Mike At the Movies: “Dune” Enters Sci-Fi/Fantasty Folklore


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That huge sigh you might have heard emanating from the west a couple weeks ago wasn’t wind from a storm front blowing in off the Rockies. It was Hollywood execs exhaling after the opening grosses of Dune: Part Two (PG-13), which had been moved to March 1 from its originally scheduled Christmas-season opening. 

The studios are still in recession from the writers’ and actors’ strikes last summer that shut down new production, and box office receipts have been sickly ever since. If it hadn’t been for Wonka, which has cooked up more than half a billion dollars at the turnstiles since its mid-December debut, Tinseltown would have had more coal than gold in their stockings to sort through between holidays. Who could have guessed that Timothee Chalamet would be the actor who saved Christmas and the movies?

Dune: Part Two picks up where Part One of director Denis Villenueve’s epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s cult classic novel left off, with young Paul Atreides (Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), held captive by the Fremen, the indigenous people of the desert planet Arrakis, led by Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and Chani (Zendaya), who have been waging guerrilla warfare for decades to protect their homeland from colonial invaders. Arrakis is invaluable to the evil empire ruling the galaxy because of a precious mineral that can only be found there, and various royal families have killed each other trying to claim the rights to harvest this substance, given the tantalizing name “Spice.” Whoever controls the Spice market controls the empire, which brings the merciless House Harkonnen (ruled by a Jabba the Hut like monstrosity named The Baron, played by Stellan Skarsgard) into conflict with the more humane House Atreidis (led by Duke Leto, played by Oscar Issac). 

If that brief recap sounds mystifying to you, or if terms like “Bene Gesserit,” “Lissan al Gaib” or “Kwisatz Haderach” have you scratching your head in befuddlement, I recommend watching Part One again before undertaking this newest installment. You can find it on DVD or streaming on such platforms as Hulu and Disney+.  It will let you revel in Villenueve’s breathtaking visual splendors without feeling completely lost as to why Who is doing What to Whom.

And there’s a lot of That to take in. Part Two introduces us to several new supporting characters (while also reintroducing a few old ones, such as Dave Bautista as the thuggish Glossu Harkonnen, Charlotte Rampling as the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit, and Josh Brolin as the steadfast and true Gurney Halleck, Paul’s friend and mentor). Among the new cast members are Christopher Walken as Shaddam IV, emperor of the “Known Universe”; Florence Pugh as his feisty daughter, Princess Irulan; Lea Seydoux as Lady Margot Fening, a conniving Bene Gesserit and close confidante of the Emperor’s; Souhelia Yacoub as Shishakli, a Fremen warrior and Chani’s best gal pal; and, perhaps most memorably, Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, the “na Baron” heir to House Harkonnen, who makes The Baron look like Mother Teresa. Butler, who made a name for himself (and nabbed an Oscar nomination in the process) playing Elvis, really leans into being the heavy here. With his gleaming bald head and black eyes he’s a visual effect all his own, as indelible as the giant worms that swim the sands of Arrakis.

Like many second installments that leave us hungry for a third (rumored to already be in the works), much of the story here is dark, violent, and consumed with massive battle scenes between the Fremen and the stormtroopers from the empire, with lots of explosions, destruction, and swordplay. It’s terrain that has been cultivated before, and if you’re a fan of sci-fi/fantasy, you’ve seen it before, too. Young Paul Atreidis, like Luke Skywalker in another saga from another part of the universe, and Frodo Baggins from the Shire, is a hero running from his fate as a “chosen one” destined to lead a revolution against an evil, tyrannical foe. Without reading too much significance into this – it is, after all, just a movie – Dune: Parts One and Two deserve their place on the shelf next to Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings in film folklore. Here’s hoping Villenueve, like George Lucas and Peter Jackson before him, sticks the landing with Part Three – but unlike George, stops there. No one needs another Phantom Menace.
Dune: Part Two is currently playing only in theaters. I encourage you to see it on the biggest screen available. If you’re willing to wait awhile, it will eventually show up on Max, the HBO platform, later this year.

In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for the Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He finished his two-year term as Door County’s poet laureate in early 2023.