Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sensational “Dune Two” Gets a Starry NY Opening Night Including Sting, Austin Butler, Patti Smith, Steve Buscemi, Josh Brolin, Christopher Walken


Denis Villleneuve’s “Dune Two” got quite the star studded opening night in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center

The two main stars, Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya, were said to have taken ill and only worked the red carpet. They skipped the glam party that followed, and so did Florence Pugh.

But Villeneuve was there, introduced on stage by Stephen Colbert. And much of the rest of the cast was present including Austin Butler, Josh Brolin. Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, and Stellan Skarsgaard. The latter two play the movie’s heavies and they are terrific. Composer Hans Zimmer made the scene, too, and blushed when I told him more Oscars were coming his way next year. The score is so gorgeous and encompassing that it’s a character in the film.

Among A listers who came to see what the “Dune” fuss is all about were Debra Winger and husband Arliss Howard, Steve Buscemi, legendary rockers Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, Christian Slater, and Keegan Michael Key with producer wife Elle. Buscemi told me he’s turning up soon in an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” but no one’s told him when. So he’s just watching the series and waiting.

Of course the main guest of interest was Sting, who came with his beautiful and successful actress daughter, Mickey Sumner. You may recall that Sting played the role of Feyd-Rutha in the David Lynch 1984 original “Dune.” Naturally he wanted to meet Austin Butler, who plays Feyd now. This was arranged at the swanky after party at the Museum of Natural History. Butler, who’s soft spoken and self-effacing, was taken aback when Sting said to him, “I loved you in Elvis!”

Butler and I talked about his speaking voice, which sounded nothing like Elvis Presley in “Dune Two,” nor does it carry over into his real life. He said, laughing, “People are obsessed with it, I don’t know why!”

Josh Brolin, who plays Gurney Halleck, told me all about shooting “Dune Two” in real desert sand. “It was like a hundred and fifteen degrees out there,” he said. Which was harder playing Gurney in this movie or Thanos in the Avengers movies? “This one,” he said. “Thanos was a lot of green screen. This was real.

It sure is real, and it looks it. Villeneuve has bested himself from his first “Dune,” which was released in October 2021. This second chapter was set for release last fall, but Warner Bros. wisely held back because of their other big entries like “Barbie” and “The Color Purple.” They were smart since “Dune Two” is a natural Best Picture nominee in the coming season in all categories. It’s the rare sci fi movie that is also a piece of art, with well drawn characters and a definitive screenplay. You could actually watch it before seeing “Dune One” with very little explanation.

For Brolin, the film is a reunion for him and pal Javier Bardem from when they appeared in another Best Picture, “No Country for Old Men.” The film also offers meaty roles to Walken, Skardgaard, Rebecca Ferguson, and Charlotte Rampling.

But the kids will be focused on newly minted movie stars, Chalamet and Zendaya. The latter didn’t show up in “Dune One” until the very end, which we all lamented. As “Two” picks up from the first movie, Zendaya’s Chani is right there to help Chalamet’s Paul on his quest to avenge his family and fight for control of sandy desert planet Arrakis.

Just to explain: Arrakis was the original and for a long time sole source of the Spice Melange, which was vital for space travel. (In every story like this there’s something Spice, or Kryptonite, for example, that good guys must protect from the baddies.)

Anyway: Paul’s father was killed in Chapter 1, now he must lead the heroes against House Harkonnen to gain control of the Spice. There’s a lot of full out warfare between the two sides, mostly in the desert, in a lot of sand, endless Lawrence of Arabia sand that involves futuristic flying machines, lots of colorful explosions, and gigantic, menacing sand worms.

All of this would be silly — Lynch’s movie kind of was — if nor for Villeneuve and his Scar winning cinematographer Greig Fraser taking this whole project very seriously. No expense been spared to present Arrakis as anything less than Titian paintings. Every bit of the production is stunning. If the desert in “Ishtar” looked so good, no one would have noticed the rest.

But the rest, here, is the physical production, and the comportment of a cast that is acting at a high level. Chani and Paul become quick lovers, and announce their loyalty to one another. You know that’s going to become a problem as Paul takes on more and more responsibility. Chalamet is dazzling in a different way than in “Wonka,” his current movie hit. Once “Dune Two” hits he will really be a Movie Star at age 28. His range now is considerably extended, and “Dune Two” offers him a lot of colors to play including rage and romantic hero.

Again, all of this happens thanks to a production design team that has worked magic. “Dune Two” is the best looking sci-fi adventure in eons. Viileneuve and Fraser were obviously confident because they had such extraordinary palette of ideas to play with.

So get ready: “Dune Two” is going to be a real blockbuster that will resonate far and beyond its release next week. And yes, there will be a Part Three to wrap this all up.

Photo courtesy of Wilson Morales c2024

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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