DUNE 2021

Yesterday we saw the new DUNE, another great story of the coming of a messiah… Or is he? That’s the question on everyone’s mind in the story. And if he is, then whose messiah is he? 

It was, of course, spectacular, also beautifully made, and over two and a half hours long. It is clearly labeled Part One, so from a certain point onward I was listening for a final-words moment. Happily, after all that time, when they came, I was content. It chose a good solid place to land, answered most of the questions about what things are and how the work, and who’s who, and what they’re after. The only thing it really left open was, And what happens next…?  I look forward to Part Two which will possibly be out in a year or so. 

I’ve heard it critiqued as too long, and in places, too slow. I don’t agree. But then I like the full-immersion in atmosphere to balance the action. I want the awe!

A great part of DUNE with its immense worms moving below the sand like huge locomotives, then emerging to engulf whatever has annoyed it, has always been about the awe-factor. Awe takes time to build, time to overwhelm all other feelings and senses. Part of the wisdom of the film maker is to build that feeling, but not to exhaust it. So we get to see the worms in Part One, we get to be amazed, but still look forward to the later scenes that will be even more astonishing, that will go all the way to awe!

This version has to rise above the level of astonishment and awe that David Lynch’s version didn’t quite achieve with me, at least. Of course, that might have been also due to seeing it on a much smaller screen, and trying to pack the entire story into one film. And also of course, the special effects technology was not then what it is now.

I’m reminded of the climactic scene of MOBY DICK, the Gregory Peck version from 1956: the moment when the great white whale lunges full length up out of the sea, and having only glimpsed his eye and his long sides before, this, to my juvenile self, was awesome! In that moment, the full wonder of the whale, and the extent of Ahab’s hubris is revealed. I want to feel this again, when DUNE: Part Two finally arrives!

Of course, where there are messiahs and those who aim to be messiah-makers, there is always hubris. There is plenty of that in DUNE. The basically bad House of Harkonen are filled with the hubris of thinking there can be nothing more powerful than themselves because they have the wealth to buy anything. The Bene Gesserit, the religion underlying the Empire, takes on itself the long, long game of using eugenics and people to create the messiah they want, imagining that when he comes along, he will be theirs to manage. There is particular satisfaction, especially in these real-world times, to seeing hubris punished. That’s the thing about hubris: It is always punished.

It is in IMAX theaters, too, and I kinda wish I’d seen it on the HUGE screen! I just might have to go see it again.

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