A few days after the release of Dune: Part Two, I read a disturbing bit of news that pumped up the hyper-hyped movie. Director Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the universally loved science fiction novel by Frank Herbert was said to have overtaken Shawshank Redemption as the “greatest movie of all time”, as per the IMDb Top 250 Movies’ list.

While I contest the veracity of this news, according to an article by Forbes, with over 63,000 votes, it did stand at number 11. The film has slipped to the 11th spot, just ahead of Forrest Gump, and behind Pulp Fiction. That is still a pretty high place and, while the overzealous, fandom-pumped reviews will dwindle, I will be more than happy if it settles in the top 20. Yes, Dune: Part Two is that good.

Villeneuve’s film, co-written by him and Jon Spaihts, mercilessly cuts down on Herbert’s timeline, characters and events, choosing an organic flow suitable for this adaptation over hardcore authenticity to the source. This version of the story, with its Lawrence of Arabia overtones — a white saviour from far away leads Arab tribes to victory — and a whole-hearted acceptance of the Islam-inspired culture of the Fremen — the bedouin tribes living in the desert planet of Arrakis, which produces the galaxy’s in-demand resource: spice — makes for an easy watch and, consequently, also a much easier read as a film.

Plot-wise, basically, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), the last survivors of the royal house Atreides, are taken in by the rebel leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem) who believes, with almost comical zeal, that Paul is the Messiah — the Mahdi — who will lead them to victory.

Paul, hesitant for a good chunk of the runtime, unwillingly accepts the title, using it as a means to arm a bigger revolt against the royal house Harkonnen that killed his father and all but decimated his empire.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two makes you genuinely yearn for another sequel

Villeneuve, a master of plain, simple and strong visuals and apparent contexts, familiarises us just enough with the Harkonnen overlords — Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård), his nephew Rabban (Dave Bautista, royally wasted) and his blood-hungry cousin Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler) — to make it apparent that they’re evil. The three bald, deathly white-skinned plundering leaders’ pastimes include needlessly killing off the help and officers of lesser rank.

If their brutality weren’t hammered in enough, in both this film and the last, their world, stunningly just black and white with no tonal variation, speaks volumes of their point-of-view; that colour is not good for the mind and soul.

A somewhat more substantial part that is still largely kept in the shadows, are the political machinations of the devious Bene Gesserit, the mystical sisterhood of draped women, whose ranks now include actress Léa Seydoux as Lady Margot Fenring; it already had Charlotte Rampling as the lead bad lady.

Most of Dune: Part Two is focused on Jessica’s, and to a lesser degree Paul’s, corruption and the cute-ish romance between Paul and Chani (Zendaya), the Fremen rebel who, along with her fellow fighters, moves with elegant litheness across the desert as a combatant and traveller.

I have read eye-opening acclaim for her acting. To be fair, it is good — but that good?!? Chalamet is much more measured in his subtleness and grandiloquent turns. The rest of the cast — Josh Brolin, Souheila Yacoub, Florence Pugh and Christopher Walken — is fine, but not spectacular enough to write about.

The true master of Dune is Villeneuve ... as if that needed reassertion. His nearly three hour-long film — which, punishingly for the audience, runs without an intermission in Karachi’s cinemas (it did where I saw it) — keeps your attention fixed on the characters, their growth, the politics and the familiar-ish world-building of Dune.

By the end, the story achieves very little, like the book, yet it makes you genuinely yearn for another sequel. The feeling of true yearning like this, long forgotten in today’s over-bombarded world of movies, is a thing to cherish.

Released by Warner Bros and HKC (in Pakistan), Dune: Part Two is rated PG for the typical stuff. Expect Dune: Part Three — or Dune Messiah, an adaptation of the sequel book by Herbert, to make its way to cinemas in the next few years. The last frames of this film all but prophecy this

Published in Dawn, ICON, March 17th, 2024

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