“Dune” 2nd Trailer Takes Us Back To Arrakis

If The Lord Of The Rings was once considered unfilmable, then the same is doubly true of Frank Herbert’s Dune – a sprawling novel which is (arguably) to sci-fi literature what The Lord Of The Rings is to fantasy. Dune is a searing deconstruction of the hero’s journey, a complex, multi-layered, and not entirely successful non-comedic satire of the white savior narrative and its weaponization by imperialist forces and Christian missionaries, and besides all that it’s also an extremely dense and literary book, which is probably most popular outside of its actual readership because of the imagery of giant alien sand-worms, which the 1984 adaptation helped to make iconic to a larger audience.

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Paul Atreides | screencrush.com

But Denis Villeneuve’s new adaptation of Dune for Warner Brothers (and HBO Max) seeks to make the classic story mainstream – and if that goal is at all attainable, then the newest full-length trailer for the film, released today, ought to do the trick. It’s clearly trying to divide its focus between satisfying fans of the original novel and luring in general audiences who just want a fun sci-fi movie. Unfortunately for Warner Brothers, the words “fun” and “Dune” are hardly synonymous, which is why I think this trailer very carefully highlights all the VFX-heavy shots of spaceship battles and cool fight sequences, without providing much context about what fills the gap between those scenes. The answer? Lots of weighty conversations about theology, geo-economic warfare, and intergalactic geopolitical strategy.

Oh yeah, and the aforementioned giant alien sand-worms, known in-universe as the Shai-Hulud; but those go hand-in-hand with the subject of geo-economic warfare (and environmental degradation hastened by human interference) for…reasons. Without getting into spoilers, let’s just say the Shai-Hulud are important to the plot and themes of Dune, but they’re also not in the book anywhere near as frequently as the cover art would likely lead you to believe. And to be honest, I don’t know if they’re gonna be in the movie that much, either. We see the same one from the first trailer, rising above Paul Atreides in the desert at night, and one or two in a battle from near of the end of the movie, but that’s it.

(And not to sound too down on this movie, but the design of the Shai-Hulud isn’t really doing anything for me. Maybe I’ve just seen too much incredible and creative artwork of the sand-worms at this point for Villeneuve’s baleen whale/lamprey hybrid approach to seem fresh to me, but I don’t know…I expected something a little more majestic).

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Chani | nerdist.com

Honestly, if anything’s going to get general audiences into theaters to see Dune, it’s the film’s ensemble cast. Almost everyone here has their own legion of adoring fans, with stars Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya being exceptionally strong in that regard: it’s unsurprising that Zendaya’s character, the warrior Chani who falls in love with Chalamet’s Paul, appears to be the second-most important character in the movie – a deviation from the book, where that honor arguably goes to Paul’s mother, the Bene Gesserit sorceress Lady Jessica. But Rebecca Ferguson need not fear that her character will be entirely sidelined: a Dune spinoff series focusing on the Bene Gesserit is still in production at HBO Max, and just picked up a new showrunner in Diane Ademu-John. It will explore the efforts of the Bene Gesserit to plant the seeds of a messiah myth on the desert planet of Arrakis that will manifest itself in Paul Atreides.

Hopefully, that gives you some idea of why this book is so very controversial, and why the movie has to be responsible in the way it depicts both its “hero”, Paul, and his followers, the indigenous Fremen of Arrakis who are explicitly MENA (Middle Eastern and North African)-coded, and draw influences from vastly disparate cultures across the world, including those of Native American peoples. Is Dune a white savior narrative, or is that only a surface-level reading of the story? But even if it isn’t, does it ever do enough to dismantle the white savior narrative it props up in parody, or expose the root issue of white supremacy? In depicting the Fremen as victims of their own superstitious beliefs, who is Herbert calling out? These are just some of the complicated questions one could raise about Dune, and the answers are bound to vary depending on who you ask.

One thing is clear, though: that too much of this story is too deeply rooted in the (intentional and at least theoretically critical) appropriation of MENA culture and particularly religion for the film to not recognize or respect that either in front of the camera or behind the scenes. There are no MENA actors in major roles, and no MENA writers working on the script. That kind of oversight is concerning regardless of the source material, but it also suggests that Villeneuve isn’t really interested in exploring what Dune has to say about white saviors, or refining it any further by centering MENA perspectives in this adaptation. And that’s especially frustrating.

