Dune: Part Two – The Cinematic Battle for Arrakis

I favourably reviewed the 2021 Dune film almost a year after its release in theatres and have watched it multiple times since. I certainly thought it was better than the 1984 David Lynch adaptation which was all I could then compare it to outside of the 1965 novel. Since writing that review, I have watched the 2000 TV mini-series which I’d never seen. I was impressed with it and also watched the follow-up Children of Dune which adapts Herbert’s next two novels. 

After seeing Dune: Part Two last week, I decided to re-watch Lynch’s film for the first time in over twenty years. I still don’t like it but it was better than I remember and would be improved considerably without the grotesqueness. This review will focus on the latest film but I expect I will be writing another post considering all three major adaptations of the original novel now that they are fresh in my memory. I will state at the outset that I already need to watch this again as I’m not sure how I would feel on a second viewing. Although I saw it in the cinema, it wasn’t the experience I had been hoping for as the cinema complex was dirty and smelled like urine. This is more a sign of the times and not the film’s fault but I can’t say that I regret missing the first part on the big screen anymore.

Dune: Part Two picks up immediately where the first part rather awkwardly ended with Paul and Jessica being taken back to Sietch Tabr after provisional acceptance among the Fremen. It does include an action sequence with a group of Sardaukar that had been following them — which I thought was a clever way to begin what would otherwise have been a mundane opening. Beginning the film Paul’s duel with Jamis would have been a better way to start but that was in the previous film. One of the more moving parts of the book where Paul sheds tears for Jamis is sadly not included. 

In my review of the first film, I defended the choice of Zendaya as Chani as she is only described as skinny and elfin in the book. Zendaya’s mixed African and European heritage works for Fremen who are inspired by Islamic and Arabic people. It also would have worked in the film as Liet-Kynes was changed into a black woman and so one would assume was supposed to be Chani’s mother. Unless I missed something, the film oddly does away with this connection altogether. Apart from the visions of her that Paul had, part of the initial attraction would be that Chani herself was only half-Fremen. In the film, Zendaya’s Chani is more shall we say… ethnocentric and even points out (rightly), that Paul is not Fremen. This would have worked better if the Fremen weren’t already such a mixed bunch due to the pressures for diversity in casting. The Fremen in this film certainly do not appear homogenous and are instead a mix of sub-Saharan African, North African, Middle Eastern and Spanish.

I was expecting Chani’s character to undergo a change but it was much more than I expected. This is to the point that the relationship between Paul and Chani feels forced. The love between Paul and Chani in the David Lynch film actually feels more genuine despite them having very little screen time together. In the novel and previous adaptations, Chani is a true believer and is loyal to Paul to her death; as indeed he is to her. In this film, Chani (and most of the Fremen women), doubt the prophecies about Muad’Dib and openly laugh at true believers like Stilgar though the Fremen were highly patriarchal in the novel. It is no surprise then that Harah too is absent from the film as showing her as Paul’s prize would have made this departure from the source material all the clearer. Chani does not have nor even fall pregnant during the film and the ending suggests they have separated as she is shown to be hurt when Paul says he will marry Irulan and was already hostile to Paul’s growing personal cult.

This film was a box office success and there are apparently plans to make Dune Messiah with the same cast. I assume Chani will form part of the Fremen resistance that rises against Paul and House Atreides in that novel. How their children Leto and Ghanima will be born is also now up in the air. What will complicate things even further is that Paul’s sister Alia, while not entirely absent from the film, is not born and does not play the significant role she does in the narrative of the original novel. I expect she will be a major focus along with Chani in the sequel and this might mean they don’t include the twins at all. These changes are disappointing but not entirely unexpected. They don’t ruin this film but Villeneuve will not be able to get out of the corner he has painted himself into without further departures from Herbert’s work which makes me less hopeful for any possible sequels.

Frank Herbert was by no means conventionally religious but he did see both the power and importance of religion in human affairs. One could discuss how religion is portrayed or what the novel shows about religion. One could also bring in the use of mind altering substances for explanations for religious visions or the manipulation going on behind the scenes with the Bene Gesserit. What would be hard to deny though is that the characters took religion seriously and supernatural events were present in the narrative. The tone this film adopted was a skeptical one that displayed the religious characters as fanatical fools. As mentioned, this was particularly absurd with Chani. This was not in the spirt of the novel and lets the adaptation down somewhat. 

Part Two is even more of a visual spectacle than the first and the sound design in particular was simply amazing. I continue to love the ship, equipment and weapon designs and this is the only adaptation that has really done justice to the sandworms. They look very imposing and alive in this film and you get much more a sense of what they’d really be like. A lot more is seen of the Harkonnen homeworld Giedi Prime which is shown on film to be almost totally black and white. This makes Feyd-Rautha, played by Austin Butler, rather more ghostly and menacing and a great contrast to Paul. The scenes on Arrakis have a more ochre filter than in Part One which adds to this contrast. 

By far, the action scenes are the best moments in the film. Their are a number of raids on Harkonnen spice harvesting operations and an impressive (although somewhat brief), final attack on Arrakeen. The arena fight with Feyd-Rautha and then the showdown with Paul in the climax were both well choreographed too. 

Having Christopher Walken as the Emperor, Shaddam IV was a great choice but he appears very little in the film. Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan, his daughter and the future unloved wife of Paul wasn’t a bad choice either. She also gets very little screen time so it is hard to be critical of her performance whether positive or otherwise. Anya Taylor-Joy was chosen to play Alia which I think could work great but again, she wasn’t actually born during the film and only heard in voiceovers so this remains to be seen.

As I said at the beginning, I really want to see this again before I give my final opinion on it. That I want to see it again is a positive but I won’t say I’m not disappointed with many of the unnecessary departures from the source material, particularly with the relationship between Paul and Chani. But again, most of these complaints will have more affect on what could follow than they do on this film. At this stage, I think the 2000 miniseries came the closest to the book but I would still recommend this as a worthy adaptation of Herbert’s excellent novel. Especially to those who simply aren’t interested in reading the science-fiction classic.

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