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Movie Review: Dune Part 2

It was the summer of 2013. I was sitting in a movie theater with my boys and a friend of theirs about to watch Pacific Rim, a loud and fun movie that you shut your brain off and just enjoy. Little did I know that it would be more than a decade before I next sat in a movie theater, or paid money to see any films.

I broke my self-imposed exile from the theater on Saturday to watch the second installment of Dune. One of our daughter’s wanted to go so my wife and I met up with her to watch it. Major spoilers to follow.

To start, we saw Dune part 2 in IMAX at an AMC theater and I bought my reserved tickets online Tuesday. We rolled into the theater about 20 minutes before it started and I figured out which theater we would be in but there was something odd. No one was checking tickets. Not anywhere as far as I could tell. We could have walked in with a duffle bag of snacks and gone to any movies we wanted and no one would have said anything. It was just weird. Something else fun, our daughter went to get popcorn before the movie started and after waiting in line for a while was told they were out of popcorn. A movie theater. Out of popcorn. WTF?!

The previews were a series of films that I had zero interest in seeing, especially the first one titled Challengers featuring Zendaya as a bitchy tennis star who gets injured and then treats a couple of dudes like crap. Wow, sign me up for that! Before and after the previews were a bunch of ads telling us how great AMC was. The only film that looked even halfway decent was Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga, a two part epic set in the exploration and settlement of the West. Hopefully it won’t be super preachy, White man bad, red man good, but I am pretty sure it will be.

On to the movie

The first installment of Dune followed the book fairly closely, given the constraints of a movie adaptation of a large (over 650 pages in hardcover), complex novel with lots of characters and moving pieces. The second installment? Not so much. Many of the major points where there but the director and writers took major liberties with the story. I’ll get into the good and the bad and the just plain ugly but where the second movie really faltered compared to the first is in casting. There are a number of bad casting decisions but one really stands out: the insufferable Zendaya as Chani, the love interest of the main character Paul Atreides. It wasn’t a big deal in the first film because she wasn’t in it much, other than frequent dream sequences where she didn’t say anything. In the second film I figured it was going to be bad because Zendaya was in so many of the previews. It was as bad as I suspected. We got to see the entire range of Zendaya….

  • See Zendaya glare!
  • See Zendaya scowl!
  • See Zendaya glower!
  • See Zendaya stare at Paul disapprovingly!
  • See Zendaya grimace!

That isn’t really an exaggeration. Her main expression was one of Girl Boss disapproval. She also was turned into a super Ninja warrior who was out on raiding parties and a member of the Fedaykin, the “death commandos”. She is mentioned in the book far less than Jessica or even Stilgar but in the film is front and center of far too many scenes.

At the end of the film, when Paul announces he will wed Irulan, the daughter of the Emperor as a political move to cement his ascension to the throne, Chani stomps off in a huff, calls a sandworm and rides off into the sunset because she is a strong, powerful, independent woman that don’t need no man. In the book?

Jessica nodded, feeling suddenly old and tired. She looked at Chani. ‘And for the royal concubine?’

‘No title for me,’ Chani whispered. ‘Nothing. I beg of you.’

Paul stared down into her eyes, remembering her suddenly as she had stood once with little Leto in her arms, their child now dead in this violence. ‘I swear to you now,’ he whispered, ‘that you’ll need no title. That woman over there will be my wife and you but a concubine because this is a political thing and we must weld peace out of this moment, enlist the Great Houses of the Landsraad. We must obey the forms. Yet that princess shall have no more of me than my name. No child of mine nor touch nor softness of glance, nor instant of desire.’

‘So you say now,’ Chani said. She glanced across the room at the tall princess. ‘Do you know so little of my son?’

Jessica whispered. ‘See that princess standing there, so haughty and confident. They say she has pretensions of a literary nature. Let us hope she finds solace in such things; she’ll have little else.’ A bitter laugh escaped Jessica. ‘Think on it, Chani: that princess will have the name, yet she’ll live as less than a concubine – never to know a moment of tenderness from the man to whom she’s bound. While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine – history will call us wives.’

Frank Herbert. Dune (Kindle Locations 9166-9176). Orion. Kindle Edition.

Chani would stay by Paul’s side because in the book she was mature enough to understand the political necessity of wedding the princess, just as Paul’s mother Jessica understood why Paul’s father Leto could never marry her despite his love. Movie Chani, the glowering Zendaya, pitches a fit and leaves the man she supposedly loved because in 2024 we can’t have a woman who stands by her man.

Of course as I pointed out in my review of the first installment, Zendaya looks nothing like the Chani of the book, a small and skinny elfin young woman with “long twany-red hair”.

Zendaya was cast as Chani because she is the flavor of the month and is non-White. That’s it. She isn’t a good actress and she isn’t attractive, she is actually pretty homely. She is not an petite elfin woman, she is 5′ 8″.

