‘Dune’ Is Beautiful—We Need More of That

Dune is a weird movie, full of fantasy jargon and heavy on plot, deliberately paced, punctuated by slow-mo visions that could have dropped right out of a Terrence Malick movie. It requires audiences to take in vast amounts of information about fantasy economies and cultures, keep up with multiple odd characters, and with very little humor and not a single side-eye joke to the camera. 

And yet it is popular. Audiences flocked to it, improving on the box office predictions for its opening weekend, even though the film simultaneously debuted on HBO Max, disincentivizing viewers from heading out to theaters. While it’s not achieved Marvel levels of success (which we shouldn’t have expected), it’s doing fine. Forbes’ Scott Mendelson notes that this isn’t actually a story of a studio weaponizing intellectual property. It’s not another Batman or Spider-Man reboot. Dune’s success relied on selling a largely unfamiliar story to normie audiences, and that seems to have happened. A good sequel could even cement this success into a franchise.

All this underscores something important: Audiences will put up with a lot of weirdness for a friendly, earnest epic that doesn’t equate art with ugliness. Dune is strange but beautiful (i.e. not ugly), and it’s spectacular. I haven’t seen a modern film in a while that has such a good grasp of how to use vast spaces. It’s a film designed for a big, big screen and audiences have recognized this in their consumption choices

In all the debates about the future of cinema, commentators seem able to envision only one future, one where we’ve all polarized into two aesthetic classes. This is a future where Disney, triumphant and flush with cash, keeps pumping out sequels while we all herd like cattle to see Guardians of the Galaxy 8 in the 2030s. All the other big studios slavishly try to jumpstart their own vast interconnected universes. 

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