Review: Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two on Warner Home Video 4K UHD Blu-ray

Warner’s 4K magnificently showcases the film’s visual and aural splendor.

Dune Part TwoGiven the weight and scope of Frank Herbert’s Dune, Denis Villeneuve’s decision to split his adaptation of the novel into multiple parts not only makes sense, but it allows for a clean division at the moment the story tips over from a narrative rooted in court intrigue and hostile power plays redolent of Old World Europe into one steeped in a lysergic blend of ecological fable and Islamic mysticism.

The first film ended with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) escaping from a coup that left his ducal father dead and House Atreides’s hopes for control of the planet Arrakis shattered by their noble rivals, the Harkonnens. Left in Arrakis’s vast desert with his mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), Paul falls in with the indigenous Fremen people, who view him as their possible messiah in a fight to regain control of their colonized planet and its invaluable spice resource.

While the first film is full of intercut images displaying Paul’s bourgeoning psychic powers, Dune: Part Two becomes increasingly detached from material reality as Paul’s visions grow in intensity. Akin to the structure of Villeneuve’s Arrival, the film regularly shows glimpses from later in the story that slowly come into narrative focus as Paul catches up with his premonitions.

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The second film largely remains true to the aesthetic of the first, with the muted color palette regarding the vast dimensions of palatial homes and the Fremen’s underground network with an almost clinical detachment. This is a surprising route to take for material that many adore for its psychedelic dream logic, but there’s a sharpness and purpose to Villeneuve’s approach. The director doesn’t play up the oddity of Herbert’s setting but its history, conveying the many thousands of years of human life between our own time and the novel’s in order to lend the various political systems at war with each other more significance and legitimacy.

That’s not to say that Dune: Part Two dispenses with imaginative designs. The costumes are memorable for their mix of styles and how they draw on the ancient past, as in the Fremen’s desert shawls and the burqa coverings of the Bene Gesserit witches. Elsewhere, the dragonfly-shaped ornithopters and skittering spice-mining vehicles almost suggest they’ve evolved into being, recalling the massive millipede-like creatures from Miyazaki Hayao’s Nausica of the Valley of the Wind. The film also conveys the vastness of the novel’s setting through precision craftsmanship on a gargantuan scale, as in the way locations and vehicles dwarf the characters.

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This factors into the film’s action, which depicts the outnumbered and technologically inferior Fremen’s effective asymmetrical warfare through ingenious framings. The Fremen take advantage of the land they intimately know to ambush Harkonnen troops, and they often trigger explosions of sand that blind their foes to further even the odds. Despite such visual obfuscations, battle scenes never lose track of the Fremen’s methodical, brutal attack patterns. Frequently, the camera pulls out to show a vehicle or building being destroyed by rocket fire that backlights the battlefield in gouts of flame at the horizon point of the frame.

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Neither David Lynch’s Dune nor SyFy’s miniseries came close to capturing the awe-inspiring terror of Arrakis’s colossal sandworms, which here burst from the ground in volcanic eruptions of sand and so radically disrupt the landscape that watching them roll along the surface is like seeing billions of years of tectonic shift compressed into seconds. In a time when so many blockbusters mistake grandiosity for scale but limit their own spectacle with flat, open-matte compositions crafted in post-production, Villeneuve’s Dune films offer an object lesson in the visual splendor made possible by meticulously storyboarded minimalist maximalism.

Amid this spectacle, the actors never get lost in the shuffle. Paul Atreides isn’t an easy role to play (it defeated a young Kyle MacLachlan back in 1984), operating simultaneously as a vulnerable young man thrust prematurely into great responsibility, a confident warrior king, and a horrified Cassandra unable to alter the terrible consequences of his fate. Chalamet never overplays any aspect of Paul’s motivations: He so subtly weaves together the character’s terror of becoming a religious figure and willingness to play on the Fremens’ increasing belief in him for his own gain that it’s impossible to tell where the young man stops fighting his destiny and where he starts warping his erstwhile respect for the Fremen into a new form of subjugation.

Ferguson matches Chalamet’s conviction, fully leaning into Jessica’s most manipulative qualities, especially in the way her interactions with the Fremen work to massage their faith into zealotry. Equally impressive, Austin Butler cuts a terrifying profile as Harkonnen heir Feyd-Rautha. Lips ink-stained like a feudal Japanese courtesan, he grins as if through a mouth full of blood, his head bobbing and darting quizzically, suggesting a bird of prey sizing up a meal. Butler gives Feyd a nakedly feral quality that contrasts with the more calculating evil of his uncle, Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgrd, doubling down on his oozing contempt from the prior film).

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Zendaya has the least flashy main role as Paul’s Fremen love interest, Chani, but the character comes across far more studious and aware of her paramour’s mounting bloodlust than she does in the book. Indeed, Zendaya gives the material a moral core that it otherwise lacks, most evident in Chani’s ambivalent reaction to her people’s corrupted quest for independence.

Throughout Dune: Part Two, the actors channel the strangeness of the novel that’s otherwise muted by Villeneuve’s aesthetic approach. But if his adaptation looks relatively sedate compared to the oddities of Lynch’s version or the putative concept art of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s treatment for his unmade adaptation, Villeneuve merely weaves the novel’s unnerving, untameable intensity the surface of his film like a sandworm. All of the contradictions of the material are still there, but they now exist in a harmony that not even Herbert achieved.

Image/Sound

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s 4K perfectly reflects Dune: Part Two’s theatrical presentation. The orange haze of Arrakis’s atmosphere pops in nearly every frame, and detail is so fine that you can see the fine sand coating the characters’ outfits. Black levels are deep and solid throughout, especially in the high-contrast, infrared monochrome of the scene set on the Harkonnen home planet. The accompanying Dolby Atmos soundtrack is reference-quality, overwhelming in action scenes or when Hans Zimmer’s roaring score fills every available channel, but by the same token, dialogue and subtle ambient sound effects are consistently audible and well-distributed, bringing incredible nuance to the enveloping soundscape.

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Extras

This release of Dune: Part Two comes with a string of frustratingly brief featurettes detailing various aspects of the production, from the art direction to the intense dialogue coaching for the alien languages. These are interesting topics, but they provide only the barest overview of what was clearly a labor-intensive process to craft such an impressively looking and sounding film.

Overall

Denis Villeneuve’s outstanding follow-up to his ambitious first installment of Frank Herbert’s Dune receives a 4K that magnificently showcases its visual and aural splendor.

Score: 
 Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux, Stellan Skarsgrd, Charlotte Rampling, Souheila Yacoub, Roger Yuan  Director: Denis Villeneuve  Screenwriter: Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts  Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment  Running Time: 166 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2024  Release Date: May 14, 2024  Buy: Video

Jake Cole

Jake Cole is an Atlanta-based film critic whose work has appeared in MTV News and Little White Lies. He is a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle and the Online Film Critics Society.

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