Spoiler-Free Thoughts on Dune 2

Written by Mark McElroy

You’ll need to see something this big more than once to know how you really feel about it.

I had the chance to attend the Dune 2 Fan Preview last night in Madison, MS. Some notes from the film, with no spoilers:

  • ⏰ Unlike Dune 1, which was two hours and thirty-five minutes long but still feels shorter each time I watch it, Dune 2 is two hours and forty-five minutes long and feels like a three hour movie. There’s a lot packed in here; the narrative is thick and concentrated and hearty.
  • 💥 Far more than the first film, this movie is an audio/visual assault on the senses. From the roar of riding worms to the near-constant battle scenes, there’s lots and lots of bang, boom, and crash here, with only a few moments of quiet reflection sprinkled in. (I’m not saying this is bad; instead, I’m just making an observation.) This gritty, relentless movie is all orange glare, billowing dust clouds, sinuous set detail, and roaring machinery; its tone is so different from the first film, you’d think it has a different director.

  • 🎥 Dune 2 is epic in scale: Everything Thing is So Big. None of the characters in this film ever goes to the restroom, but if one did, the restroom would be a mile high, the walls would be bricked over with infra-red tile, it would be lit with a million candles, and the space would be packed with innumerable hordes of jostling people, all of whom would be wailing. It’s claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time.

  • ✝️ As an American living in the Fundamentalist Christian South, it is very interesting to hear characters in this movie say things like, “Getting people to believe that a Messiah is returning someday is an excellent way to subjugate the population.” With Donald Trump running for President, it Is particularly interesting to watch a movie featuring a leader with increasingly dubious morals who realizes that extreme religious fanaticism is exactly what’s needed to mobilize “fundamentalists in the south” for war.

  • 🪱 Worms gobbling up machinery or plowing toward the camera look amazing. One worm being ridden by one person can look a little silly from a distance. Aerial shots of many worms being ridden by many people can sometimes just look like wrinkly CGI cigars being dragged through sand.

  • 🕺Even smeared in dirt and grue, Timothee Chalamet is all merlanky and beautiful. (merlanky – adjective – lanky in an angular, long-fingered, long-limbed, slightly creepy way; see Edward Scissorhands.)

  • 🤨 Why get Christopher Walken to play the Emperor if he doesn’t get to “Christopher Walken” it up at all?

  • 🪬 Herbert’s Paul Atreides (at least, in the first Dune novel) always retained a level of nobility and seemed, indeed, to be the kwisatz haderach. I bought into the idea (and I think he did, too) that he was this world’s messiah. The Paul of Dune 2 is more bitter, calculating, and manipulative: less the fulfillment of a prophecy and more a man who co-opts it for his own use. I think this has a lot to do with where this franchise is going with the third movie (based on the far more cynical Dune Messiah).

  • 🦹 Interesting that, when Herbert wrote the original Dune, all it took to make Baron Harkonnen evil was to make him obese and gay. This millennium, he remains corpulent, but seems to be recast as an oily, ultra-violent, all-purpose sadist. His family, though, has the same trouble the Harkonnens had in Lynch’s movie: they are such vicious, over-the-top, idiotic goons, it’s difficult to imagine how they ever managed to accomplish anything productive.

  • 💔 At the end of Frank Herbert’s book, Paul’s relationship with Chani, his Fremen lover, is delicately and cleverly balanced against his duty as a Duke, with a line that, to this day, strikes a chord in my heart. (“History will remember us as wives.”) Dune 2 ends differently, and while this ending has its utility, it strikes a different chord entirely. I didn’t care for it.

  • 🏆 People will rave about this movie; I think critics, on the whole, will adore it, and fans will mostly say it’s the greatest sci-fi epic ever filmed. I liked it very much … but I can’t say I loved it. I wanted to be embraced by Dune 2; instead, I got a bro hug.

  • 🤷🏻 From the moment the first film ended, I couldn’t wait to see it again (and I have watched it over and over … perhaps a dozen times or more). With Dune 2 … rewatching can wait. When I do see it again, I actually want to see it on a smaller screen at lower volume (said the old man). I want to catch my breath. I want to linger a bit, to have the luxury to replay this or free-frame that. I want to feel more like I’m getting to know this film, and feel less like I’m on a ride I can’t control, hurtling relentlessly forward. As someone who has loved this story for over forty years, I want to feel more immersed in it … and less slapped around.

About the author

Mark McElroy

I'm a writer and professional facilitator. I'm the author of a dozen or so non-fiction books and hundreds of corporate video scripts. As a professional facilitator, I coach individuals, committees, and teams to change how they meet, make decisions, and plan, so they can get out of their own way and do work that really matters. I use this site to write about writing, adaptive strategy, travel, and spirituality ... and to "learn out loud" by sharing works (and what doesn't).