Dune: Part One

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $107.35 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material.
Stars Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem.

Efforts to adapt Frank Herbert’s landmark 1965 sci-fi novel Dune have been met with mixed results over the years.

The 1970s saw Alejandro Jodorowsky envision a 10-hour movie version, and when that fell through, producer Dino De Laurentiis grabbed the rights and hired Ridley Scott to give it a go as a follow-up to Alien, though the scope of the project proved too daunting for him as well.

Then David Lynch came on board, choosing to adapt Dune over, among other projects, directing Return of the Jedi. His version finally arrived in 1984 after a troubled production and massive edits to bring his three-hour initial cut to a bit over two hours for the theatrical release, a running time that so crammed Herbert’s story that it was generally panned by critics for being incomprehensible.

The Sci-Fi Channel in the early 2000s had a bit better luck with a pair of miniseries based on Dune and a few of Herbert’s sequels to it, earning ratings success while leaving fans of the books to continue to clamor for a worthy big-screen version.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s interpretation seems to have met those aspirations.

Villeneuve’s Dune presents the narrative as a sweeping epic of galactic politics and feuding families, marked by stunning visual splendor and scope.

Covering roughly half of the first book, Dune: Part One, as it is announced on screen, tells the story of a desert world named Arrakis, thousands of years into the future when humanity has colonized the vast expanses of outer space and formed an empire to control it, led by wealthy and influential families. The planet’s sands provide the only known source of the spice Melange, a substance with mind-altering properties that makes celestial navigation possible.

The Emperor has ordered the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) to take over administration of Arrakis from Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård). Leto’s son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), begins having visions of living among the Fremen, remnants of the tribes that originally inhabited the planet.

The Fremen are experts at surviving the harsh desert environment and dealing with the giant native sandworms that roam beneath the surface, both depositing the spice and menacing the efforts to extract it. Paul is rumored to be a prophesized messiah to the Fremen.

The Atreides will not have an easy time of it on Arrakis, however, as it quickly becomes apparent that their appointment to govern the planet is a trap by the Emperor and the Harkonnens to diminish their power, if not eliminate them altogether by a full-scale assault on the planet.

Villeneuve places the emphasis on the human and character aspects of the story, rather than the more bizarre sci-fi elements that seemed to fuel Lynch’s version.

At around two-and-a-half-hours, he also takes 20 more minutes than Lynch to tell half the story, allowing it to breathe by not trying to cram the density of the first book into a single movie, as the 1984 version did.

To make sure viewers who didn’t read the book are not left completely baffled, long early stretches of the film are very heavy in exposition, explaining who the families are, the Fremen and the culture of Arrakis. But this is all necessary worldbuilding endemic to any good sci-fi franchise and should continue to pay off with future installments.

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Savvy viewers may have noticed the influence the original novel had on countless burgeoning sci-fi franchises in the years it took to get a movie adaptation off the ground, with “Star Wars” and its desert world of Tatooine being the most notable example. Because of this, some fans might find a lot of similarities between this latest Dune movie and some recent “Star Wars” shows set on Tatooine, such as “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.”

The exposition provided in the film is expanded upon in the Blu-ray bonus materials, with an eight minute featurette about the Royal Houses, and 10-and-a-half-minutes of video encyclopedia entries similar to the ones Paul watches in the film in order to learn about Arrakis.

The Blu-ray also includes nearly an hour of behind-the-scenes featurettes as well, with individual videos focused on the usual things like production design, cinematography, costumes and visual effects

Some dig deeper, such as a creating the makeup effects used to create the Baron’s bloated physique. Another looks at the fighting styles used to give the battle scenes a heightened since of verisimilitude. Others show how the visual effects team pulled off the film’s unique vehicles, as well as the giant worm attacks; the longest is an 11-minute examination of the film’s distinctive sound design and Hans Zimmer’s musical score.

Collectively, they demonstrate the precision and craftsmanship that went into constructing the film.

Red Sparrow

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Fox;
Thriller;
Box Office $46.83 million;
$29.99 DVD, 34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.
Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Joely Richardson, Ciarán Hinds, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons.

Based on the same-titled 2013 novel by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow is a complex psychological thriller about the divided loyalties of a young woman caught amid the international intrigue of spycraft in Eastern Europe.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika, whose career as a ballerina is cut short by a leg injury. She is quickly recruited by her uncle, a Russian spy chief, to train as an elite covert operative, lest she be executed for her knowledge of an assassination.

Her mission is to root out a mole in the Russian government by seducing his U.S. contact, Nash (Joel Edgerton). What follows are a series of plot twists and turns as Dominika maneuvers through a complicated game of espionage while her true allegiances remain a mystery.

The film is more or less a slow burn that really benefits from multiple viewings. Director Francis Lawrence even helps out with an audio commentary that dissects the storylines and delves into the motivations of the characters, if they aren’t already apparent from the performances.

The subplot of a secret spy school in the heart of Russia brings to mind the backstory for Marvel’s Black Widow, and in the absence of a long-anticipated solo movie for that character, Red Sparrow plays like a bit like an ersatz stand-in, minus the dozens of obligatory references to other comic book movies.

The Red Sparrow Blu-ray includes 12 minutes of interesting deleted scenes that can be viewed with option commentary from the director.

The disc also comes with more than 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes organized in standard fashion by the various aspects of the production. The 13-minute “A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation” deals with the development of the film from the source material; “Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast” is a 15-minute round-up of the actors; “Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity” covers the look of the film in 13-and-a-half minutes; “Heart of the Tempest: Locations” is an 11-minute piece about the film’s settings; the 12-minute “Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballets and Stunts” focuses on the action sequences, limited as they may be; and the 14-minute “A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production” deals with things like editing and music.

‘Red Sparrow’ Coming Out on Disc May 22

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has set a May 22 release date for Red Sparrow, a suspense-driven spy drama starring Jennifer Lawrence.

The film will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Disc, and DVD.

As of April 15, Red Sparrow has earned $46.5 million in U.S. theaters.

Lawrence portrays Dominika, a former ballerina forced to enter Sparrow School, a secret government program that thrusts her into a treacherous espionage game between Russia and the CIA. She emerges trained as a lethal agent, but is trapped in a world she desperately wants to escape.

The film was directed by Francis Lawrence (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2) and features a supporting cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Matthias Schoenaerts, Mary-Louise Parker, Charlotte Rampling and Joely Richardson. Bonus material takes viewers inside the making of the film, exploring source material with the author, cast and director commentary, deleted scenes and more.

All three disc releases comes with director commentary and deleted scenes (with optional commentary by director Lawrence). The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc also include the following:

  • “A New Cold War: Origination and Adaptation”
  • “Agents Provocateurs: The Ensemble Cast”
  • “Tradecraft: Visual Authenticity”
  • “Heart of the Tempest: On Location”
  • “Welcome to Sparrow School: Ballet and Stunts”
  • “A Puzzle of Need: Post-Production”
  • Movies Anywhere Digital Code