By Lynn Venhaus
As far as big-budget cosmic spectacles go, “Dune” is impressive at filling the screen with wonder.

Directed by visionary Denis Villeneuve, who frames everything with meticulous care, as he did with “Arrival,” his only Oscar nomination, and “Blade Runner 2049” – the film is a technical marvel, with visually stunning panoramas and innovative flying machines.

A mythic hero’s journey, “Dune” is the big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 bestseller about a feudal interstellar society in a galaxy far, far away, which is set in a distant future.

It’s the story of Paul Atreides, a gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding. As part of the noble house of Atreides, he must travel to Arrakis, the most dangerous planet in the universe for the future of his family and people.

The desert wasteland planet has an exclusive supply of “mélange,” aka “the spice,” a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. As it is the most precious resource in existence, malevolent forces are at work to prevent this, and only those who can conquer their fear will survive.

Yet are these characters engaging enough? How much do we care about what happens to these political dynasties? They prefer to whisper in cavernous spaces, and while mesmerizing Zendaya’s narration helps, the project’s mythology on such an epic scale tends to weigh it down with “importance.”

Our hero’s journey is a very long one and we spend 2 hours and 35 minutes leading up to a next chapter. This is only Part One. We are warned at the end, when one character says to Paul: “You’re just getting started.” The payoff isn’t quite there – so when is Part Two?

We have just invested time on an extended prologue. Oh dear. Will only fans of the book be able to appreciate this saga? And isn’t that the true test? As is always the case, those not familiar with the source material will be at a disadvantage trying to keep up with the warring factions.

Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac and Stephen McKinley Henderson

Considered the best-selling science fiction novel of all-time, “Dune” is gigantic in scope, and the 1965 cult classic touches on themes involving politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, threading them all together in space.

The empire’s other planets want control of Arrakis for its spice, which is also necessary for space navigation because of its multidimensional awareness and foresight.

“Dune” is only the first in a series, followed by Herbert’s five sequels: Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune. After his death, others have kept the franchise going.

Its devoted fan base inspired filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky to attempt a film adaptation in the 1970s but it was cancelled after three years in development. Along came David Lynch’s complex adaptation in 1984, which was a harshly received misguided mess, and there was a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries in 2000.

While light years ahead of the 37-year-old film, “Dune” does seem to have the same problem about adapting something so unwieldy – that the character development suffers.

It’s difficult to figure out the planetary relationships and who’s who among the different groups, even with a strong cast that attempts to make everything as lucid as possible.

This one does attempt to over-correct in a tedious way, with a screenplay by director Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts (“Doctor Strange,” “Prometheus”) and Eric Roth, Oscar winner for “Forrest Gump,” that still is lacking in explanations.

Paul is played with youthful elan by Timothee Chalamet, who seems to be working non-stop. His character, burdened by birthright, is actually the least interesting of the massive ensemble – but the camera loves him, and he looks good standing in many shots of wind and blowing sands, contemplating.

Chalamet has genuine interactions with his father, an authoritative but loving Duke Leto Atreides, well-played by the always captivating Oscar Isaac. With warm fatherly advice, Isaac tells him: “A great man doesn’t seek to lead; he’s called to it.”

It’s not his fault that Paul is a blank slate. He is being groomed to take over, and while at times reluctant and confused, he ultimately accepts his duties. His mother, all-serious Lady Jessica, is a tough taskmaster, and subtly played by Rebecca Ferguson, they have a protective relationship.

Far more compelling is Jason Momoa as the fierce warrior Duncan Idaho. He brings some oomph to the fighter’s bravado and his fists of fury are legitimate. Momoa and Chalamet warmly convey a loyal long standing friendship.

Not given much to do is Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, the duke’s right-hand man, and Dave Bautista as antagonist Beast Rabben Harkonnen – along with Momoa, they are the recognizable fighters.

A barely there Javier Bardem is Stilgar, a leader of a desert tribe. An unrecognizable Stellen Skarsgard appears, Jabba the Hut-like, as the disgusting despot Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Harkonnens are the evil not-to-be-trusted bad guys.

The first hour is full of awe. But why do movies about the future tend to mix medieval and “Star Wars” knock offs in production design and costumes, similar to the “Game of Thrones”? The color palette is deary shades of gray, beige and black.

While that gets wearisome, the cinematography of Greig Fraser is dazzling. An Emmy winner for “The Mandalorian” and Oscar nominee for “Lion,” he expresses the grandeur of the planets’ landscapes as well as the more intimate moments in various degrees of light.

He worked on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and the upcoming “The Batman,” so tackling sandworms and spaceships is natural for him. His majestic work is one of the pleasures of seeing this in IMAX.

Hans Zimmer’s score is a stirring mix projecting danger and derring-do in dissonant chords, setting an urgent tone for action.

Dune (2021).TIMOTHEE CHALAMET.Credit: Chia Bella James/Warner Bros.

