Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve & Eric Roth
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac (and lots more)
Released in 2021
Frank Herbert's seminal 1965 sci-fi novel Dune has largely been labelled "unfilmable" due to its high volume of content, sci-fi jargon and more heady take on the genre. Of course this never stopped Hollywood, and legendary surrealist filmmaker David Lynch had a high-profile crack at the source material in the '80s, where it turned out that condensing the book into just two hours lead to a bewildering experience, and not bewildering in a cool surreal way like David Lynch's other films. Ideas from Dune had been transplanted into other sci-fi material, such as the massive Star Wars franchise, which borrowed ideas but made them more palatable for blockbuster film audiences to much popcorn along too.
However 37 years later Denis Villeneuve is having a go at adapting the book, or at least half of it. The film's marketing hides the true title of the movie which is Dune: Part 1 as there's a second part on the way in 2023. Denis Villeneuve has proved himself to be one of the most exciting blockbuster filmmakers after making big movies like Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival and most relevant to Dune was his previous film. Blade Runner 2049 which proved he was more than capable of handling beloved sci-fi and even elevating it in certain regards with that long-gestated sequel to Ridley Scott's legendary film.
Anyway, part one of Dune is here and most importantly: the plot is actually decipherable while not relying on exposition dumps or clumsy writing to explain how things work in Dune to us general audiences. Denis Villeneuve primarily adopts a 'show don't tell' approach to setting up the universe of Dune.
Now that cinemas are back open, if you want something with a lot of spectacle to go see on the big screen. I doubt there'll be much better than this for a long time. Visually it's often astounding, the scale on offer is unbelievable and despite being fairly restrained in terms of action, this still manages to wow at many moments.
While Dune in principle as a weird heady sci-fi novel from the '60s is inherently a bit psychedelic, Denis Villeneuve presents the film with a straight edge take. While I wish they would focus in on the weirder aspects of the universe more and perhaps add a bit more colour to the slightly muted palette on offer, it's arguably for the best that this doesn't go really crazy. After all, we will always have David Lynch's dizzying '80s vision of Dune for a weirder take.
So what is Dune actually about? It's hard to really sum up but Timothée Chalamet (and his glorious haircut) plays Paul Atreides, son of the ruler of an ocean planet, accompanies his family to a hostile desert planet which holds a supply of 'spice' which is a precious resource needed for space travel. A war starts brewing for control over the desert planet and Paul is key to the battle. The plot of Dune is pretty interesting and its large cast of characters are well portrayed by an all star cast. My issue with parts of the film was that there seemed to be a bit of an emotional disconnect for me. It's a interesting tale of political intrigue in space, but despite Timothée Chalamet's strong performance, it's hard to really care about Paul and his journey. When the set-pieces and general world-building are fantastic, but it lacks a strong emotional core to get you to connect with Paul, or any other character really. Though this is just my perspective as someone who hasn't read the book.
Though overall I thought my two and a half hours with Dune were thoroughly well spent. A more mature, heady sci-fi blockbuster that straightens things up for general audiences without dumbing it the source material down. It's an absolute spectacle start to finish and features many show-stopping scenes and an almost unbelievable cast. When Part 2 of this eventually comes to perhaps the emotional tissue connecting both will make me appreciate this more, but for now I'd say it's what lets this film down a bit. Still I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to be there day one for the sequel!
Last Night in Soho
Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Edgar Wright & Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith
Genre: Thriller, Psychological Horror
Released in 2021
Edgar Wright returns to Britain after his music fuelled car chase extravaganza Baby Driver was released back in 2017. His latest is his least comedic effort and is in fact primarily a thriller with psychological horror elements, so it definitely sticks out in his filmography. Though while this is probably has the least identifiable qualities of an Edgar Wright film, it's hard not to notice his fingerprints all over it in how he stages scenes and especially how this is paced and edited so swiftly together.
Between this and James Wan's Malignant, 2021 is turning out to be a good year for mid-budget horror schlock, though this is far more level-headed than Wan's bonkers effort. The premise is that a young lady from Cornwall is off to study at the London College of Fashion, dreaming of being a fashion designer and heavily inspired by the '60s. After struggling to fit in she moves into a bedsit which miraculously gives her extremely lucid dreams where she is transported back to the West End in London circa 1965 (since the cinema is showing Thunderball, fun touch). However the dreams start to turn nightmarish and bleed into real life, which causes some thrills and mysteries.
I really like the first half of this movie a lot. The lead character is really likeable, I found it relateable that she struggles to adapt to university life in London, not really fitting into the new lifestyle and instead sinking into faux-nostalgia for a time far before she was ever born. There's a lot of great visual and sound design as the lead character goes through dreamy and later nightmarish trips to '60s London. Really visually there's not much to complain about and certain scenes are staggeringly well pulled off and choreographed to the extreme. As with all of Edgar Wright's films this is really snappily edited and has excellent pacing front to back.
In the second half horror aspects come more into play and in my head I really would've thought that "An Edgar Wright horror film" would be a lot more interesting. There's some fun violence, though it's hardly scary. Then there's an obligatory twist that just feels a bit mute, not really sure what we're meant to take away from it. If certain characters were maybe given some extra time to be developed it might've worked better, but I was thoroughly nonplussed. It just sort of falls apart a bit in the finale, I always felt like the endings were often the worst part of Edgar Wright's films, but here the final act just doesn't feel all that satisfying from a plot perspective.
Regardless, it's nice to see a film that's proper British mateee oioi. A really well made film, great neon visuals, it sounds wonderful and Thomasin McKenzie especially owns the lead role in this. Perhaps not the best written one, but often Edgar Wright's movies benefit a lot from re-watches and this was definitely strong enough that I'll give it another spin sometime.