Two films with strong world-building elements. One is the much anticipated 2021 adaptation of the Frank Herbert SciFi masterpiece; while the second is a ‘filmed during COVID’ anthology.
Dune (HBO Max) – Here, finally, is the long-awaited Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. It differentiates itself from David Lynch’s Dune in that it takes just a portion of the book, and world-builds within those pages, without overreaching in terms of scope or narrative content. If you recall Lynch’s film treatment, he tried to compress all the stories within one film, a foolhardy motion to begin with. Now available for viewing on HBO Max, the million dollar question for fans is whether to stream it, or wait til November 10th, when it’s among the films that will mark the reopening of our physical cinemas. I’ve watched it from the comfort of home, and while I don’t regret having watched it so I can submit this review, I’ll confess that it would have been great if I’d seen it first on the big screen.
At heart, a story of love and connection between two individuals from different worlds, and an exploration of politics, war, domination, trade, and oppression, there’s so much to take from the film and how it explores what for all intents and purpose, is merely a snippet of the Dune saga. The cast members are well-chosen, and Villeneuve takes the pain to let each have their own interesting back-story and tangled web of motives. The music and sound score help accentuate the spectacle that accompanies this film and its grand vision. And to his credit, in all this world-building and visual extravaganza, Villeneuve knows how to focus every so often on the intimate and personal. This more than anything, has always been Villeneuve’s gift and it holds him in good stead given the scope of this film.
Year of the Everlasting Storm (Video on Demand) – Shot by seven different directors in seven different parts of the world, this anthology was specifically conceptualized and shot during the COVID pandemic. The intent was to show that cinematic and artistic creativity could still thrive under pandemic conditions, and to act as a taking stock of what the whole world has undergone. It’s about making the personal and local, feel general and universal – that no matter where in the world we may be, there are things we are sharing with everyone – heightened by this health crisis that spares no-one. The question would be whether it succeeds on those terms, and of course, as it always is in the anthology format, whether the individual efforts justify the sum of its parts.
The film debuted in Cannes earlier this year, and it was fairly well-received. What becomes apparent though upon viewing is the unevenness of the film’s parts, with some directors just being more successful in catching and keeping out interest, and in making that particular feel universal. If you asked me, I’d say the first two parts are the most successful – the one directed by Jafar Panahi of Iran which explores the family’s life in the early days of the quarantine and with a giant iguana as their household pet, and the second part which hails from China’s Anthony Chen and chronicles, warts and all, the life of a young couple and their child while in lockdown. The most well-known Director in the bunch, David Lowery comes with a ‘mystery’, and there are episodes from Chile, Thailand, and the USA.