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'Dune: Part Two': The Downsides of a Star-Studded Cast

Maybe it’s just personal taste, but a famous actor more often than not takes away some of the magic and immersive potential of watching a film, especially one based on a novel, like the new Dune: Part Two. One begins to feel like they’re watching an actor play a role, and it severs the tether connecting our reality to the infatuating, manufactured reality of a film.

 

Dune: Part Two, directed by Denis Villeneuve and adapted from Frank Herbert's six-part book series, follows the messiah character of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) as he unites with Chani (Zendaya) and the Fremen, seeking to avenge his destroyed family. As he faces a choice between Chani, the love of his life, and the fate of the universe, he must prevent a terrible future only his visions have allowed him to foresee.

 

The movie emerges as an awe-inspiring behemoth, with vast sandscapes stretching endlessly and a palpable sense of impending doom that the characters must confront. The heaviness of the world and its complex dynamics is exactly where the problem lies with the all-star cast. Before it was a movie, it was a very much alive book and thus, the film is neither sustained nor enhanced by the presence of these stars.

 

 Though Austin Butler got rid of the accent, his cameos still felt like I was watching Elvis. Equally, I thought Timothée was missing a peach in hand and Florence Pugh’s brief appearance made the whole thing feel like a Little Women reunion. The star-studded cast also included Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, Léa Seydoux, Christopher Walken, Stellan Skarsgård, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, and Anya Taylor-Joy, just to name a few. Don’t get me wrong, they all gave stellar performances — Zendaya and Timothée’s characters had undeniable chemistry and Butler’s performance was menacing — but their famous faces served as a constant reminder for the viewer: it's just a movie.


Consider the plight of a typecast actor — a talent pigeonholed into roles that define their image, making it near impossible for audiences to envision them differently. Directors, wary of disrupting the cinematic reality, hesitate to deviate from this established persona. Think of Hugh Grant, synonymous with the British heartthrob archetype in iconic films like Love Actually or Notting Hill. Only many later years did he escape this typecast, that is, as an Oompa Loompa. Imagine a young Grant cast in the gritty world of Fight Club. It simply wouldn't work, destroying the film's immersive potential. Similarly, I found Timothée Chalamet’s presence in Dune: Part Two to overshadow the narrative essence. Although not a conventional typecast actor, his multifaceted roles showcasing versatility, his presence in Dune: Part Two, like his fellow famous cast members, takes away from the original essence of the story. Dune: Part Two, having been based on a novel, was a fully imagined and developed fantasy world whose characters felt complex and real. When transferred to screen the characters were, in a sense, translated, a very delicate task which in this case felt botched. Dune: Part Two would have greatly benefitted from less-famous actors, equally talented and capable of pursuing the role but a blank canvas for the original characters. Such figures would have felt more authentic, and the line connecting the audience to the film wouldn’t have been severed by the intermediary thought of: oh, I liked him more as Wonka.

 

Overall, the movie is beautiful, a leviathan. There is no doubt about the movie's artistic credibility; thanks to its drama and cinematography, it can only be described as a spectacle. It is bigger and better (and more illustrious in cast) than Dune: Part One, but at the end of the day, it's hollow. The famous cast takes away from the enigmatic allure at the core of the original story. I understand that someone has to fill the Hollywood coffers, and what better way to do it than hiring an all-star cast? But frankly, I wasn’t emotionally moved, probably because I was too busy being distracted by the slew of famous faces like pop-up ads.


Illustration by Holly Ward

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