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‘Dune: Part Two’ is a triumph of sci-fi filmmaking

“Dune: Part Two” lived up to the hype for Editor-In-Chief Sean Scott.
“Dune: Part Two” lived up to the hype for Editor-In-Chief Sean Scott.

Editor’s Note: This article contains light spoilers for “Dune: Part Two.”

As soon as the lights dimmed for “Dune: Part Two,” I started to tear up.

I can’t pinpoint when exactly my deep love for “Dune” — both Frank Herbert’s novels and Denis Villeneuve’s on-screen adaptation — began, but this is the most excited I’ve been for a movie. Ever.

And after three long years of waiting, I can finally say that Villeneuve did not disappoint.

The words that define “Dune: Part Two” are scale and weight. Like the first “Dune” or “Oppenheimer,” this movie demands to be seen in a theater where the sound shakes your seat and you feel it every time the music swells.

I can’t think of any sci-fi film with more effective visuals than what “Dune: Part Two” pulls off. Every setting is both grand and grounded, and the same attention to detail is given to objects as small as knives and as large as spaceships or kilometer-long worms.

Beyond the impressive CGI and props, costume designer Jacqueline West gets to flex her creative muscles throughout this film, too. The wardrobes for Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) particularly stand out.

“Dune” is a dense book without a true hero, and much of the conflict is internal. Yes, there’s a war, but the true story is about religious manipulation, the dangers of messiah figures and Paul’s struggle to understand his destiny. To tell the story effectively, a lot rides on the actors’ performances.

Villeneuve has assembled one of the greatest casts since “The Lord of the Rings” to help propel “Dune: Part Two” to its place as one of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy sequels ever.

Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya carry the heaviest burdens as the duke Paul Atreides and Chani, a Fremen warrior. Their relationship and ideological disagreements are central to the film, and each of them gives a career-high performance here.

Austin Butler also stands out as the psychotic Feyd-Rautha, nephew to Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. A combination of Butler’s captivating performance, striking black and white visuals and directing from Villeneuve makes for the most memorable character introduction I can recall. My only wish is that Butler could’ve gotten more screen-time afterward.

But the best performances in “Dune: Part Two” by a sandworm-mile come from Javier Bardem as Stilgar and Rebecca Ferguson as the Lady Jessica.

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Bardem balances humor in an otherwise bleak film with a sense of fanaticism and desire for the Fremen to gain control of Arrakis. He doesn’t waste any lines of dialogue, and what could have been a cheesy and jarring attempt at being funny is instead effective.

Ferguson, meanwhile, transforms from a concerned — albeit complicit — mother to Paul and member of the Bene Gesserit to a full-blown Reverend Mother scheming to force her son into accepting the mantle of a messiah. Jessica’s transformation is uncomfortable and almost terrifying to watch, but Ferguson is utterly convincing throughout. She also talks to a fetus throughout the film, so that’s fun. 

Unfortunately, that fetus is where the one flaw with “Dune: Part Two” comes in. Villeneuve postpones the birth of Alia, Paul’s sister, to the detriment of the story’s timeline.

Adapting Alia directly from the books is an impossible task. I don’t envy anyone burdened with faithfully depicting a toddler who is fully sentient and can access the lived experiences of hundreds of generations before her. It just isn’t screen-friendly, and I understand why Villeneuve held off on it for now and could skip over it entirely with a time jump in “Dune Messiah.”

The second half of “Dune” the book spans five years and ends with Alia as a 4-year-old, giving time for Paul’s messianic plot to develop. By postponing Alia’s birth, Villeneuve is forced to condense the rest of the story into an eight-month period instead, and that just isn’t enough time for Paul to become a figurehead for the Fremen.

The fast-tracked timeline didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the movie at all, but I did notice it every time Paul moved up a rung on his ladder to power. Alia aside, the rest of the movie would have benefited from an extended time frame.

Despite Alia’s unborn status, “Dune: Part Two” is an absolute triumph of filmmaking. It has to be seen on the largest screen, multiple times if possible, and days later I still can’t believe what Villeneuve and everyone involved has accomplished.

I’ll be seated for screenings for weeks to come, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rating: 9.5/10