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Dan Webster reviews "Dune: Part Two"

Film still of Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune: Part Two (2024).
Dune: Part Two, Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures, 2024.
Film still of Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune: Part Two (2024).


It’s an age-old problem: how do you turn a long and complex novel into a feature-length movie—even, as in the case of Denis Villeneuve’s two Dune films, the result is a total of nearly five and a half hours of screen time.

The solution that many filmmakers have resorted to in recent years has been to work in television. On the small screen, instead of cramming an exorbitant amount of material into 110 or so minutes—which is more or less an industry average—they can opt for four, six or even eight hour-long episodes and either release them all at once or stagger them over a matter of weeks.

Villeneuve, though, decided not to go that route. His plan, it seems, was to follow the path that George Lucas trod so many decades ago—47 years to be exact—with his Star Wars franchise.

Working from screenplays crafted by him, John Spaihts and Eric Roth, he’s adapted all 700-plus pages of Frank Herbert’s first novel—published in book form in 1965—into two stand-alone films. A third one, based on events laid out in the several sequels that Herbert had outlined before his death in 1986, is now in pre-production.

Even given Villeneuve’s track record—his previous three critically acclaimed features being Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049—the question remains: how practical is it for him to tackle Herbert’s massive blend of religious fervor, political chicanery, ecological posturing and cultural myth-making in a serial-like format, in a series of films released years apart?

The answer may come fairly quickly if you’ve never read the novel, or worse haven’t seen Villeneuve’s first Dune—which was released in 2021. Villeneuve is trying to make a serious film here, one that considers Herbert’s novel to be closer to, say, Hamlet or Macbeth than the pop entertainment of Star Wars. And so Dune: Part Two begins where Part One left off—with no summation of what’s happened previously—which means some viewers are likely to feel lost when the film begins. So here’s what you need to know.

Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (played by Rebecca Ferguson) are hiding out with the rebel people known as Fremen in a remote part of the desert planet Arrakis. They’re all being hunted by forces of the despotic House of Harkonnen, the group led by the evil Baron Harkonnen (played by Stellan Skarsgärd) and his nephew “Beast” Rabban (played by Dave Bautista), the two responsible for murdering Paul’s father.

Paul is facing a dilemma: He wants to help the Fremen fight the Harkonnens, but he resists the notion put forth by the Fremen leader Stilgar (played by Javier Bardem) that he is the chosen one prophesied to lead the Fremen in a holy jihad across the galaxy.

Paul resists the notion even as the planet’s spice works on him—the spice being Arrakis’ treasure and author Herbert’s McGuffin, around which everything revolves. Both it and the powers inherited from his mother—who is part of the mystical Bene Gesserit sisterhood—give Paul certain abilities and frightening visions of the future.

Meanwhile, Lady Jessica has her own mission, which involves drinking the toxic, ironically named Water of Life that will convert her into a Reverend Mother—despite not knowing, shades of things to come, what effect it will have on her unborn daughter.

All of this—along with the riding of giant sandworms, Paul’s hooking up with the Fremen Chani (played by Zendaya), a knife duel between Paul and the Harkonnen assassin Feyd-Rautha (played by Austen Butler) and the growing spirit of religious fervor that threatens to overwhelm Paul and all his good intentions—leads to a showdown with the Emperor (played by Christopher Walken) and his daughter, Princess Irulan (played by Florence Pugh).

It also leads to an ending that, despite Villeneuve’s obvious attention to visual detail, announces that—like any classic Saturday-afternoon serial—we’ll all have to tune in sometime in the distant future to find out what happens next. Which is more than a bit disappointing. Such a plan worked well enough for a comic-book saga like Star Wars, but it’s far less satisfying for a film that’s trying to combine sci-fi and Shakespeare.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster is a senior film critic for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for