The rest of the casting is a mixed bag. I still like Timothée Chalamet, he was good as the conflicted Paul Atreides who is balancing his desire for vengeance toward the Baron Harkonnen against his visions of the galactic jihad he is doomed to start. Javier Bardem is decent as Stilgar. Austin Butler is good as the Harkonnen na-Baron Feyd-Rautha although in the film he is a muscular psychopath who is bald, not even with eyebrows, while the book Feyd-Rautha is described as….

….a dark-haired youth of about sixteen years, round of face and with sullen eyes.

Frank Herbert. Dune (Kindle Locations 238-239). Orion. Kindle Edition.

Still, Austin Butler is good in the role as it was written for him, menacing and cruel. Dave Bautista is ridiculous as Beast Rabban and Christopher Walken was a terrible choice for the Emperor.

The movie was quite beautiful at times, some of the effects were absolutely stunning in IMAX, but it was also overly loud and flashy with lots of fights involving the Fremen rolling over the backs of their opponents and doing ornate moves that were designed to look flashy on screen. The effect was cartoonish and too much time was spent on fancy fights instead of the more subtle nuance of what was happening politically and within the Fremen society.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that while the Fremen are leathery looking desert people in the book, resembling Bedouins in my mind, in the movie they are a mixed bag of black and brown people. Meanwhile the Harkonnens are White and filmed in stark black and white scenes to accentuate their Whiteness. The message is obvious and clumsy, the plucky and oppressed Fremen are “people of color” versus the cruel White oppressor Harkonnen. One scene shows a Harkonnen parade and the soldiers are all but goose-stepping, in case the allusion to the Nazis wasn’t obvious enough.

Director Denis Villeneuve made pretty clear his intention to retconn Dune to fit Modern Audiences. From Girl Boss Chani to Liet Kynes, a White man who was the father of Chani in the books but became a black woman in the first film, Denis Villeneuve saw Dune as something to be altered to suit his own political views. I wrote about this in an earlier post in 2020 when the first Dune trailer hit: Dune Dumpster Fire Incoming with this quote in particular…..

Villeneuve intends to create a Dune that has so far only existed in the imagination of readers….For Villeneuve, this 55-year-old story about a planet being mined to death was not merely a space adventure, but a prophecy. “No matter what you believe, Earth is changing, and we will have to adapt,” he says. “That’s why I think that Dune, this book, was written in the 20th century. It was a distant portrait of the reality of the oil and the capitalism and the exploitation—the overexploitation—of Earth. Today, things are just worse. It’s a coming-of-age story, but also a call for action for the youth.”

In other words, he sees Dune as something to be refashioned into something he wants it to be rather than being faithful to the source material. You see the difference from the first installment to the second in much the same way we saw The Lord of the Rings film trilogy versus the horrific Rings of Power series. What should have been a great film was instead deeply flawed. It will make a lot of money of course but the liberties taken with the plot and the terrible casting choices make it something far less than it could and should have been.

It will be at least another decade before I pay to see a film again.


  1. anonymous

    I only saw the trailer, but I agree that Christopher Walken was a crappy choice for Emperor. The guy does have presence, but it is mostly smart/evil. There is nothing of Royalty or Nobility about him.

  2. Jeffrey Zoar

    Even word of mouth can’t be trusted anymore, as I discovered when I made the mistake of going to the theater to see Top Gun: Maverick. So with all the free streaming available, there’s no reason to go to the trouble and expense of watching a movie in a theater. Finding a quality product coming out of Hollywood nowadays seems about as likely as a winning lottery ticket.

      • LGC

        Maverick was an entertaining movie. Set aside two hours and enjoy of which in the 80’s we got at least one a week.

        But it was SO MUCH BETTER than the rest of the dreck coming out that it looked like a marvel (pun intended). Imagine that a movie that just entertains instead of just preach.

        And, it made a billion dollars. But of course, do we see any more of that style of movie? of course not, the narrative is more important.

  3. Big Ruckus D

    I’ve not set foot in a theatre since….1989. Had to look it up, I knew the last movie I saw in a theatre was See No Evil, Hear No Evil with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, which was released in summer ’89. I’d say my boycott of Hollywood is going quite well at 35 years and counting. Honestly, I don’t feel I’ve missed anything.

  4. Bear in Indy

    Last movie I saw in a theater was “Dunkirk” in 2017. A good film, with decent special effects, and good performances by all.
    But, have not been, since, as Hollywood mostly produces garbage. After all, ” The Message” is; the most important thing in the world.
    Bear in Indy

      • Big Ruckus D

        Arrrrrgh, sailing the high seas, are ye matey?

        This is the way, if one must partake of the spectacle. My whole repudiation of Hollywood is based not only on the fact that nearly everything they make is utter shit, but that even the outliers that are nominally enjoyable to watch should not be receiving one red cent of my money. Let ’em starve. Nothing of value will be lost.

  5. 3g4me

    The last two times my husband and I went to the movies were in 2006 (Hot Fuzz) and 2008 (Fireproof) at the dollar theater.