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Paul Atreides | freshfiction.tv

It’s unfortunate, too, because Dune looks incredible otherwise – the kind of visionary epic that could redefine the sci-fi genre of film for a generation, just as the original book did for literature. Villeneuve had at one point detailed his plans for a trilogy of Dune films matching the vast scope of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings, and I can only hope that if this franchise is allowed to expand (that will depend on its box-office performance and success on HBO Max, of course), that he takes great care to renovate parts of Herbert’s books which are not perfect and can be improved upon.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

“Dune” Trailer Review!

Like The Lord Of The Rings before it, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic Dune has long been considered “unfilmable”: too huge and complex to ever successfully translate to the big screen. But Peter Jackson achieved the impossible by bringing Tolkien’s masterpiece to life (and in turn, revolutionizing the fantasy genre in Hollywood), and it looks like director Denis Villeneuve will try to do the same for Dune, with a lot of help from his incredible cinematographer Greig Fraser and his all-star cast led by Timothée Chalamet.

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indiewire.com

Chalamet has made a name for himself in the indie and arthouse scene, and is one of the actors whose name routinely pops up during awards season: but Dune will mark his biggest role to date, as he steps into the shoes of futuristic messiah Paul Atreides, royal scion of House Atreides and heir to the throne of Arrakis, a remote desert planet rich with the resource known as Spice: a dangerous but powerful drug that pretty much everybody in the galaxy wants to get their hands on, either to use it (Spice plays a part in spiritualistic rituals and even interstellar travel) or to control it (due to its rarity, Spice is also extremely expensive and can be heavily taxed when it’s not being smuggled illegally out of Arrakis). Although it’s been a while since I’ve read Dune (it’s probably one of the most inaccessible books ever written), I remember most of the major story beats: Paul, whose entire life is built around a series of prophecies, sets off into Arrakis’ rugged, inhospitable deserts to try and unite the planet’s indigenous people, the Fremen, against the forces of his family’s sworn enemies, the tyrannical Harkonnens, when the latter clan arrives with the intention of conquering Arrakis and winning control of the Spice. At some point, I suppose I’ll have to reread the book, but that’s the general concept: from there, it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a cautionary tale about ecological disaster (an issue it tackles head-on and spectacularly) and religion (an issue it tackles boldly but with less success, due to its reliance on tropes regarding indigenous cultures).

For most people, the image that comes to mind when they think Dune (assuming they know about the book at all, which might be rarer now than it would be in 1965, when the novel became an instant cult classic) is that of the terrifying Sandworms, gargantuan beasts that roam beneath the deserts of Arrakis and are worshiped as divine beings by the native Fremen. Appropriately, the first trailer for Villeneuve’s Dune holds off on the reveal of the Sandworms until the very end, when one suddenly erupts from the sand and rises over Paul. I love the new design: it looks awe-inspiring but also frightening in the best way possible. I would have maybe liked it to be a little bigger, but it’s possible that, like an iceberg, more of it is concealed beneath the sand than is visible above the surface.

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polygon.com

The trailer intersperses scenes of desert warfare and high-tech weaponry with beautiful shots of Arrakis’ deserts and the already radiant cast: from Rebecca Ferguson to Zendaya to Jason Momoa to Oscar Isaac (and Oscar Issac’s impressive beard, which I count as an entire supporting character), there’s not an unattractive person on this planet. And Greig Fraser, Villeneuve’s cinematographer, has captured it all in the very best lighting with hazy, orange and blue overtones (orange and blue is a color combo proven to attract attention, and it never fails to do just that). Fraser’s job is made a lot easier by the fact that, canonically, Spice turns human eyes a vivid shade of blue. Visually, this trailer is nothing short of stunning.

