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Zendaya, Timothee Chalamet

“DUNE” My rating: B (In theaters and HBO Max)

155 minutes | |MPAA rating: PG-13

In making his new version of “Dune,” director  Denis Villeneuve has followed his own version of the Hippocratic oath.

Rather than “First, do no harm,” his mantra has been “Above all, do nothing stupid.”

And he hasn’t. 

 Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sprawling 1965 sci-fi epic is consistently smart, effectively acted  and  spectacularly well designed.

 If its slow pacing will irritate some and its emotional distance prove problematic, at least there are none of the wince-worthy moments that marred David Lynch’s 1984 version.

Fans of the novel should be overcome with gratitude that a world-class director took on this material with respect and insight.  It’s an astoundingly faithful film adaptation; whatever narrative issues the film possesses are those of the novel.

First things first…even at 2 hours and 35 minutes this is only half the “Dune” story.  It ends with young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) a fugitive from the brutal Harkonnen  clan who have killed his father and seized control of the desert planet Arrakis and its vast wealth of spice. When last we see him he’s been taken in by the Fremen, the cave-dwelling locals.

Spice — for any reader who somehow managed to avoid the book as a young person —  is a hallucinogen mined from the sand dunes of Arrakis; its properties make space navigation possible and will fuel the mystical revolution that will undoubtedly dominate a second “Dune” movie. 

But here’s the deal:  I’m not even going to try here to delve into all the story’s plot points: the betrayals, the minor characters,  the allegorical parallels (Paul’s universe-spanning revolt, carried out by religious fanatics from the desert, smacks of our own issues with Islamic fundamentalism).  

I’m gonna assume most of you know the book and want to know how it works as a film.

Well, it works just fine.  Going in I feared that the reedy Chalamet would be just too damn wimpy for the key role of Paul, but you can feel the character grow and mature from scene to scene.

We barely get to spend any time with Zendaya as Chani, the girl-warrior who will become Paul’s paramour (though seen throughout in Paul’s visions, she doesn’t show up as an actual character until the last 15 minutes); but she looks great and exudes the appropriate don’t-screw-with-me desert attitude.

Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac

There are so many characters here that few get much screen time.  Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson have real presence as Paul’s parents, while players like Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling and Javier Bardem barely get a chance to register.

A happy exception is Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, Paul’s military mentor and friend; I don’t know if it’s good acting or if I just like watching Momoa, but he really makes an impression.

(BTW: Look for Kansas City-reared actors Stephen McKinley Henderson and David Dastmalchian in supporting roles.)

Production quality is off the charts (I was particularly taken with the “dragonfly” aircraft employed on Arrakis) and the costuming hugely effective.

The big battle scenes feel a little generic…the violence is PG-13 and I was a tad underwhelmed.

And while I was never bored by this “Dune,” I was never really moved, either.  It’s a good ride, but I wasn’t blown away.

Still, I’m ready for Part II. The sooner the better.

| Robert W. Butler

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