    I read the Dune books perhaps 5-8 years ago – for some reason I never got into the series growing up. I had mixed feelings about them, and without granting any excuse to the movie director, I can see how the plot lends itself to White people bad/others good.

    I had to look up who Zendaya was. Ugh. And as for a woman standing by her man – I just finished a moderately crappy TEOTWAWKI book that addressed just that issue, and I specifically raised it with my husband as it applies in real life. In said crappy book, the female love interest of the protagonist – who started out fairly normal and supportive – ends up pitching fits because she can’t handle the ‘stress’ of worrying when he goes out to do what he has been trained for as an Army Ranger. (Yes, they’re always some kind of SF in these books – my late father-in-law earned his ranger tab and was a good man, but he was no super hero.)

    Anyhow – she surprisingly gets schooled in the book about her man’s character – and how central both loyalty and honor are to ‘who he is.’ Somehow this comes as an epiphany to the female. And it made me consider how, in real life – just as women are generally airheads and attention whores, they also always seem to demand that a man put them first. Before protecting his children, before any sense of duty to his people or civilization. I’m not talking about standard work/life balance here – but in a crisis or extreme situation. Instead of being a helpmeet, or even simply a responsible adult who does what must be done without constantly whining about it, women instead demand “Look at me, and pander to my feelings and the rest of the world be damned!”

    I can’t tolerate this in real life, and it makes it increasingly hard to find anything escapist to read (in addition to whiny women, all the books are filled with POX wherever the author can slot them in for bonus DIE pokeman points).

    Needless to say, I won’t be seeing the Dune movie.

    • Lineman

      You are wisdom Sister…Wish there were more like you out there…I was blessed to get one as my wife so can’t complain to much😉

  6. Scot Irish

    Read the books when I 18-19 maybe younger. Saw the first movie after it came out.

    What I remember most from both was obviously “spice”. Then all the fremen had blue eyes, and recycled water from their eyes. And the big worms!

    Guess I should read it again.

  7. Don Curton

    As much sci-fi as I read as a kid, Dune was another of those so-called classics that I just didn’t find interesting. I read the first and it was a chore to finish. LOTR I’d read back to back, finishing the series in a week and the re-reading the entire series again a week later. Long books didn’t scare me, but Dune was just so much effort. Not sure I’d care to watch the movie. Hell, I’d almost rather watch Travolta in Battlefield Earth again.

    • Anon2

      My God man!!!
      Have you no self respect.

      I myself, in younger times, devoured many a paperback by L Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, Greg Bear, Arthur C. Clarke, and Larry Niven. Also, so many more of the hours I’d spend on books that let me escape into another world where words could excite my imagination. To even bring up that Travolta trash, is a stab in the heart. That crap movies like Battlefield Earth prove they are just a gut punch to everything I enjoyed.

      Perhaps the cruelest was Z for Zachariah and what they did to that book. Movies in general that are based on a book, destroy the story as told.

      Other than that, enjoy your week, and thanks for letting me vent on what is refered to as entertainment today. 🙂

  8. Anon

    Dune already had a movie and a miniseries (the miniseries based on the first book is better than the sequel miniseries Children of Dune based on the 2nd and 3rd).
    Why bother at all with new movies when they hate the source material, the fans, etc?

    >daughter wanted to go
    It’s always the women.

  9. Squib

    Funny. I had three choices back then. Buy the hardcover, buy the paperback, or check it out from the library.

    Back then was better.

  10. iForget

    I remember laughing at the shorts where serious-face Zendaya Stoermer-Coleman was saying how her people had only known cruelty from the Harkonnens and then promptly launched missiles at the harvester & carry-all. The harvester defended itself and 80% of the brave Fremen got slotted.

    Hardly the cunning and smart warriors of the books. I actually laughed at the FA-FO moment. Who’d have guessed the Fremen cried out in pain as they struck you !

  11. Steve

    This has always been a sore-spot for me because I have read and re-read the original book a number of times. The prequels to the original book were released a little over twenty years ago and they deal with how everyone in the original, came to be in the service of the duke.
    Leto should have been someone like Jim Caviezel, or Henry Cavil. Both actors are tall and have a physical presence, instead we got the little furball Oscar Issacs.
    Jessica has a beauty that causes everything to stop whenever she enters a room. Rebecca Fergusson is pretty, but her beauty is nowhere near what is described in the book.
    The guy who played Stilgar in the original movie was a perfect fit. Bardem is too short and slovenly-looking for the role.
    The character of Thufir Hawat was almost completely forgotten about, as was the role of The Guild.
    The other thing I noticed in the first movie – which I assume carries over into the second – is the way that Chani puts Paul down at almost every opportunity. The mesaage there is subtle but clear “You may be the Mahdi, but I’ll make sure I keep you in check. And I don’t answer to you.”
    I agree with the assessment here of the girl playing the role of Chani, I don’t understand the fuss about her. She’s rather homely and I would have never chosen her for the role.

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