Despite its storytelling flaws, “Dune” is such a monumental example of state-of-the-art filmmaking that its cinematic universe deserves to be seen on the big screen.

“Dune” is a 2021 science-fiction action adventure directed by Denis Villeneuve. It stars Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson
, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgard, and Javier Bardem. Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material, its run time is 2 hours, 35 minutes. It opened in theaters Oct. 22 and is streaming on HBO Max for 31 days. Lynn’s Grade: B.

By Alex McPherson

Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” is a hugely enjoyable jaunt into undead splatterville.

After a military convoy transporting cargo from Area 51 collides with a distracted driver, a bloodthirsty brain-muncher is unleashed upon the population of Las Vegas. All hell breaks loose — visualized in an over-the-top montage involving strippers, Elvis impersonators and others being overpowered in slow motion while “Viva Las Vegas” plays on the soundtrack. Oh, there’s also a zombie tiger and two smarter “alpha” zombies leading a, well, army of the dead. 

The U.S. military tries to rescue as many survivors as possible, assisted by mercenaries Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a lover of buzzsaws and existential ponderings. They eventually contain the zombies within the city’s borders. The government establishes a ramshackle refugee camp immediately outside, and the President announces a plan to deploy a tactical nuke to eliminate the infected once and for all. 

Scott, reeling from a decision that fractured his relationship with his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), is relegated to flipping burgers at a bar outside Vegas, despite having received the Medal of Freedom for saving the Secretary of Defense. Soon enough, a sketchy businessman named Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) offers Scott an assignment to venture back inside Vegas to retrieve the contents of his casino’s safe, with the potential to get rich. Scott then recruits Maria, Vanderohe, a socially awkward safecracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), a viral zombie-killing sensation named Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), and a sardonic helicopter pilot named Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro, digitally replacing Chris D’Elia).

They are joined by Guzman’s pal, Chambers (Samantha Win), Bly’s crony, Martin (Garret Dillahunt), and “The Coyote,” (Nora Arnezeder), a badass individual who knows how to navigate the zombified horde. To complicate matters, Kate insists on rescuing her friend Geeta (Huma Qureshi), who entered Vegas to find funds to buy her escape from the refugee camp. Last and certainly least, an abusive security guard named Burt Cummings (Theo Rossi) tags along. Over-the-top fun ensues as the group attempts to grab the cash before they’re disemboweled or blown to smithereens.

Tig Notaro

Loud, unrestrained, and packed with cliches, “Army of the Dead” is perfectly satisfying as a summer action film, albeit one that shouldn’t be analyzed too closely. Indeed, for the most part, Snyder’s film embraces its goofiness — going all in on the gore and bombastic set pieces that any reasonable viewer should expect, while delivering the occasionally effective character moment and feeling about an hour too long.

Sure, “Army of the Dead” might not be doing anything particularly “new” for the genre, but the few additions Snyder adds are welcome, especially the aforementioned zombie hierarchy and intimidating feline. There’s little to criticize in the outrageously gory action sequences with on-the-nose musical accompaniments. During these moments, Snyder’s indulgent style absolutely shines, creating a symphony of carnage that’s glorious to behold.

The quieter scenes are less successful, but there’s still a few surprises to be found. “Army of the Dead” takes a while to get going, mostly due to the excess of characters of varying quality. Besides Scott, they’re each given barebones backstories that render them more as cartoonish caricatures than real people, and maybe that’s acceptable in this instance. I certainly wouldn’t want the film to be any longer — it’s two-and-a-half hours, for god’s sake — but having fewer characters could have strengthened the film’s pacing and given us more time to grow attached before they’re fighting for their lives. 

The film’s screenplay does elevate their charm, though, especially regarding the unlikely bond between Vanderohe and Dieter. Hardwick and Schweighöfer have excellent comedic chemistry, creating several amusing moments.  There’s plenty of cringeworthy lines scattered throughout, but the script has enough personality for me to care about (most) of the characters by the intense finale, overlooking some abrupt tonal shifts.

Only Scott is given much depth, but Bautista’s performance carries the film’s heart, lending the proceedings a human edge amid the bloodshed. Although I wish he was given more screen time and his storyline took more risks, there’s enough thematic meat to chew on. Bautista proves that he can deliver emotional lines with skill, as well as demolish ghoulish baddies with gusto.

All things considered, “Army of the Dead” is a messy, but nevertheless thrilling blockbuster. My criticisms don’t detract much from how entertained I was, and as a balm for our depressing times, it’s a meal worth feasting on.

“Army of the Dead” is a 2021 horror-action movie directed by Zack Snyder and starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, . Rated R for strong bloody violence, gore and language throughout, some sexual content and brief nudity/graphic nudity, the film’s run time is 2 hours and 28 minutes. The movie is currently available in theaters and streaming on Netflix. Alex’s Rating: B