Artillery Row On Cinema

The worm (re)turns

Dune: Part Two is in cinemas — and it’s more of the glorious same

It’s epic time again, with the arrival of Dune: Part Two in cinemas. How excited should we be by this? The best guide is how excited you were by Dune: Part One, if only because no one should attempt this film without having seen that one.

The cult of Dune definitely exists. Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel is one of the best-selling science fiction books ever. In the 1980s, teenage nerds were required by law to watch David Lynch’s film of it. That movie is generally considered flawed, rushing to get through a complicated story in a bit over two hours, with special effects not up to the job, but it has a devoted following. I’ve never felt the urge to rewatch it, but I’ll admit I’m able to quote a surprisingly large number of lines from it.

Four decades later the director of the new movies, Denis Villeneuve, has both time and special effects on his side. The films look beautiful, the lone and not-that-level sands captivating. Meanwhile the huge battle scenes are terrific, better than last year’s Napoleon, and probably not much less realistic. At two-and-a-half hours this episode is on the long side, but the story clips along.

Is this really science fiction or is it, like Star Wars, science fantasy?

In general, the world Villeneuve has created feels utterly convincing. Travel in Dune is on the back of giant sandworms (rolling your eyes at this point is also a good sign that you should probably give this a miss). In Lynch’s film worm-travel had a comical air. Here it is terrifying, as Herbert surely intended.

Is this really science fiction or is it, like Star Wars, science fantasy? The Dune universe is an odd one: despite it being 8,000 years in the future, mankind is ruled by a gang of rival feudal aristocracies. There’s space travel, but most of the fighting is done with swords, except when it’s done by not-quite-helicopter gunships. It’s probably best not to think about it all too much, and to be honest, it all feels coherent in the moment.

I have mixed feelings about multipart movies. Sometimes, as is probably the case here, the story needs the space. On the other hand Peter Jackson could probably have got through The Hobbit in two episodes. There is also the problem of keeping track of the plot. The Lord of the Rings films were at least released annually. This sequel comes two-and-a-half years after Part One, so viewers may have forgotten exactly how Timothée Chalamet comes to be wandering around in the desert at the start of Part Two.

Like much science fiction, the story is really about our present reality. A rare resource essential for travel is only available in a hot sandy place, where an indigenous population with religious beliefs verging on the fanatical are increasingly resentful of the way they’re treated. It is a grown-up tale of imperfect choices. Chalamet spends the film wrestling with the question of whether he should encourage these people in their belief that he is their messiah. He needs them, but fears what they might do in their fervour. The ending sets things up for a proposed third film.

Ultimately, if you enjoyed Part One, you’ll enjoy Part Two. If that sounds glib, it’s intended as praise. After all, what else is a sequel for?

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