Dune 1 Reviewed

Imagine for a moment that, in an alternative universe, the Saudis invaded Britain in 2003 to overthrow some local dictators who had stopped obeying their orders. The Saudis are successful, at first, and try to grab what remains of our North Sea oil, but then have to deal with an insurrection of resourceful Brits who go around blowing up their tanks and armoured cars and shooting their Apache helicopters out of the air. The Saudis then made a sci fi film twenty years later about how badly the invasion went. What would it look like?

Well, imagine Dune. But instead of American actors playing the Fremen of Arrakis dressed as Bedouin and shouting in some made-up language that sounds like Arabic and praying like Muslims, you’d have Saudis and Emiratis dressed up as Scots, Welsh and Englishmen yelling in invented nonsense that sounds like English and kneeling before crosses that they take into battle. Instead of tattooed chins, headscarves, bishts, abayas and chadors, there might be fat, tattooed legs, white socks and sliders, or maybe Adidas trainers, tracksuits and hoodies.

If this sounds really messed up then imagine how Arab audiences feel watching American actors cosplay their religion, culture, and language and re-enacting a twenty-year uprising against the catastrophic invasion on the big screen in malls across the Gulf and cinemas in North Africa and the Middle East? A war for control of oil (aka ‘spice’) that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced over a million Iraqis and the cruel, violent repression of the uprising played out again, as entertainment, on the big screen in malls across the Gulf and cinemas in North Africa and the Middle East.

When I watched Dune 1 for the first-time last week on Netflix for the opening twenty minutes, I thought I was watching an arty doc about the ‘War on Terror’. Is it a very, very thinly veiled allegory for our resource wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? I wondered how Arabs would feel watching it given that there were no Arabs in the leading roles. I’m not the first to notice that Javier Bardem, a Spaniard, reprises (the Greek) Anthony Quinn’s Bedouin leader role in Lawrence of Arabia (about an earlier British colonial misadventure) to a tee. At first, I mistook the Harkonnen army dressed in black and committing atrocities for the IDF, but then I realised I was probably over-reading it all.

Dune 1 was very watchable, but I saw a film of Texan oil workers putting out the hundreds of oil rig fires after Gulf War 1 at Imax in 1992 that will stay with me longer than this well-crafted jaunt. The film was called The Fires of Kuwait, and this is the nearest thing on Youtube, but the IMAX version was absolutely jaw dropping.

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