movie she is a weak simpering woman that cries a lot and needs protection. :| What the frak!? (The only story spoiler coming up…) In the book when Leto dies both Jessica and Paul are pretty devastated, I mean for good reason right? But they are on the run from the Harkonnens and don’t have time to mourn. At one point Jessica breaks down for a short time (measured in single digit minutes) and allows herself to mourn and cries for her dead Leto while they are resting. She then composes herself and continues being the strong matriarch and future reverend mother. In the movie she is ALWAYS crying or on the verge of crying. She is a weak, frail person that needs protection. Why would you do that to her character? What purpose does that serve? I can only imagine that the director just fell into stereotypes rather than create a faithful reproduction of her character.

The first time we meet the Fremen, they are in the desert, under the hot Arrakis sun, in robes. ROBES, and sandals. Now, if you haven’t read the book you may be thinking “So what, they were dressed like Arabs, what's the problem?” Well in the book, no Fremen would go out at NIGHT into the desert without a stillsuit, let alone during the day. This was a huge error with no purpose.

While I have lots of small things that annoyed me about the movie I will bundle them all up into two criticisms:

1) This should have been a multipart movie. There is no way that you can fit the entire story into a single movie AND do it justice.

2) The special effects should have been better.

ok, maybe three things:

3) The acting. OMG the acting. The problem is that many of the actors in the movie are considered to be good actors, I can only blame David Lynch, the director. What a tool. Producer De Laurentiis hoped that Dune would be the next “Star Wars” and it COULD have been, but not with Lynch at the helm.

So is the movie worth watching? Yes, very much so. But its just not all that it could be. :(

I will close with this fun video.