With regards to the story, it will be interesting to see whether or not Villeneuve has streamlined the book’s plot dramatically or fixed some of its major problems, particularly….well, the entire plot, which isn’t a white savior narrative in the usual sense, but still “has many of the same discomfiting hallmarks that we see replicated again and again”, to quote from a recent, brilliantly-written breakdown of the book’s dealings with issues of race, gender and sexuality. Getting into that issue would require talking about spoilers for the book, so I’m not going to get into that conversation here, but suffice it to say that the Fremen (who, remember, are based off an amalgamation of various Native American, Middle Eastern and African cultures) and their interactions with Paul Atreides veer dangerously close to white saviorism for reasons that are not only difficult to explain, but downright disturbing. That’s why I’m hoping there’s just as much focus on the diverse supporting cast as there is on Paul: the Fremen, in particular, but also Paul’s mother (the sorceress/concubine Lady Jessica), and his love interest (the desert warrior Chani). Surprisingly, the trailer doesn’t give much screentime to Jessica (despite her being a major character in the books), but Chani’s role does seem to have been expanded – the trailer even starts with her meeting Paul in one of his prophetic dreams and the two exchanging a heartfelt kiss, before later reuniting in real life. There’s still no word on whether the villainous Baron Harkonnen will be depicted as he is in the books, as a grotesque, homophobic caricature who preys on younger men, but I have to hope that’s not the case.

Dune
techcrunch.com

But while it’s still too early to tell how similar Villeneuve’s Dune is to Frank Herbert’s original novel, it’s not too early to guess that this movie will generate a lot of conversation heading into next year’s awards season, thanks to the out-of-this-world special effects, cinematography, production design, direction and cast. Hopefully it generates just as much money at the box-office, but that will depend on how successfully it has updated its controversial and complicated story. In a year like 2020 (or, in fact, in any year), the last thing we need is a white savior.

Trailer Rating: 9.5/10

“The French Dispatch” Trailer Review!

Director Wes Anderson is back in the game with his boldest, brightest, most bizarre project yet: The French Dispatch, a film anthology of stories from a fictional newspaper (loosely based on The New Yorker) operating out of a fictional French city (obviously based on Paris) in the middle of the 20th Century, playing witness to some of the most explosive moments in the nation’s history. The abstract and absurdist comedy stars a massive cast of A-list talent, and employs a number of curious camera-tricks, as well as being partly shot in black-and-white.

Bill Murray stars as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, who went on a holiday and never came back to his home-state of Kansas: instead, he turned his travelogue column into The French Dispatch, which appears to be a semi-satirical weekly newspaper chronicling “world politics, the arts (high and low), and diverse stories of human interest”. He is surrounded by a star-studded cast playing his small army of editors, journalists, columnists, sources and the local characters they interact with on the streets of Paris, including Tilda Swinton (wearing a very bright orange wig), Benicio Del Toro as an artist imprisoned in a padded cell, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet already working on his Bob Dylan impersonation, Léa Seydoux as a stone-cold police officer, Owen Wilson, Mathieu Amalric, Liev Schrieber, Elisabeth Moss, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Christoph Waltz, Henry Winkler and Saoirse Ronan, among many others. Not all of this cast are comedians, but all of them look like they’re about to be.

"The French Dispatch" Trailer Review! 1
slashfilm.com

This trailer certainly makes it look like The French Dispatch will be a memorable cinematic experience – not only because of its extraordinarily weird cinematography and quirky visuals, but because I can’t wait to see the interactions between this amazing cast: Tilda Swinton and Henry Winkler in the same movie? Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan reunited onscreen for the umpteenth time? Count me in.

So what do you think? Does The French Dispatch look too weird for your taste, or do you think this looks stupendously strange? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Little Women” Non-Spoiler Review!

A century and a half has passed since Louisa May Alcott first set pen to paper and sat down to write the semi-autobiographical story of four sisters’ journeys towards adulthood, but the tale of the “little women” is still just as relevant and iconic nowadays as it was back in 1868. And visionary director Greta Gerwig has lovingly (and masterfully) crafted an adaptation of Alcott’s classic that is not only faithful to the original book, but more in line with both modern sensibilities and Alcott’s own feminist philosophy than any previous iteration.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 2
latimes.com

