"Dune 2" & the Oregon connection


Last updated 3/14/2024 at 9:41am

The hero stands atop a ridge of sand, surrounded by vast desert dunes. The dizzying scene is lit in strange tones of pale orange and amber, shadows spilling everywhere.

Wind kicks up the sand. Our hero's cape flaps fetchingly in the wind. Then come the sand worms.

On a cold day it can be lovely to escape into another world. My friend and I made two escapes, actually: first we escaped from our walk in the snowy woods into the warm, cozy world of Sisters Movie House.

Then, fortified by kombucha and popcorn, we sailed into a world of sand and spice and utter sensory overload—the world of Dune 2. The big screen is definitely the place to watch the Denis Villeneuve-directed adaptations of Dune. I'd streamed the first one on my laptop; that was cool, but the immersive environment at the movie house ratcheted up my Dune experience to near-psychedelic levels.

Even though I didn't take any spice.

Spice, for the uninitiated, is a valuable substance in the science fiction world of the Dune. It's worth loads of money and is also a hallucinogen-entheogen, a drug you might accidentally inhale while sifting through the endless sands of the planet Arrakis.

The original “Dune” was an epic science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert, published in the 1960s. He went on to write five sequels; his son and collaborators spun off a bunch more novels. Esquire says Dune is the world's best-selling science fiction novel of all time, which I totally did not know until this moment. The books had an enormous impact on George Lucas and his Star Wars movies, too.

Of some controversy is the casting of Timothée Chalamet as the conflicted hero Paul "Muad'Dib" Atreides. Some critics believe that Paul needs to feel more like an incredible, instinctual fighter-warrior you'd immediately follow to glory or death.

To my eye, the fighting should be good—and there is indeed an excellent hand-to-hand combat scene in “Dune 2” — but it’s more important that our hero should look magnetically moody and smouldery as he stares out over a bunch of sand dunes or —SPOILER ALERT —wanly swallows drops of life-altering electric-blue liquid delivered by his co-star Zendaya, with her spice-blue eyes and sizzling screen presence. Priorities, people!

“Dune 2” lays forth an enormity of scale: visuals, budget, design, costumes, acting, and delicious sensory onslaught. This is not the average action movie. “Dune 2” is more action-oriented than the first “Dune”; maybe we don't have quite as much restful-yet-tense, exploratory-desert-weirdness here.

Still, there are spectacular moments of disorientation and mystery, a sense of groping along in an unknown world rather than just bouncing from fight to fight, battle to battle like many films do.

Villeneuve gets deeply weird in places. When the scene changes to the planet Giedi Prime, everything turns black-and-white; it looks like Fritz Lang directing a long-lost Depeche Mode video. And I mean that in a nice way.

Of particular note is the film's sound: detailed, unnerving Foley and organically inspired sound, with music by award-winning composer Hans Zimmer. Every bit of dialogue was subjected to intense scrutiny and processing by the sound team.

"Sound is at the heart of the cinematic experience," Villeneuve told StudioBinder. The film's many fantastical-seeming noises arose out of organic sounds: a cat purring, for example, or beetles' wings. They even recorded sand dunes in Death Valley.

Dunes in nature actually groan. Who knew?

Herbert took his original inspiration for “Dune” from the Oregon coast. A newspaper journalist raised in Tacoma, he covered a story in the 1950s about people in the Florence area planting European grasses in an effort to tame the sand.

We used to go camping there when I was a kid, sliding down the dunes into a pond. What I didn't know then: the ever-changing dunes in years past behaved more like water, constantly moving and changing, confounding human expectation. Herbert's journalism covered the "terraforming" efforts to control the shifting sands.

These days, the terraformed "foredunes" that anchor Florence have become so successful they've eliminated some natural habitat, endangering species including the Humboldt marten. A group called Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative has emerged, as the open sands that once entranced Frank Herbert disappear at a rate of five feet per year.

Back to Sisters Movie House. Big-screen “Dune 2” provided a blissfully over-the-top way to spend a cold afternoon. Some audience members complained about the sound, which is often too loud at the movie house, particularly in the front section. I brought earplugs, as I have sensory issues, and did use them sometimes. Bring your own if needed.

Mostly I enjoyed the wrenching, hypnotic sound, along with “Dune 2”’s other sensory delights. Is it a perfect movie? Mais non.  But for the genre, it is exceptional.


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