It takes a great deal of money, people, and resources in art to communicate the significance of a myth. One myth I don’t believe in, one that should have been busted a long time ago, is the concept of the “un-filmmable” movie. In my view, if humans can conjure it, then it can be put to film. The reason some projects fail has more to do with talent, resources, and timing. Peter Jackson made mockery of this very fallacy with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, previously the most fabled of the supposedly “un-filmmable” books. Similarly, director Denis Villeneuve did his part to put this belief to rest. Dune (2021) isn’t as good as the aforementioned Jackson films, but it’s arguably just as impressive as a realization of a concept. Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) is such a specific and esoteric world of science fiction artifacts, that it took a keen eye like Villeneuve to dramatize ideas such as the Bene Gesserit’s various telepathic powers, abilities, and tools.
However, Villeneuve also benefits from the modern era of special effects wizardry, as his film wouldn’t be nearly as immersive if he were tasked to make it in the 1980s. This makes David Lynch’s Dune (1984) simultaneously a science project as well as a mulligan. The failure of that adaptation was needed to motivate the more accurate depiction we have before us today. Which brings us to Dune: Part Two, an all-star sequel fully armed to finish out the second half of Herbert’s original novel with a bang. We are still six months away from the film’s world premiere, which is hard to keep in perspective when the hype is so palpable. The movie’s official trailer has given us more than a glimpse into this significant chapter – it’s a cornucopia of visual riches, positioning Dune: Part Two as potentially the signature epic of 2023:
On its surface, the premise of Dune seems like your typical Hero’s Journey. However, this story will turn out to be a lot more complicated than that, and we’re already seeing the breadcrumbs in this trailer. Now, there’s a lot going on in this early preview, but we can simplify the story to four key bullet points, all of which revolve around main character Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). Those four story beats are Paul’s relationship with his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a budding romance with Chani (Zendaya), his rivalry with Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler), and his ascension as the leader of the Fremon. The beauty of these relationships is that they all seem disparate at first but will eventually converge with one another.
Lady Jessica has something of a stranglehold over how Paul’s life has transpired thus far. Her intentions started innocently – she was ordered to have a daughter, one who would grow up to marry a male Harkonnen (our boy Feyd-Rautha). However, she disobeyed, choosing to have the son that would become Paul. Yet, she fears that Paul’s emerging powers will transform him into something unrecognizable. When Paul eventually faces off with Feyd-Rautha, he’s not just facing an adversary, but the very man who could have been his husband in a different life if his mother made a different choice. He will also be facing the embodiment of the conspirators who betrayed his father. Meanwhile, the Fremon are a passionate group of freedom fighters who also lack leadership, a vacuum that Paul is poised to assume. Strengthening his bond with his new tribe is Chani and the love they begin to foster between each other. That romance is such a linchpin for this entire movie, so it’s apropos that the trailer opens with the two of them sharing a beautiful moment in the desert. Their conversation about the desert spring, which leads into Paul teasing her imagination about the experience of water, is a level of epic simplicity that fits perfectly in the exotic trappings of a space opera.
But despite these evolving connections, can Paul be the leader the Fremon needs? Or will he stumble, especially as he learns more about the control his mother wishes she had over him, or the depths to which the Harkonnens and House Atreides have bartered over the disenfranchised Fremon? The two biggest moments in the trailer involve Paul conquering a sandworm, as well as the aforementioned standing over a sea of feverishly spirited Fremon. These moments breed hope that Paul is a crusader, a chosen one. But Dune questions just how much one man can fulfill that promise. Obviously, the finished product could be a different experience, but this trailer is weaving these story beats excellently into one sweeping epoch.
All that said, and we haven’t even mentioned how much this trailer is a feast to the eyes. The 2021 Dune was a revelation in terms of special effects. Has a fictionalized world in outer space ever looked so realistic, so tangible? Between these films, Arrival (2016), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Denis Villeneuve may be on the best run of photo-realistic science fiction in movie history. He’s certainly put his name in the running. Dune: Part Two looks to be a gorgeous film, packed with massive vistas, incredible color and contrast, and an eerie and dream-like atmosphere.
Much like what Jackson accomplished with The Lord of the Rings, I imagine the goal here was to make Dune feel like a great myth that actually happened in some distant world. It needs to feel like documentation of an important moment in the universe, one that feels as authentic as a political drama, even as the events are absolutely absurd. No wonder Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), who narrates the book, is seen making audio recordings of what’s transpiring. For as planet Arrakis nears war, this is history in the making and should be recorded as such. Dune: Part Two is shaping up to be a concoction of incredible story and jaw-dropping effects, one in which even an IMAX screen may barely contain.
Dune has to go further. If it can, it should adapt the whole series. Even the sequels made by Herbert’s son