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Dune: Part Two: a spectacularly transcendent film experience

A hyper-authentic adaptation which fully exploits all mechanistic aspects of filmmaking, situated in and amongst narrative cogence, produces a spectacularly transcendent, immersive, and enriching film-going experience which holds fidelity to the technical achievements of its predecessor.

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By Kieran Maxted, Fourth Year, Philosophy

Picking up from the teasing (for those who haven't read the novels) climax of its chronological antecedent, Dune: Part Two reunites us with the messianic cognoscente, Paul Atreides, embodied sumptuously (again) by the ever-ascending Timothee Chalamet.

From its outset, this subsequent interplanetary installation, adapted from Frank Herbert’s notorious 1960/70s roman-fleuve, promises to more than compensate for the “lacking action” and “monotonous pace” which many found with the first part. The ostensibly laborious, and may I say intimidating, 2hr and 47 min runtime actually flies by; nearly as swiftly as the ‘spice flowing’ across the grainy contours of Arrakis. Nevertheless, this ominous runtime was not enough to deter mass audiences, with its Box Office performance being the highest since Greta Gerwig’s summer phenomenon Barbie (2023). Totalling a positively surprising $81.5 million domestically, and $178 million worldwide, the film is likely to have contributed to a new age of ‘Villeneuve’ and Warner Bro’s dynasty, with prospective further adaptations of the novel series on the horizon.

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With Dennis Villeneuve remaining at the helm, the narrative and editorial tempo is
accelerated to the double, compared to that of Part One. Here, Villeneuve divulges from his pensive propensities, displayed evidently in many of the films in his oeuvre; most notably that of 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 and 2016’s Arrival. Nevertheless, unlike other examples of overly ambitious, sci-fi sequels (I am looking directly at you Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) this is not to say the pace is suffocating. Another commonality with a Villeneuve picture is the immense, picturesque character of his visual style. With equal admiration accredited to long-time collaborator ‘DP’ Greig Fraser, the cinematography is, yet again, dumfounding. Both Villeneuve and Fraser’s dexterity is fully apparent, proving that there are no better to bear the responsibility of visual actualising the almost incomprehensible images that Herbert’s novels provoke.

Remaining on the Villeneuve admiration train; in his comradeship with co-writer Jon Spaihts, the pair perfectly presents an air-tight storyline. Despite having to grapple with the challenge of adapting a vastly extensive and overwhelming lore from the source material, the expository narrative displayed is efficaciously slick. We are also welcomely reawakened by the vibrant sensation generated by Hans Zimmer’s thunderous score, which all but accentuates the atmospheric allure which Villeneuve hopes to cultivate. In tandem, all the flawlessly executed filmic elements amalgamate to create a sensual filmgoing experience which transcends you from the comfort of your theatre armchair to Herbert’s hypothetical universe.

Courtesy of IMDb

As a sequel, Part Two should be revered in a similar vein to that of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back; acting as a perfect addendum to, and even improving upon, what was established in its sequential predecessor. We return to this depicted celestial tale imminently from the climax of Part One. Paul Atreides, the successive Duke of Arrakis (in memoriam of Oscar Issac’s Leto Atreides), and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), of the clairvoyant Bene Gesserit, are subjected to joining the Arrakis’ Fremen people in hiding. This being a consequence of the decimation of House Atreides at the hands of primary antagonists Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) and Glossu Raban (Dave Bautista).

Following this, the story transpires with the subsequent escalation of war and conflict. Villeneuve and Spaihts should be commended for also making the potentially convoluted, intergalactic political dynamics not only comprehensible, but somewhat intriguing. Other narrative aspects are also harmoniously intertwined, the most prominent example being that of prophetic mythology. Enticingly established in the series’ first outing, the mythological elements, as directly depicted from the religious zealotry Herbert pulled from his novels, are ever more enthralling and fantastical. Villeneuve eruditely conveys the philosophical, spiritual, and moral quandary at the heart of Part Two’s thematic core. In doing so, he bespeaks to the potential danger of prophecy and ‘myth’ - how the Fremen’s expressed piety and pledged spiritual allegiance to the supposed omnipotent and omnibenevolent messianic figure of the Lisan al Gaib (Paul Atreides) may lead to dictatorial domination, and thus colonial exploitation and oppression.

Again, alike to Part One, the sequel retains the prestige ensemble cast of elite calibre. The aforementioned flagship protagonist, Chalamet, provides yet another emotively enriched and alluring performance, which is now becoming commonplace given his mesmerising body of work. He eruditely embodies Paul’s transition from a youthful, anxiety-ridden heir; bearing the weight and expectation of his family name and preordained abilities, to a tenacious leader; becoming ever more sonorous, confident, and imposing with every ‘sand-step’ he takes.

Contrastingly, Chalamet also demonstrates his ability to transition into Paul’s more subtle and tender side in engendering an earnest newfound romance with Zendaya’s Chani. As opposed to Zendaya’s reduced role in the latter stages of the first film, Chani is a true focal point in this outing. Zendaya’s performance is as equally enticing as Chalamet’s, displaying a near-complete range of physical and emotional prowess, which accentuates the inner turmoil Chani faces as she witnesses Paul’s transition into a domineering new figure.

One slight critique may be charged at the lack of development of Paul and Chani’s romantic sub-plot. However, what mitigates this minor critique is that any further development may have had to be sacrificed in service of Villeneuve’s respectable efforts to incorporate a ‘novel-and-a-half’s’ worth of content into under 3 hours of screen time. Hans Zimmer’s poetic love theme does however gracefully augment the poignancy of the pair’s connection in their limited scenes together.

Many of the primary supporting characters from Part One are given diminished roles in this instalment. Most notably, that of the aforementioned Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), and, although humorous with every line, Javier Bardem’s Stilgar. Nevertheless, this allowed for the welcome additions of Austin Butler’s eerie smile and psychotic manner, with Feyd-Rautha, the nephew of Baron Harkonnen; Florence Pugh’s elegantly portrayed Princess Irulan, and Christopher Walkin’s tenebrous Emperor Shaddam.

Credit must also be given to the entire cast or their commitment to realising the vivacious ferocity of the fight scenes; ascertained by the harmonious dynamism world-renowned choreographer, and dancer, Benjamin Millepied instilled in the performative movements of all action sequences.

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Dune: Part Two, in all, serviceably continues the premise of Herbert’s novels. The
heightening conflict for Arrakis between House Harkonnen and the Fremen makes it hard to subvert your eye line. Although no resolution is reached at its climax (as expected), the vacillating journey which Villeneuve takes us on; incorporating mystical fate, colonial politics, and innocent romance, is worth every leg-cramping minute. It leaves us desiring not just answers to lingering plot threads, but the potential elaboration of more, particularly with regards to an eluded tragedy of our primary ‘hero’.

Part Two pays a fitting homage to Herbert's novels, representing and accentuating their impact on science-fiction in the contemporary cultural landscape – a prime example being it as the derivative source of George Lucas’ conceptualisation for his ever-present (and formerly owed) Star Wars universe. Villeneuve’s exploitation of technological advancements brings this full circle, making certain shots seem fitting to be slotted into any of the nine Skywalker saga films.

In an era replete of bombastic big-budget, box-office devouring flicks, which lack any true intellectual depth, Dune: Part Two transgresses this common trend; providing both a cinematically spectacular, yet thematic enriching experience. Worth much more than one 3-hour sitting, this is a must-see movie which 2024 was waiting for and potentially promises to set a new paradigmatic shift for popular blockbusters in Hollywood.

What did you think of Dune: Part 2?