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405. Breakthrough (VII)

Villeneuve’s Dune is technically perfect and as far as appearances go superior to Lynch’s Dune—as you might expect, given that computers can pretty much do anything the director wants these days. This carries its own dangers, since it is very easy for directors to make a film that is effectively an unplayable computer game, with no attention to plot or how the computer-generated effects relate to the plot or even how the actors relate to the effects in space. Villeneuve has avoided all these pitfalls; and the general look to the film is distinctly French, with a definite inspiration from the French comic book writer and illustrator “Moebius”. As an aside, I was pleased to see that Villeneuve features spaceships that appear from underwater—very in keeping with recent revelations as regards UFOs and their tendency to sink to the depths.

So as a world, Villeneuve’s Dune beats Lynch’s Dune; it is pretty much as if a Moebius comic has come alive—indeed, Moebius had been commissioned to imagine Dune for an abandoned film, so the material was to hand. However, I found Villeneuve’s Dune to be technically perfect but soulless—it is a cold Dune; even the desert planet Arrakis, where you die in the open in two hours without a special suit, seems like a cold place.

Lynch’s Dune is soulful because he has a special relationship to sound; every Lynch film features strange aural distortions, often subtly. In the Dune series, combat by sound is integral to the plot—people fight with sounds, female witches manipulate people with sounds; and the hero, Paul Atreides, comes to understand in the end that “his name is a killing word”. Although Villeneuve features some strange gargling at various points—notably when he introduces the emperor’s elite shock troops—I feel he has failed to really get sound in Dune as Lynch did; and this is why Lynch was the right man to direct Dune. Lynch’s Dune feels deep and mystical—like black velvet—but Villeneuve’s Dune feels cold and superficial; as with many contemporary films it is like an iPhone, slick and mirror-like but ultimately a shallow playpen that offers a few safe apps to play with. Villeneuve is not helped by the fact that the acting is quite bad in many places, with lines delivered lazily or with almost no intonation—almost as if a text-to-speech program has read them.

Villeneuve’s Dune largely avoids progressive pieties; for example, there are evil characters who are black. Yet the initiatory imperial ecologist, Liet-Kynes, is played by a black woman; this is a typical progressive trope: the wise black woman whose overlooked ecological sensibility—indigenous way of knowing—helps white people (Paul Atreides in this case) to understand their souls. It represents one of the approved archetypes for black women under the current regime; and the archetype’s appearance here shows the hand of progressive propaganda.

Still, for a contemporary film, the ideology is not too heavy—perhaps Villeneuve picked and chose his battles with the agit-prop department very carefully. There is a vague suggestion in the film’s early shots that the indigenous Freman are black natives in revolt against white imperialism (the aristocratic families who mine their planet for spice); but Villeneuve leaves it as a visual suggestion and eventually features white Fremen, so he avoid a full swerve into Avatar-style propaganda.

Dune is an important cultural product and partly served as an inspiration for Star Wars. There is an esoteric conflict in Hollywood over who owns it; during the 2010s there was much lamentation that the Jewish-Chilean director Jodorowsky failed to stick his fingers in it in the 1970s—Jodorowsky’s films are filled with unsavoury esoteric ideas, essentially Satanic; and the Lynch version is panned, in my view, because it is spiritually healthy. Unlike Jodorowsky or Lynch, I feel Villeneuve has missed the esoteric and mystical angles and delivered a materialist Dune for an age that is spiritually—as with his colour palette in Dune—desaturated.

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