By Jill Brooke
As the highly anticipated Oscar-caliber films begin to appear in the movie theaters, we’ve been treated to a few big-budget sci-fi fantasies, too. Two of them drop audiences into unfamiliar worlds: Arrakis, the sand planet, and a future Earth populated by warring creatures. How comfortable you feel in these cinematic spaces will have a lot to do with your knowledge of and engagement with the source material.
“Dune” was much anticipated, and long delayed. The director, Denis Villeneuve (”Bladerunner 2049” and “Arrival”), is known for the quality of his films and attention to detail. He’s a proven architect of other worlds. Frank Herbert’s science-fiction series has been widely read since its release in 1965, and there have been other attempts at filming this opus. The cast is phenomenal starring the young heartthrob Timothée Chalamet and a wonderful lineup of talent, including Charlotte Rampling, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Oscar Issacs and Javier Bardem.
Villeneuve does everything right to lead you into this future world of warring houses. He contrasts the home world of the young Duke, with lush rolling hills and crashing sea (Ireland or Scotland come to mind), with the seemingly sterile hot desert world that we view through Paul’s eyes. The loving relationships of the royal family are established quickly, and the loyal staff of the House of Atreides is played by actors with a built-in audience appeal. We know that this new world is dangerous because Josh Brolin, playing Gurney Halleck, is deadly serious in his fight training with Paul. Jason Momoa brings such a joy and verve to his Duncan Idaho that he’s missed when not on screen.
There’s little time to enjoy Paul’s home life as political intrigue dictate a nerve-wracking test of his Bene Gesserit training and the upheaval of the court being uprooted to another world. Villeneuve uses the cinematography (Greig Fraser) and soundtrack (Hans Zimmer) to create an intimacy with the viewer but also showcase the vastness of these worlds. There’s juxtaposition between the thousands of assembled soldiers and the whispers of intrigue between our villains; from grand scale to intimate, both are wonderfully orchestrated.
It adds to your enjoyment of “Dune” if you have an understanding of the history of these characters, a background on their relationships and the politics of the Dune world. There’s so much that had to be jettisoned for even this two-hour, thirty-five-minute runtime. Characters are introduced only to be slaughtered in the next scene. There may be a few too many scenes of languid looks from the love interest Chani (Zendaya) but it helps to remember that Paul is supposed to be a 15-year-old boy, so, of course, he’s dreaming of a beautiful girl.
“Dune” is a fully realized world (or worlds) and there will be many clamoring for the sequel.
Drinks With Film rating: 4 1/2 cups of water, that precious substance of Arrakis, and no spit.
“Eternals” directed by Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland” and “The Rider”) travels through the imagined past and future of Earth. Zhao’s movies are akin to documentaries. She often works with non-actors and films on the location where the narrative took place. “Eternals” has little to do with reality. In this Marvel fantasy, humans have long been protected by God-like creatures from another world. These Eternals never die but are played by actors of various ages and races, each given a different power to wield. For some reason they’re names are variations of Greek God names with awkward spellings. The talented cast has great chemistry, and the relationships were clearly established over time. Zhao brings an intimacy to their attempts to live a “normal life” and there’s much levity from Kumail Nanjiani’s character as a Bollywood star.
Sadly, every time the movie flies a character off to visit the ruler of the Eternals, the narrative fizzles. There’s so much explaining that ensues to let the audience know the background, and later, the shocking reason for their existence on Earth. Each of the characters live in different parts of the world, but none of their lives are given much depth. The only setting that feels “real” is London. It’s hard to care for any of these people when they keep jetting off to fight creatures or each other.
However, if you’re a Marvel fan and a comic book lover, perhaps the story will resonate with you. Certainly, the costumes and CGI golden fighting implements are clever. The cast is multi-racial with older women playing superheroes and both a deaf actor and a gay couple. It may have been very PG, but there’s a sex scene. So many reasons to want to like Zhao’s film.
This present day Earth, a cinema world post-Thanos populated by humans familiar with The Avengers rings, false. In this world, turning a bus into rose petals barely unnerves the bus driver. The news covers the latest battles, and a spaceship appearing like a floating black LEGO base doesn’t create a fervor. The Eternals home world feels like a painted backdrop and even the battlegrounds on Earth take place in plaster villages — built so they can be splintered and torn asunder in battle.
Suspension of disbelief was hard to hold unto for “Eternals” even with characters that felt fully realized. And who needs not one, but two, post-credit sequences? This film is clearly aiming for a sequel, but will audiences flock after being disappointed in the first film?
Drinks With Films rating: 2 mugs of mead, made with spit.