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Dune part two: Last-minute stitch-up or spot-on surgical strike?

Image credits: TILL THE PIPS SQUEAK: Timothée Chalamet is supposed be naked from the waist up here, but they couldn’t let the absence of muscle interfere with the show.

I may have to eat my words over Denis Villeneuve after watching Dune Part Two (2024). Then again, I could always self-righteously pretend that he read my scathing criticisms of part one (2021) and produced this delightful and enlightening movie. I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide!

By Emad Aysha
Practically everything I didn’t like about the first movie wasn’t here. The pacing is excellent and fast and exhilarating, in point of fact, even though there’s much more happening here. The casting is better and more accurate, with people who look North Africa and dress, talk, and chant in a somewhat Arabic way. The writing is significantly better; part one felt like a B-movie in places because of the tacky and tardy dialogue. You could hear what people were saying this time, along with the (still generic and predictable) music.

The politics were more excellent and better thought out, and the new faces were fantastic; a special shout-out goes out to Florence Pugh, Souheila Yacoub, and Léa Seydoux. More than that, I got the impression that Mr Villeneuve has reconciled himself with the legacy of David Lynch’s Dune (1984), which I still think holds up and deserves a proper director’s cut and new release.

You find lines from the original in this flick repeatedly. There’s no snubbing here. Even the Harkonnen architecture is reminiscent of the old movie, along with the cruelties and barbarism of the Harkonnens; show don’t tell. But still not as visceral.

The actors from part one also do a better job here, even Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya. Rebecca Ferguson was downright ‘scary’ (with her wolf-like snout), while Josh Brolin (football jock) and Javier Bardem (blithering barbarian) weren’t stereotyped this time around.

It isn’t just that. The oversized hallways and rooms of the first screening are paired down to size here. Could ‘that’ many people have complained about that? I thought it was just me. The cinematography is much better too, with rich colors, textures, and exotic locations. (Did somebody forget to use the saturation switch?) Even Jamis gets redeemed in this version, becoming Paul’s unlikely conscience and guide instead of being portrayed as an angry buffoon.

The movie isn’t perfect, mind you, and it’s not strictly faithful to the novel, but perhaps that’s for the better. Watching the Harkonnens burning the bodies of the fallen Atreides soldiers and bombing the Fremen mountain homes into smithereens like cowards (instead of fighting them man to man), along with the uerilla-close-quarter tactics employed by the Fremen, actually reminded you of what’s happening in Gaza with you-know-who as the bad guys. Perhaps that was intentional? Let’s hope so!

There are lots of clear allusions to the world of today and how resource exploitation and imperialism inevitably lead to an incredibly harsh and unpredictable backlash. (They openly use the word ‘fundamentalist’ here, which isn’t in the novel, with North Fremen being secular nationalists. Global South, anyone?) I also loved the quip about anthropology.

People need hope and a savior, and they’ll rally around the worst kind of people if you leave them no choice. Western powers should be warned, especially if you know which one. (NB: Gurney becomes vengeful here, which is not the case in the novel. A warning against post-9/11 vengeance? Not to mention non-proliferation given the family atomics; the weapons stockpile is hidden in plain view). Souheila Yacoub death, to me, signifies the end of reason in this confrontation.

The final battle scene could have been a bit bigger; the plotting was still erratic and contradictory. The final fight scene between Paul and Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) could have been filmed better, but these are little quibbles for an otherwise successful movie.

The gender balance is better too. Paul is still a bit of an inexplicable klutz here, and he still needs to beef up. You have feminist lip service – like the emperor saying his daughter should succeed him – but the role of the father figure (aka Duke Leto) is reaffirmed. That’s good enough for me. Chani getting stilted in the end wasn’t half bad, either.

The main problem with the new movie is dealing with the baggage of the previous part. The unnecessary plot twists and additions still plague this one, hence the degradation of Raban’s character in favor of a well-done but exaggerated Feyd-Rautha. There’s also some Orientalist imagery in there, such as the water pipe the Baron uses and the compulsory harem on display, but the offensive stuff from the first movie is gone.

<em><strong>FEYD TO FEYD<strong> Austin Butler is pretty darn good here but hes still no match for the original Feyd Rautha Sting who himself seems to have been a replacement for Mick Jagger<em>

There’s Western imagery, too, such as the Coliseum gladiator pit, so stereotypes are evenly distributed. Stellan Skarsgård was overrated in the first movie and underrated here, and tragically Thufir Hawat is nowhere to be seen. (Who does all the accounting and logistics in this one, a handheld calculator?) Christopher Walken isn’t half bad but looks too humble for the job. And there are still world-building holes.

How can you give up a chance to see the Guild navigators folding space through the power of their minds? One of the best points of the Lynch version was the navigators, and he at least ‘tried’ with the meager special effects he had at his disposal to do psychedelic space travel without moving. No excuses here.

I have good and bad vibes about sequels. They have a top-notch actress to play Alia in Anya Taylor-Jo, but you get the feeling she and Paul are doing to have the ‘wrong’ kind of relationship in the next movie, one the model of Children of Dune. (They just have to shove incest into everything, don’t they). Still, if they can sort things out here based on criticisms, I don’t see why they can’t fix things in movies to come.

They should still get another director: Ridley Scott, Gareth Edwards, or even David Lynch. And I still say Jodorowsky’s Dune is the most excellent movie ever made. So that’s go and make it!!

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Emad Aysha
Academic researcher, journalist, translator and sci-fi author. The man with the mission to bring Arab and Muslim literature to an international audience, respectably.
 
Emad Aysha
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