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Spectacle and Substance in Dune: Part Two 

click to enlarge He's a 10, but he wants to exploit the Indigenous people and resources of your planet.

Dune: Part Two

He's a 10, but he wants to exploit the Indigenous people and resources of your planet.

DUNE: PART TWO. Looking back, it seems almost egregious not to have reviewed Dune (2021) at greater length upon its release. But then I remind myself that we live in genuinely crazy times and the times of two and a half years ago were maybe even crazier. Late 2021 was a brief era of momentary hope on the plague front, with vaccines a-popping and case counts appearing to recede; I think I even took an airplane trip. But I spent precious little time in theaters that year, more out of the joy I found in my brief, sanctioned hermitage than from any actual perceived threat, though that was also a factor. Back in the topsy-turvy times of not-that-long-ago, though, things were different on the new release movie front.

Faced (finally) with an imperative to retool its business model, the Biz at large, even as it eased trepidatiously back into major theatrical releases, tried out — temporarily, as we would soon learn — a day and date model, whereby some of the more (and less) prestigious of the year's slate debuted both in theaters and on streaming services. In my addled state, I was more than happy to see Dune at home. Knowing myself, the decision makes sense but I still see it as a rather grievous error.

Of our current, limited crop of "blockbuster" filmmakers, Denis Villeneuve is probably the only one for whom I carry a torch. Admittedly, Nolan's Memento (2000) came at just the right time to penetrate my still-forming sensibilities and his work remains grand and impressive. But Nolan's ambitions, intellectual self-attention and earnestness, while suited to impressing the masses (myself often included), can sometimes render his work unintentionally distancing, even antiseptic. Greta Gerwig, an unexpected player on this stage, represents a formidable changing of the guard and I love much of her work, though, in fairness, she may not be speaking directly to me. Tarantino is his own enterprise, Chad Stahelski is a cottage-industry king, Kathryn Bigelow seems to have disappeared; all the rest is serialized intellectual property noise.

Villeneuve, though, since I saw Prisoners (2013) — again late to the party — has captivated me with his incredible control, his selection of creative collaborators who seemed perfectly attuned to the vision he sets forth, and his attention to the often-invisible gradation between light and dark, both literally and thematically. His fascination with Frank Herbert's Dune (1965) — as with Bladerunner (1982), the sequel to which he released in 2017 — might demonstrate a minor divergence in our literary interests, but it is abundantly clear that he has had, probably for decades, a vivid, gigantic vision for his own adaptation, which has now come to spectacular, indelible life.

Because I watched the first part on my television, I was deeply impressed but perhaps not as immersed in the experience as I might have been. Still, I count it among my favorite movies of that year. Somehow, though, having not revisited it, I was in some way unprepared for this even more accomplished second part.

Before the Herbertites descend: Yes, of course this is an I.P. franchise, with whispers of a Dune: Messiah adaptation in the wind. But, as with Marvel, I have no real, established attachment to the source material. I read the novel, sure, but it was relatively recent and not a formative text. I take the movies more on their own terms than as explorations of worlds with which I am deeply familiar. And taken on their own merits, they are spectacular.

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) are presumed dead among all the other members of their royal house, wiped out in a genocidal master-stroke engineered by the disgusting, grubman Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) and sanctioned by the Emperor (Christopher Walken). In actuality, the erstwhile nobles have found shelter on desert-planet Arrakis with the nomadic, warrior Fremen. In their company, Paul trains to become a warrior and harness the powers of the planet. He is simultaneously confronted with the impossible notion that he may well be the messiah prophesied by ancient, interstellar religion, in spite of his not believing a word of it.

While the sheer spectacle of the thing is impossible to deny, it is in Paul's struggle, transition and transformation (and Jessica's) that the movie finds its narrative center and its momentum. I've long admired Chalamet's versatility, but he surprised me with his command of both his own presence and the thematic stuff of this story. His progression is a subtle one and, even with the opportunity to hide tricks and flourishes among the set-pieces of the whole, he moves through with an openness generally unseen in action movies. PG13. 166M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.


BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE. Biopic on the life of the legendary musician. Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch. PG13. 105M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

CABRINI. An Italian immigrant (Christina Dell'Anna) fights city hall in 1889 New York City on behalf of needy orphaned children. PG13. 145M. BROADWAY, CABRINI.

DEMON SLAYER. Anime action and adventure, subbed or dubbed. TVMA. BROADWAY.

IMAGINARY. Blumhouse horror about an imaginary friend bent on revenge after being put aside with childhood things. PG13. 104M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

KUNG FU PANDA 4. Jack Black returns to voice the roly-poly warrior with legend James Hong, Awkwafina and Viola Davis. PG. 94M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

MET OPERA: LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Verdi's heartbreak and vendetta-filled opera starring soprano Lise Davidsen. NR. 230M. MINOR.

MIGRATION. Animated duck adventure voiced by Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina and Keegan-Michael Key. PG. 92M. BROADWAY.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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