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Denis Villeneuve’s Dune Part 1 (aka Dune) instantly joins the ranks of the great, big-budget, mass-market sci-fi extravaganzas, including 2001, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner, all of which it either references, pays homage to, or is clearly influenced by. In the case of Star Wars, the references become quite heady, because Star Wars is so clearly influenced by Dune, the novel, that Villeneuve’s imagery re-builds upon imagery influenced by his source material. Is this a sandcrawler that I see before me?

What Villeneuve does so well here is make all this familiar stuff feel so fresh, and a huge part of it involves Hans Zimmer’s score, which is ominous, threatening, suitably alien, and omnipresent. It really sets the tone, and it’s really unique. I’m no musician, but I reckon its singular arresting sonic motif combines (or is inspired by) the bagpipe and an Islamic prayer call. This ain’t Also sprach Zarathustra, nor – very definitely – is it John Williams.

No, this is darker all around; Zimmer’s intense, at times frightening score is clear about that. It’s dark and it’s serious: there is one clear joke, delivered by the one character who seems allowed to make jokes. Everywhere else, all is somber. In a way, it feels like Star Wars for grown-ups.

What took me by surprise was how much action there was. The first act is world-building but acts two and three are both pretty much relentless action set-pieces. It may be ‘hard’ sci-fi, but it’s totally accessible.

It’s also really fun, gorgeous to look at, vibrant, stimulating, and huge. It’s extremely gratifying to see this kind of massive entertainment being made with such inventiveness and intelligence (the adaptation of a notoriously challenging text is superb and deserves an Oscar nomination for Adapted Screenplay). It’s Villeneuve’s best film, and I greatly look forward to Part Two.

Beached Odyssey

jodorowsky-dune-banner-e1392402337448Jodorowsky’s Dune *** (out of five)

A film for a niche market (and I’m smack-bang part of it), Jodorowsky’s Dune tells the story of a great unrealised film project: a huge production of Frank Herbert’s Dune by Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who created the “Midnight Movie” phenomenon in 1970 with El Topo and is also well remembered for 1973’s The Magic Mountain (and who has recently released his first film in 23 years, The Dance of Reality).jodorowskysdune_toppage

Jodorowsky’s ambitions for the film were hugely ambitious and fanciful, and his list of intended collaborators – some of whom came on board, and some of whom were less than fascinated – makes for some entertaining portraits of some major ‘70s artists across all fields. The director created a massive book containing painted storyboards of the entire film, along with detailed design and other notes, and our many glimpses into this are vibrant and exhilarating, a true examination of an eccentric creative imagination at full bloom.

Jodorowsky-DuneOf course, if Jodorowsky was boring, the film would be a dud, but he’s anything but, and the film is as much a portrait of him as it is his doomed project. It could have as easily been called Jodorowsky. He’s worthy of this film, all on his own, but his Dune is certainly a worthy recipient as well. We’ll never see it, but we have this.