Gerwig has, first and foremost, chosen to tell the story in a non-linear fashion: while this decision may confuse the unwary (which is why I’m warning you in advance), it is a conscious choice that enables Gerwig to have what are essentially two stories simultaneously playing out onscreen, linked through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and what some may view as a bit of fourth-wall breaking – one story being the first half of the novel Little Women, covering the March sisters’ adolescence and happy, hazy childhood, awash in golden lighting; the other being the novel’s latter half, the grimmer, bleaker post-Civil War era, in which the March sisters have all grown up and gone their separate ways, and heroine Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is beginning to more closely resemble Alcott herself. But while this might at first appear to be a narrative trick to keep the story compelling, it becomes clear in the film’s final minutes that there’s a shockingly exciting reason for the non-linear structure, one that will make Gerwig’s Little Women a topic for debate for many years to come. Keep your eyes peeled, for Gerwig drops plenty of clues and hints as to what’s coming in the finale, but you still might be caught off-guard if you’re not looking – or you might even miss it altogether.

Little Women is beloved because of its cast of extremely relatable and interesting characters, many of whom are best known to movie-lovers through the 1994 adaptation of the novel that starred Winona Ryder as the rebellious, free-spirited heroine, and a young Christian Bale as her love interest, charming, carefree Laurie. But Gerwig’s Jo and Laurie are slightly more modernized than the prim and proper couple of that film: Laurie, here excellently portrayed by rising star Timothée Chalamet, is a gentle, easygoing, and somewhat gender-neutral character who feels like the perfect soulmate to Saoirse Ronan’s socially awkward but passionate Jo – neither is entirely comfortable within the constraints laid upon them by their gender, but neither can do anything but fight the system in small ways – whether that means marrying for love or trying to establish their own place in the world. To reinforce the essentially gender-fluid relationship between the stars, Gerwig even had Ronan and Chalamet swap articles of clothing onset in order to break down the boundaries between them.

Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of Jo March: it’s sort of a mandatory thing, I think, for most writers. We love her not just because of how sympathetic her daily struggles are, but because of how she chooses to use the written word as a weapon in her fight – hers is a pen far mightier than any sword.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 3
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But Gerwig also allows the other March siblings to have their chance to shine: romantic, idealistic Meg (Emma Watson) is finally given a leg to stand on in her ongoing struggle with her character’s critics and detractors, who have always claimed she’s the least feminist of the sisters, and the most outdated in this modern age. Petty, vainglorious Amy (Florence Pugh) is actually respectable in Gerwig’s film – yes, she’s still a brat, but she’s also forced to grow up too quickly and bear a heavy burden upon her shoulders; she’s the only one of the March sisters who has a chance of marrying well, and for women in Alcott’s era, marriage was a woman’s only respectable method of achieving success. Amy’s speech to Laurie in which she details all the ways in which marriage is nothing but “an economic proposition” is one of the film’s most powerful scenes. Then there’s poor Beth (Eliza Scanlen), who is crucial to the story’s plot but still never quite rises above being the shy, pious outlier in the group without very much to say or do.

On the sidelines, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep have small but excellent performances as Marmee and Aunt March, respectively. Streep, especially, is a delightful addition to the cast with her biting wit, passive aggressive humor, and dainty mannerisms. Louis Garrel has the thankless job of portraying Professor Friedrich Bhaer, one of the most purposefully disappointing characters in Alcott’s novel, but he plays the role as well as he possibly can.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 4
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Little Women is also an exceptionally beautiful film, with a myriad of dreamy, pastel-colored scenes that look almost like they leaped straight from the painter’s canvas onto the big screen (a special shout-out goes to cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, who apparently had the camera follow the Marches like a “fifth sister”, dancing and twirling with them on their youthful frolics and adventures, giving the audience a chance to feel even more connected to the close-knit cast). The production and costume design are superb: every detail of the March family’s dark, cozy homestead and every accouterment of high-society Parisian fashion is lovingly crafted.

Greta Gerwig deserves the Oscar for Best Director, and the fact that just this morning it was revealed that she is one of a multitude of talented women not on the Academy Awards shortlist for that honor is a travesty. What she has designed, directed and delivered is a love-letter to both Alcott’s novel and to Alcott herself, who was forced to play a part all her life and sacrifice her artistic freedom. A century and a half later, Gerwig has finally done justice to this author’s work in a way that seemed almost unimaginable to me, going into the theater. Little Women is an instant classic, despite how hard Hollywood will try to ignore or downplay this incredible work of art.

Movie Rating: 9/10