All set-up and no payoff: ‘Dune’ is world’s longest and most expensive trailer

Oct 22, 2021, 1:32 PM

It’s hard to find the right metaphor for the new “Dune” movie. It’s like a beautiful table setting for a meal that’s yet to be served. It’s a negative that sits undeveloped in the darkroom. A shiny race car still in the pit. A table of contents without any content, or a cast of characters without a storyline. Whatever comparison you choose, it must reflect a sense of incompletion.

Unbeknownst to many moviegoers, Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious, big budget remake of Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 sci-fi novel “Dune” covers only half the book. The first, and less compelling, half. And it ends so abruptly, with our hero just beginning to venture out with a tribe of “Dune” natives, that it’s hard not to feel cheated. The story is over just as it seems to be ramping up.

In the long run, this may not matter much to audiences. Banking on the presumed commercial success of this “Dune” film, Villeneuve is reportedly already working on a script for a sequel, and possibly on a third film to make a trilogy that encompasses the first two of the six “Dune” books. If those films do indeed come to pass, this first film may be judged in the context of its sequels and be given a pass. But as of this moment, those future films have yet to be given the green light.

Admittedly, given the success of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” films, Hollywood’s clearly become comfortable doling out epic stories over any number of films. But at least in those trilogies, the first film was a good stand-alone experience. This “Dune: Part One” is just getting on its feet when the proverbial rug is pulled out from under the audience. Villeneuve recently seems to acknowledge exactly that when he admits “Dune” is just an appetizer and “Dune Part Two” the main meal. (I guess Villeneuve likes the dining metaphor.)

To its credit, “Dune” does spend its two-and-a-half-hour running time building a plausible cinematic world out of whole cloth, Herbert’s whole cloth. It may not be glamorous work but the film carefully lays the necessary groundwork for our understanding of the various planets’ ecological properties, its varied races and cultures, and the political and economic conditions at play in this newly imagined universe. By film’s end, audiences will know about the water-rich resources of planet Caladan and the scorched sands of planet Arrakis (a.k.a. Dune), about the warring Houses of Atreides and Harkonnens and the nomadic tribe of Fremen who are native to Arrakis, about the secret religious cult of women known as Bene Gesserit and its centuries-long preaching about a Chosen One, and about the infinitely valuable “spice” being mined on Arrakis and the gigantic sandworms that protect said spice.

The film also, obviously, has to introduce us to an elaborate cast of characters as well, especially the troubled Paul Atreides who may be the Chosen One (played by Timothee Chalamet), Paul’s mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and father Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), the vile Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen (Javier Bardem), and the mysterious young Fremen woman named Chani (Zendaya) who haunts Paul’s dreams.

Not only does Villeneuve make all of the planetary intricacies abundantly clear, he presents his vision with such precision and flair that for much of the film it may not matter whether anything of consequence is happening. The wind-swept sands of Arrakis deserve the IMAX screen I saw them on as do the glorious killer sandworms. But the question is: “Is that enough?”

The book “Dune” is a dense, complex, and multi-layered work of art and it’s clear Villeneuve realized how much heavy lifting he’d have to do to do it justice. It’s a daring move to spend this much time and energy on a film that’s all set-up and no payoff. It’s the world’s longest and most expensive trailer ever. I just hope Villeneuve’s calculations prove correct and the pay-off is in the works.

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Tom Tangney

Belfast...
Tom Tangney

Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Belfast’ is a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t quite hit the mark

"Belfast" has plenty to recommend itself but it's not nearly the moving testament to fraught times that Kenneth Branagh thinks it is or wants it to be.
6 months ago
Eternals, Marvel...
Tom Tangney

‘Eternals’ has to do a lot of heavy lifting for a single film

Imagine the daunting task Marvel sets for itself in "Eternals." It has to introduce 10 new superheroes, not to mention an entirely new cosmology.
6 months ago
French Dispatch...
Tom Tangney

‘The French Dispatch’ is unmistakably Andersonian

Wes Anderson is an acquired taste. But luckily, after 10 full-length movies, most critics and many movie-goers have acquired it.
7 months ago
Last Duel...
Tom Tangney

Poor Marguerite’s story saves ‘The Last Duel’

Tom Tangney says, ultimately, The Last Duel is a proto-feminist take on the Middle Ages with Marguerite's take that brings the film into focus.
7 months ago
James Bond...
Tom Tangney

Daniel Craig’s final James Bond movie comes full-circle

The 25th installment in the James Bond movie franchise may be titled "No Time to Die," but "Too Much Time to Die" may be more fitting.
7 months ago
Egyptian Theater...
Tom Tangney

Seattle’s Egyptian Theater hosts SIFF’s first ever documentary film festival

Seattle's Egyptian Theater is hosting SIFF's first ever documentary film festival. Dubbed DocFest, the weeklong festival features 13 separate titles.
8 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
All set-up and no payoff: ‘Dune’ is world’s longest and most expensive trailer